The great chase is back on, and Case Keenum is more than grateful for that.
It has been nearly a year since the questions about Timmy Chang and the Heisman Trophy swirled around Keenum, and nearly a year since they abruptly stopped. A torn ACL in Week 3 shelved Keenum for the season, along with any talk about trophies, records and bowl games.
When he got hurt, nobody knew whether Keenum would ever suit up for Houston again. Keenum thought his career was over.
But a medical hardship waiver granted him a sixth season, so now the questions about passing records and touchdown records and Heisman trophies have resumed. Chang holds the NCAA career passing mark of 17,072 yards. Keenum is 3,486 yards away from breaking the mark.
Would setting that NCAA record mean more after the year he just suffered through?
“Everything means more just because of what happened last year,” Keenum said. “It meant more the first day I got to go back to workouts, meant more the first day I got to go back out on the field. I’ll cross bridges when I get to them, but anything that happens this year is going to mean more.
“It’s not something I dwell on, that I think about every time I get on the field. I don’t think, ‘I need to go out to practice to break that record.’ I want to do everything it takes to win a football game. If all that happens it would mean a lot. It’s a cool deal. It’s an elite group of quarterbacks, and I hope I get to be a part of that. But I’m not concentrating on it.”
Keenum also needs 28 touchdown passes to break the NCAA mark of 134, held by Graham Harrell. If you look at his stats from 2008 and 2009, there is no doubting Keenum will get both -- if he stays healthy. Keenum threw for over 5,000 yards and 44 touchdowns in each of those seasons.
Can he throw for 5,000 yards again? Keenum hedges. “I may not have to,” Keenum said. “We may run for 5,000 yards. We have three really good runners in the backfield with Charles Sims, Michael Hayes and Bryce Beall. It will be tempting to hand the ball off every play, do whatever it takes to win.”
But co-offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury is slightly bolder.
“If that happens, that would be great,” said Kingsbury, who also is the quarterbacks coach. “I would never say no. With his talent and the people we have around him, he has a chance to have a heck of a season. I know he just wants to win every game.”
Keenum has so far shown no ill effects from his knee injury during fall practice. He has been able to make all the necessary cuts, and has been in a good rhythm with his receivers after doing extensive 7-on-7 work in the summer -- partly because all he could do was 7-on-7 work.
He has changed his workout routine because he is older, but he feels stronger and in great shape. Now he is committed to getting Houston back into a bowl game and being much smarter on the field. That means no attempts at making tackles -- which got him hurt twice last season.
The first was against UTEP, when he sustained a concussion. The second was the fateful one against UCLA, following an interception.
“I’m going to say I won’t be as involved as much as I was before,” Keenum said. “I’d like to say I’m never going to throw a pick. That’s going to be my plan. Those plans get busted up sometimes. We’re not going to sit there and practice lying down in the fetal position if I throw a pick, but I will be less involved than I was before. It will be hard. I’m a football player. But I’m a better asset to my team with the ball in my hands back there in the pocket than running around making a tackle.”
And how will he feel once the season opener rolls around Sept. 3 against … you guessed it, UCLA?
“I’ve thought about that,” he said. “I’ll probably be feeling the same way if it was anybody. It’s been a year since I’ve played football and that’s a long time for me. I think whoever it would be, I’d be jacked up and excited, but I told this to somebody else: I’m tired of talking about last year and everything that happened last year and the year before that. We’ve all forgotten about last year and everything that happened with it, the goods, and the bads. We want to move on and play our football, 2011 style.”