Jones sees a bit of Rodgers in Keenum
When he coached Hawaii, Jones helped Tim Chang become the NCAA's career leader in total offense and passing yards. Keenum has eclipsed Chang's records - and several others - while guiding No. 11 Houston (10-0, 6-0 Conference USA) to the best start in program history.
Jones and the Mustangs (6-4, 4-2) will face Keenum and the Cougars' top-ranked offense on Saturday at Robertson Stadium. As he's watched Keenum pick apart defenses this season, Jones is reminded not of Chang, but more of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
''Their quarterback knows where to put the ball similar to what you watch with Rodgers on film,'' Jones said. ''A guy can be covered and he knows where to throw the ball and their receivers make plays for them.''
Jones and Chang used the old run-and-shoot offense that Houston ran in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Cougars are running a slightly different spread offense and putting up historic numbers.
Houston is averaging 629 yards per game, currently the most of any team in Football Bowl Subdivision history. The Cougars also are putting up 54.7 points per game, second only to the undefeated 1944 Army squad (56 points per game) that won the national championship.
''They're probably one of the most productive teams I've looked at on film as far as moving the football,'' Jones said.
Despite collecting video-game statistics, the Cougars have largely flown under the national radar this year because of limited television exposure. The program will get its long-awaited turn in the spotlight on Saturday morning, with ESPN's popular ''Gameday'' program setting up shop on campus for the first time.
''For our university it is fantastic,'' coach Kevin Sumlin said. ''Not just for football, but for our city. It is a window to the world for the University of Houston. It is great, especially for recruiting. It validates what we are trying to do.''
The team's success this season has aligned perfectly with the other big projects in the works at Houston.
The Cougars are mentioned as a likely candidate to join the reformed Big East, and the school also is moving ahead with plans to build a new football stadium and renovate its run-down basketball arena in the coming years.
''I definitely believe there is some buzz and it's good for our fans,'' junior defensive lineman Dominic Miller said. ''It is a compliment to our fans and to us, but we've got to go out there and keep on preparing and not let it get to our head.''
It's understandable how the Cougars could become complacent, because they've breezed through their last five games by an average score of 64-19 and hit 73 twice in that span. But SMU's defense, at least statistically, is a cut above the ones Keenum has been shredding over the past month, ranking 33rd nationally (345.2 yards per game) and 44th in points allowed (23.3 per game).
The Mustangs' bigger problem could be on offense. Running back Zach Line, Conference USA's leading rusher, had season-ending surgery on a toe on his left foot on Thursday.
Sumlin is still wary of SMU, even though the Cougars have won eight of the past nine meetings.
''You look at the league and every week there is a surprising score,'' Sumlin said. ''A lot of teams in this league are capable of beating anybody. They have some good players and are well coached. They are not going to be intimidated coming in here at all.''
Houston is tied with Tulsa (7-3, 6-0) atop the league's West Division, and victories by both teams on Saturday will set up a winner-take-all showdown next week.
But Houston's players have been handling questions for weeks about a prize beyond a Conference USA championship. The Cougars are one of only three unbeaten teams remaining in the FBS, and are parked at No. 11 in the Bowl Championship Series standings.
As long as the lopsided victories keep coming, Houston will stay in the hunt for a big-money BCS berth.
''It's a place all teams want to be,'' Keenum said. ''You don't want to have to count on any other games, any other teams, or any other committees to decide where you want to play. As far as our mindset, it hasn't changed a whole lot. We can treat it like a playoff like we have every week, because college football is like a playoff every week.
''It doesn't matter what's happened or what's going to happen. All that matters is this week.''