Still perfect, Houston doesn’t flinch amid distractions

Graham Watson
View photos

Houston 37, SMU 7.
Iowa State's upset of Oklahoma State did more than help Houston and its ascension up the BCS standings. It put the Cougars on notice.

Oklahoma State was proof that no matter how well things are going, an undefeated season can be undone if you don't come to play. So, with ESPN's College Gameday in town, senior day and a whole host of other diversions on the Houston campus this week, the Cougars went to work for their first win this season over a winning team. The win moved the Cougars to 11-0, only the third time in school history Houston has won 11 games.

And it wasn't pretty. The vaunted offense that has become synonymous with Houston and should get quarterback Case Keenum to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist, was pretty average. Yes, Keenum broke a couple more records — he set the all-time completions mark, became only the second player to throw for 4,000 yards in three seasons and tied the career mark for most 300-yard games — but his 318 yards and two scores (one rushing) was fairly modest considering the 500-yard performances he's been dishing out all season.

In a rare twist, it was actually the usually unimpressive defense that got the Cougars the win. It allowed just 263 total yards and didn't allow a score until there was less than 9 minutes remaining in the game. In the first half, the Mustangs mustered just 93 total yards and six first downs.{YSP:MORE}

View photos

Keenum said after the game it was the best defensive performance he'd seen at Houston — and he's been there six years.

It was the kind of team performance the Cougars needed heading into a short week prior to Conference USA's version of the "Game of the Century." While the Cougars have gotten all of the national pub because of their undefeated streak, BCS standing and potential Heisman winner, Conference USA West foe Tulsa has been just as impressive in Conference USA play.

In conference, the Golden Hurricane have outscored their opponents by 21 points per game and UTEP's 28 points Saturday (a 57-28 Tulsa win) are the most the Golden Hurricane have allowed in conference play. And it's important to note that Tulsa has been competitive against nonconference teams with high-powered offenses. Even though Tulsa lost to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State this season, it was still able to put points on those teams.

Houston's win Saturday proved the Cougars have learned to block out the outside noise. They had been in a similar position in the past and got too caught up in the hype. With two games remaining — arguably the toughest two games of the season — the Cougars don't have time to sit and admire what they've done in the past. There is history to be made — the school's first BCS bowl and the conference's first BCS bowl — and it's the Cougars' for the taking.

"We can't get caught up in where we should be, what (could) happen," Houston coach Kevin Sumlin said. "What we do have is the mindset that if we win, we will not be ignored. Seven weeks ago we weren't even in the rankings, so it's hard for us to complain right now. We recognize the process and it all gets back to us. If we win, people will recognize our efforts."

- - -
Graham Watson is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow her @Yahoo_Graham.