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Cougar Defense Shines In Rout Of Pirates

The 5-0 record wasn't enough to impress the pollsters. It wasn't enough for the fans (myself included) who didn't think the Cougars had played good enough defense. Sure, there were five wins, but the team hadn't put together four full quarters of good football at a time yet. Bottom line, there were a lot of "Yeah, but"s through five games.

I guess the Coogs, especially on defense, decided they'd had enough. There will be no "Yeah, but"s after a 56-3 dismantling of East Carolina on Saturday evening, as Houston improved to 6-0, and 2-0 in Conference USA play.

The offense was as potent as ever, but it was the dominant D that was the story of the game. ECU was held to 21 yards on the ground, the lowest number Houston has allowed in a game since 2003. The Pirates threw for 263 yards, but needed 44 pass attempts to do it, and they were intercepted four times, including twice by linebacker Phillip Steward. True freshman linebacker Derrick Matthews, at one point, recorded a tackle for a loss and an interception on consecutive plays.

Houston's defense had shown flashes of potential before the ECU game, ranking in the top 25 in the nation in tackles for a loss. Even in allowing 42 points to UTEP, the defense recorded a pair of takeaways, including a fumble return for a touchdown. But on Saturday, the maddening inconsistency was finally gone, the big plays cut down enough that not only did the defense do "just enough" to allow the offense to win a shootout, it was a dominant unit that could have single-handedly won the game.

The offense was its usual, awesome self, as well, even against an ECU defense that is much improved from a year ago. Case Keenum completed 30-of-37 passes for 304 yards and 3 touchdowns, Charles Sims, Michael Hayes and Bryce Beall combined for 191 yards rushing and four scores on 30 attempts. Patrick Edwards caught 12 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns, passing Cougar legends Donnie Avery and Elmo Wright in career receiving yards for second in school history. (Edwards is now 373 yards shy of Vincent Marshall for the school record.) Houston played turnover-free ball for the second straight game.

But we knew that the Cougars were going to put points up. What's exciting is the possibility that what we saw from the UH defense might not be a fluke. If coordinator Brian Stewart's group can become a true strength, the sky is the limit for this squad.

After a bye week, Houston will be back in action in two weeks at home against Marshall. While it's dangerous to get too far ahead of ourselves, with four struggling teams up next - Marshall, Rice, UAB, Tulane - there's absolutely no reason that the Cougars shouldn't find themselves 10-0 heading into a showdown with SMU on November 19. That would be unprecedented for the Cougar football program. Houston's best starts were 8-0 marks in 1979 and 1990, but both seasons saw Houston lose to UT-Austin in game nine.

But before we can think about any of that, Houston will host the Thundering Herd on October 22. If the Cougars seemed motivated to avenge their 2009 C-USA championship game loss against ECU on Saturday night, you'd have to believe they'll be amped up against Marshall to get some payback for a 2008 upset loss that saw Edwards suffer a season-ending injury.

In the even more immediate future, Houston heads into its bye week, and for the first time all season, doesn't have anything glaring to try and fix. The Cougars also carry the distinction of being the only unbeaten team in the state of Texas. That's a pretty good feeling.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.