Space Case: Cougars QB slings it all over

STARKVILLE – If there’s one thing Houston football has been known for the last couple of decades, it’s been quarterbacks.
Andre Ware, David Klingler, Kevin Kolb – all put up video game numbers for the Cougars. And all may soon be eclipsed by the latest big arm to land in Space City.
Case Keenum is just a junior, but already he’s assailing the school record book. He’s third in completions (728), third in passing yards (8,975), fourth in touchdown passes (71) and third in total offense (9,659).
He passed for 5,020 yards and 44 TDs last season, and heading into Saturday’s game at Mississippi State, Keenum has 1,696 yards and 13 touchdowns this year.
So how does a team possibly stop such a machine? Good question.
The first place to start is with a heavy dose of optimism. MSU strong safety Charles Mitchell, noting Keenum’s stats in Houston’s 58-41 loss to UTEP last week, said, “They threw the ball 75 times last week, so me and Marcus (Washington), we were talking, he was like, ‘That’s 75 chances to make plays on the ball.’”
Actually, Keenum threw it 76 times, completing 51 of them for a career-high 536 yards. Houston (3-1) ran 103 offensive plays.
The Cougars run a no-huddle offense, so the next place for MSU (2-3) to focus on is keeping that offense off the field. That can be done, in theory, by throwing different blitzes at Keenum and getting pressure on him.
“Rush three, rush two, rush everybody – you just have to try to confuse them a little bit,” middle linebacker Jamar Chaney said. “They pass the ball so well, you’ve got to show them a lot of different looks so they won’t get comfortable back there.”
Keenum said he feels good about his offensive line’s ability to handle any and all blitz packages. He’s been sacked only four times.

Secondary issues
If Keenum’s given time to find his receivers, State could be in a lot of trouble. The Bulldogs’ secondary has been picked on a lot the last two weeks, with LSU’s Jordan Jefferson and Georgia Tech’s Josh Nesbitt both achieving career highs in single-game passing yardage.
MSU ranks eighth in the SEC in pass defense, allowing 190.8 yards per game.
“Right now we’ve got so many young kids back there in the secondary, and it’s obvious, y’all can see, and people in the stands can see, that they make some mistakes that get us in trouble at times,” defensive coordinator Carl Torbush said. “We’ve got to do a better job of coaching, getting them in the best position.”
It hasn’t helped that the secondary’s been unsettled. Left cornerback Damein Anderson, a sophomore, lost his starting job last week to redshirt freshman Louis Watson; nickelback Wade Bonner was out with a knee injury but is expected to return this week; and free safety Zach Smith has missed practice time with illness.
Keenum probably likes his chances of having a big day.
“They probably don’t face many offenses like ours, so it’s going to be a little different for them this week, I’d say,” he said.
Another way to slow down Houston would be creating turnovers. But the Bulldogs have done a poor job of that, getting only eight against 14 giveaways.
They’ve gained just one turnover in the past two weeks.
“The closest thing that I’ve played against them has been Texas Tech,” Torbush said. “It’s the type of offense you’ve got to try to keep them off-balance the best you can and realize they are going to make some plays, but you’ve got to limit those plays.”

Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or brad.locke@djournal.com

Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal