Keenum 'Day-To-Day' After Injury

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Keenum "Day-To-Day" After Injury

With all of the expectations being heaped on the 2010 Houston Cougar football team, even mentioning the possibility that Case Keenum, the key cog of the nation's top offense, might get injured was considered a taboo topic.

On Saturday, the nightmare became a reality, as Keenum suffered concussion-like symptoms after attempting to make a tackle on an interception runback. It could have been much worse. The game was already well in hand for the Cougars, and head coach Kevin Sumlin had a reasonably positive outlook on the situation on Sunday:

[Keenum's] condition has improved dramatically...Like every college and pro team in America, we have a concussion management plan that we have followed since Saturday morning. I'm not going to go into the details of what that plan entails. But I will say his prognosis for the week is day-to-day.

UH fans will certainly be hoping to see Keenum calling the shots on Saturday at the Rose Bowl when the Cougars face off against UCLA, but there really should be absolutely no hurry to get Keenum back into action. Consider:

-While it's always a good thing to win non-conference match-ups against BCS-quality opponents, Saturday's contest is just that: non-conference. Houston hasn't won a Conference-USA title since the days of Kevin Kolb and Art Briles, and ultimately, that should be priority number one.

-Houston can probably win its next two games without him. Cotton Turner looked more than capable in relief of Keenum on Friday, completing nine of 10 passes. His only incompletion was a drop by the usually sure-handed James Cleveland. (Turner also completed 30-of-40 for 373 yards, three touchdowns and no picks in mop-up duty last year.) And keep in mind that the next schools Houston faces are UCLA and Tulane. The Bruins are in absolute disarray to begin the year, and Tulane is one of the ten worst teams in the country. The Cougars have enough talent to win both of those games behind Turner, and have a bye week after that. So if Keenum's status is uncertain, you could give him 29 days off, and have him fresh and ready for a tough Mississippi State team.

-Even the most trivial reason for keeping him in - his potential Heisman candidacy - might be a moot point by now, anyway. Let's face it. The Heisman voters will go to any lengths to avoid giving the trophy away to a non-BCS player. Keenum's only chance was to have a(nother) season in which he utterly blows away the entire country statistically, and for Houston to have an undefeated regular season. The latter is still a possibility, but with Houston having a huge amount of success running the ball, and Keenum putting up two sub-300 yard games already, something he did only once last year, the statistical dominance might not be quite what it was a year ago. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. I'd rather have a team built around playing decent defense, a team that can run the ball as well as it passes it, and a team that can frequently afford to rest its quarterback in the second half, than watching Keenum try to single-handedly outscore the opponent every week.

So yes, we all want to see Keenum back. Best case scenario is that he is 100% healthy by Saturday. But in anything short of best case, I say let's get behind Cotton Turner.

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UH Thumps UTEP, 54-24; Keenum Leaves In Third Quarter With Undisclosed Injury

(The Sports Network) — Heisman hopeful Case Keenum threw for 279 yards and Bryce Beall and Michael Hayes each ran for three touchdowns as Houston thumped UTEP, 54-24, in the Conference USA opener for both teams.

Keenum completed 15-of-24 throws before leaving with an injury that brought his streak of throwing at least one touchdown pass to an end at 31 games for Houston (2-0, 1-0 C-USA), which avenged a 17-point loss in last season’s C-USA opener.

Beall rushed for a career-high 195 yards on 19 touches, while Hayes carried 17 times for 77 yards to pace a ground attack that churned out 308 yards for the Cougars, who won their school record 17th consecutive home game by racking up 656 yards of total offense.

Patrick Edwards caught six passes for 118 yards and James Cleveland made six grabs for 66 yards for Houston while Hayes added four catches for 75 yards.
Trevor Vittatoe connected on 30-of-54 throws for 340 yards and three TDs for the Miners (1-1, 0-1), who lost their conference opener for the first time since joining the league in 2005.

Houston scored on its first four possessions and five times in the first half in moving out to a 31-10 lead at the break. Three of the four touchdown drives took less than two minutes and none of the five scoring strikes took longer than 3:05.
UTEP played without its leading rusher Donald Buckram, who suited up but did not take the field after not practicing all week with an undisclosed injury. He ran for 262 yards in the Miners 58-41 win over the Cougars last season.

Joseph Banyard stepped in and rushed for 37 yards on 10 carries in his place. Kris Adams was the visitors leading receiver, hauling in seven passes for 114 yards in defeat.

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Friday (Late) Night Lights: Houston To Face UTEP

Texas-El Paso Miners (1-0) at Houston Cougars (1-0)

Kickoff: Friday, 9/10/10, 9:15 PM

TV: ESPN

"Wait a second," you may be asking. "Does that really say 9:15?"

