Keenum takes Houston's aerial show to UCF
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)Central Florida coach George O'Leary doesn't have any illusions about what the Knights have to do to keep pace with No. 13 Houston and the Cougars' prolific quarterback Case Keenum.
For starters, Conference USA's top defense likely will have play its best game of the season on Saturday. The Knights will have to find a way to score like crazy, too - and even that might not be enough.
"Hopefully we will not have to match points because they are averaging about 45 points a game, and to good teams, too," said O'Leary, whose team is first in the league in scoring, rushing and total defense, despite giving up a conference-high 267 yards per game.
Houston (8-1, 4-1) actually only averages 42.1 points with a high-octane, no-huddle attack that puts relentless pressure on opposing defenses. Keenum has thrown for 433.7 yards per game and topped 500 yards each of the past two weeks.
"I think the key with these guys is field position for one, and being able to produce a lot of three and outs to secure that field position," O'Leary said. "I enjoy playing these kinds of offenses because it amounts to a game of conditioning. ... It boils down to who has conditioned better during the week leading up to the game."
Central Florida (5-4, 3-2) is coming off a 35-3 loss at No. 2 Texas and trying to remain in contention for the Conference USA East Division championship. The Knights need one victory to become bowl eligible, but may need to win at least two of three down the stretch to ensure a berth.
Houston has won eight of its first nine games for the first time since 1990 and is tied with SMU for first place in the West Division. The Cougars rallied for a 46-45 victory at Tulsa last week, scoring nine points in the final 21 seconds to finish an improbable comeback.
Keenum completed 40 of 60 passes for 522 yards and three touchdowns. Matt Hogan kicked a 51-yard field goal on the last play of the game for the victory.
"We're getting everyone's best shot, and we've been able to come out of it," Houston coach Kevin Sumlin said.
"Obviously, the fashion in which we won we would not like to have that every week, but there's no such thing as a bad win. As a matter of fact, that was a really good win based on everything that's at stake."
Central Florida played without quarterback Brett Houdges (ribs) and leading rusher Brynn Harvey (ankle) at Texas. Both practiced this week, though O'Leary said it could be a gametime decision on whether they play.
Either way, the Knights will have to make the most of any scoring opportunities against a porous Houston defense that's allowed 469.8 yards and 30.1 points per game. Central Florida is averaging just under 22 points.
"I think we will just have to be ourselves. We will not have to change up who we are, but go out and play our game," O'Leary said.
"We are about 50-50 with the run and the pass. In a game like this, it will not come down to field goals, but more touchdowns to produce more points. Being able to sustain the run and coming up with big plays in the pass game will be the key for us to maintain control of the flow of the game."
Sumlin called Central Florida "a dangerous team" with a defense - despite ranking at the bottom of Conference USA against the pass - that poses a lot of potential problems for the Cougars.
The Knights lead the conference with 29 sacks and are allowing a league-low 85.4 yards per game rushing in addition allowing a league-low 21 points per game. Bruce Miller and Jarvis Geathers lead the way with nine sacks apiece.
"The statistics are starting to mean more and more as you get to game 10, 11 and 12 instead of the first couple of games," Sumlin said.
"This is a really big challenge for us to go on the road again. ... You have to look at the fact that they're one game away from being bowl eligible. They have two losses in the East. Looking at the schedule, if they win the rest of their games, they can represent the East in the championship game."