First Look: Houston Cougars vs. UCLA

Houston football starts and ends with offense.

The No. 23 Cougars will come to the Rose Bowl Saturday night (7:30 FSN) boasting the nation’s leading scoring offense, averaging 61 points per game, and third-best total offense at 576 yards per game. Their 122 points in two games is 100 more than UCLA has in its first two games.

Sure, the Cougars (2-0) have put up those gaudy numbers against Texas State, a Football Championship Subdivision team, and UTEP, a team that ranked No. 110 in total defense last season, but Houston has been piling up big numbers since Coach Kevin Sumlin took over in 2008.

Sumlin’s pass happy spread offense last year led the nation in scoring (42.21 points per game), passing offense (433.71) and total offense (563.36). In 2008, the Cougars were second in the nation with 562.77 yards per game and 10th in scoring with 40.62 points per game.

“A very explosive team,” UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said. “They score a ton of points and it’s going to be a difficult challenge.”

Quarterback Case Keenum left Houston’s game last week with a concussion and Sumlin said he’d be day-to-day for this week, making him a game-time decision. Keenum has had consecutive 5,000-yard passing seasons, including 5,671 last season—third most in NCAA FBS history.

Backup Cotton Turner has played only sparingly the last two seasons and mostly in blowout victories where he hasn’t had to pass much. Neuheisel said he’s planning as if Keenum will play, but doesn’t expect the Houston offense would change much if Keenum can’t go.

“You just have to anticipate that he’ll be ready,” Neuheisel said. “And you have to anticipate that their offense, if he weren’t able to go, would be the exactly the same offense that you’d be playing anyway. It won’t change how we prepare for the game.”

Houston has five players with more than 100 yards receiving already. The main targets are James Cleveland and Patrick Edwards, both returning starters who had more than 1,000 yards receiving last year.

The Cougars showed last week that they could run the ball, too, with Bryce Beall running for 195 yards last week. Beall and Michael Hayes combined for six rushing touchdowns in Houston’s 54-24 victory over UTEP, but historically Houston has passed nearly twice as much as it has run under Sumlin.

Part of the reason the Cougars are so offense-minded is because they have to be thanks to a defense that is giving up 392.5 yards a game, including 252.5 through the air. Last year, they gave up 451.29 yards per game.

That defense could be the perfect remedy for a Bruins offense that has struggled so far this season, averaging a dismal 11 points and 273 yards per game.