If you're doing the math, given the high-powered offenses in question, this game figures to finish up around 1:00 in the morning. Such is the lot of Conference USA schools hoping for a date with ESPN. Nonetheless, the awkward timing of the game means the Cougars will get a shot for revenge in front of a national audience.

By now, I'm sure you know the story. Last year, UH raced out to a 3-0 record, with victories over then-#5 Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. The Coogs were ranked #12, before suffering a shocking and humiliating defeat at the hands of the Miners, 58-41.

The embarrassment stemmed largely from the way Houston lost. The defense was historically bad. UTEP running back Donald Buckram ran for 262 yards on 32 carries. Trevor Vittatoe threw for 276 yards for good measure. Even Case Keenum's 536 yards passing and five touchdown passes couldn't keep Houston in the game.

Still, you'd be hard-pressed to find a Cougar fan who considers the Miners a serious threat this time around. You could call it cockiness. But such thoughts have a basis in reason:

-The Cougars are riding a 16-game home winning streak, including a perfect 12-0 mark at Robertson Stadium under Kevin Sumlin. The Miners are 4-14 on the road the last three years.

-Houston has done remarkably well in revenge games. When the Coogs lose to a team, and face them again later that year, or the year after, they have won the rematch twelve straight times. Examples include the OSU win a year ago (avenging a 56-37 loss the year prior), a 41-24 victory over then-#23 East Carolina in '08 (after losing 37-35 in '07) and UH's C-USA championship game victory over Southern Miss in '06 (the Golden Eagles beat Houston earlier that year). And the more humbling the defeat, the more vengeful the Cougars seem. Just ask Rice (lost to the Cougars 73-14 in '09 after spanking them, 56-42 in '08) or Tulsa (beat UH 56-7 in '07, lost 70-30 in '08).

-An offense that returns mostly intact, another year of increased recruiting on defense and the offensive line, and a new defensive scheme has the Cougar faithful thinking that this year's squad is measurably better than last year's. Houston also enters the game unranked, and with last year's loss fresh in their minds, so there's no chance the Miners get anything less than Houston's undivided attention.

The Matchups

Houston Offense vs UTEP Defense

Let's start with the positive one. Simply, there's no reason to believe that the Miners will be able to do anything to stop Keenum, et al. There is experience in the linebacking corps, but not much on the defensive line or the secondary. The Cougars will also be UTEP's first 1-A opponent under a new defensive scheme (they switched from a 4-2-5 to a 4-3 in the off-season). Finally, there's simply the fact that UTEP's defense has been bad for quite a while. If you take the Miners' best finish in each of the following categories over the past three years, you would get a team that allows 4.8 yards per carry, a completion percentage of 61.6, and surrenders 33.5 points per game. Bottom line, putting up fewer than 40 on this team would be a disappointment.

UTEP Offense vs Houston Defense

This is the first test for first-year defensive coordinator Brian Stewart's new defense, and a big test it will be. Even after missing much of Spring practice with a suspension and a shoulder injury that required surgery, Vittatoe is an experienced, talented signal-caller. Buckram missed the season opener against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, but is expected to play on Friday. And even if he doesn't, there are talented backs available, in Joseph Banyard and Vernon Frazier. It's the run game which will receive most of the attention. The Cougars have speed aplenty on defense, but size and strength are question marks. Even with Stewart promising to bring all sorts of pressure, one wonders if the Miners will be able to win the game by grinding out long possessions on the ground.

Special Teams

One of the biggest surprises from Houston's opener was the kicking game. That is both a good and bad thing. It was good, because Jordan Mannisto and freshman punter Richie Leone combined to pound five touchbacks on 11 tries. (And the opening kick of the game went several yards deep, but was foolishly returned by Texas State.) Those five touchbacks matched the total from all of last season. Leone also was impressive in his two punt attempts late. On the other hand, kicker Matt Hogan (who is 12-12 lifetime on field goals, including a 51-yard game-winner against Tulsa) showed that his troubles with the extra point still aren't solved. He missed five of 43 attempts a year ago, and failed to connect on two of his 10 tries against Texas State - one block, one a clean miss. While UTEP has some playmakers like Banyard and Donovan Kemp available in the return game, they don't have anybody with the track record of Tyron Carrier (5 career kick return TDs), and the Miner kicker has one career field goal attempt. Houston should have an edge here.

Prediction

It's easy to overplay the revenge factor, and the home-field advantage. If UTEP's offensive line dominates Houston's front seven all night, those things may not matter. But I think there's enough talent and depth that the Cougars won't be pushed around as easily as last year. The defense may not play like the '85 Chicago Bears, but they'll do enough to secure a victory.

Houston 55

UTEP 38

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