HOUSTON - SEPTEMBER 03: Head coach Kevin Sumlin of the Houston Cougars attempts to get the attention of the referee at Robertson Stadium on September 3, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
How will Case Keenum follow up his 310 yard performance tonight against the Mean Green?
FACTS & STATS: Site: Mean Green Stadium (30, 850) Denton, Texas. Television: ESPN3. Home Record: Houston 1-0, North Texas 0-0. Away Record: Houston 0-0, North Texas 0-1. Neutral Record: Houston 0-0, North Texas 0-0. Conference Record: Houston 0-0, North Texas 0-1. Series Record: North Texas leads, 7-5.
GAME NOTES: Houston will make the short trip to Denton this weekend to take on North Texas in a non-conference clash of in-state rivals.
Houston exacted revenge a week ago against UCLA, winning the opener 38-34 at home a year after suffering a loss to the Bruins in Pasadena. The win was especially sweet for senior quarterback Case Keenum, who tore his ACL in last season's loss to UCLA and was granted a sixth year by the NCAA this past January. The UCLA win was a tough non-conference matchup for Keenum and company, who will be heavy favorites in Denton.
The Dan McCarney rebuilding project at North Texas got underway a week ago at FIU in the Sun Belt opener for both teams. It was evident that there is plenty of work to do for McCarney in order to get the Mean Green back to postseason form (North Texas last bowl berth came in 2004). FIU raced out to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back in a 41-16 walloping of the Mean Green in the opener.
North Texas leads the series 7-5 over Houston, with Saturday's game being the first-ever matchup between the two teams at the brand new Mean Green Stadium in Denton.
Keenum threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns to lead Houston over UCLA, and receiver Mark Carrier complemented that performance with 10 catches for 138 yards and a touchdown, and senior receiver Patrick Edwards had a reception in his 35th consecutive game. Keenum completed 75 percent of his passes and showed surprising mobility with 30 yards rushing; Houston also garnered 131 yards and a touchdown from three running backs in senior Bryce Ball and Michael Hayes and sophomore Charles Sims.
Thanks to Houston's offense, the Cougars never trailed. But UCLA closed the gap to 31-28 with 28 seconds left in the third quarter, and were threatening to rally for the win by moving the ball at will against Houston at certain points of last weekends opener. The Cougars were outscored 20-7 in the second half, and surrendered 554 yards of total offense to UCLA. Houston's defense performed well in the fourth quarter however, and got several impressive individual performances, namely from senior linebacker Marcus McGraw. McGraw has started 40 straight games for the Cougars, and recorded 16 tackles against UCLA.
The North Texas offense didn't generate a single point against FIU, whose defensive front was dominant. One of McCarney's offseason goals was to beef up his team and play a more physical brand of football, but it won't happen overnight. The FIU defense held North Texas two-time all conference running back Lance Dunbar to just 43 yards rushing on 18 carries, an impressive stat considering Dunbar finished last season as the sixth leading rusher in the nation. Sophomore quarterback Derek Thompson completed 14-of-27 passes for 167 yards in his second collegiate start. Return man Brelan Chancellor was probably the most effective weapon all night for North Texas, registering 197 kick return yards, including a 47-yarder.
FIU's T.Y. Hilton took a 62-yard kick return deep into North Texas territory on the very first play of the opener, and that set the tone for the Mean Green defense for the rest of the quarter. North Texas simply had its back against the wall against the Golden Panthers, giving up four quick touchdowns in the first 15 minutes of the game and allowing FIU to 401 yards of total offense. North Texas will draw one of its toughest defensive assignments of the season when Keenum and the Cougars come to town. The Mean Green got virtually no pressure against FIU (one sack, no quarterback hurries), and that has to change if the unit hopes for any success against the Houston offense.
North Texas will hope to generate plenty of energy from opening its brand new Mean Green Stadium. The reality is that this defense will not hinder Keenum, and will only be successful in containing him if it develops some pressure with the front four. What is scary about Houston was its commitment to the run last week, which was highly effective against UCLA and gave Keenum options over the top. Expect a runaway by Houston in this game.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Houston 56, North Texas 14
Saturday, September 10th, 7:00 p.m. (et)