Southern Miss ruins No. 7 Houston's BCS hopes
Southern Mississippi coach Larry Fedora wouldn't take the blame for costing Conference USA its first-ever spot in the Bowl Championship Series and the millions of dollars that come with it by upsetting Houston in the league title game.
In fact, Fedora says he knows exactly which team should take the spot in the BCS that would have gone to the Cougars if they had stayed unbeaten.
''We didn't cost this conference any money, because we ought to be in a BCS bowl,'' Fedora said after the 24th-ranked Golden Eagles beat No. 7 Houston 49-28 Saturday. ''If Houston's not going, we ought to be going and then everybody would get their money like they want.''
It was star quarterback Case Keenum's last home game for Houston for sure, and could've also been the finale for coach Kevin Sumlin, who has been mentioned as a top candidate for virtually every higher-profile job opening.
The victory should fuel more rumors about Fedora who, like Sumlin, is another hot name linked to various jobs. Fedora, completing his fourth season with the Golden Eagles, is a former offensive coordinator at Florida (2002-04) and Oklahoma State (2005-07) and is from College Station, Texas, where Texas A&M is located.
Fedora wouldn't say if he's interested in or has been contacted by the Aggies or any other school.
''All I've been focusing on is winning a game today,'' Fedora said. ''As a team we talked about not paying attention to any of the things that were going on outside of our football team. Anything that didn't have anything to do with us winning was not worth thinking about.''
Houston (12-1) was poised to impress a national-television audience and representatives from the Orange and Sugar Bowl, who attended Saturday's game. Keenum could've also made one last case for an invitation to next week's Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Instead, the Golden Eagles (11-2) turned it into their showcase, shackling Houston's high-powered offense and striking with several big plays of their own to win their first C-USA title game and reach 11 victories for the first time.
They won the title four times before the league realigned into divisions and created a championship game.
''Everybody thought Houston was just going to walk away with this thing and so our guys obviously took objection to that,'' Fedora said. ''They had something to prove. They were going to play with a chip on their shoulders. They wanted everybody to know that Southern Miss is really a good football team.''
Only one section of Robertson Stadium remained full as the final seconds ticked off the clock. The wild and excited bunch of Southern Mississippi fans that had traveled to Houston remained in one overstuffed area of the stadium cheering, dancing and celebrating with the Golden Eagles.
Tracey Lampley, who was named the most valuable player, caught two touchdown passes and Southern Miss became the first team to hold Houston, averaging more than 50 per game, below 35 points this season.
Keenum completed 41 of 67 passes for 373 yards and two touchdowns.
''I thought our defense was dominating today,'' Fedora said. ''You take away the trash touchdown at the end and the one that our offense gave them and ... they score 14 points and that's the best offense in the country.''
Southern Miss jumped to a 14-0 lead before Keenum finally started clicking midway through the second quarter.
Keenum went 3 for 3 on the next series, hitting Johnson in stride down the middle for a tying 50-yard touchdown.
Houston's defense is vastly improved from last season, but it never got a handle on Davis, who also rushed for 47 yards.
Davis found Dominique Sullivan for a 69-yard touchdown to put Southern Miss up 21-14 at the break.
The Cougars looked just as shaky after halftime.
It was a play that Sumlin called one of the biggest of the game. Fedora raved about the 5-foot-9, 159-pound Bradley.
''Furious Bradley is too small to play Division I football,'' Fedora said. ''Look at him. He doesn't look like much. But he's got the heart inside of a lion. He's a warrior.''
Bradley said he simply did his job.
''(Fedora) said we needed a big play on special teams, so I just went out and did what I needed to do,'' he said. ''Opportunity came so I took advantage of it.''
Deron Wilson intercepted a Keenum pass in the end zone, but the Cougars got it right back, when Houston's Philip Steward picked off a deflected pass and returned it to the Southern Miss 5.
Michael Hayes scored on the next play to cut the deficit to 28-21, and a Houston rally seemed to be coming.
Instead, Lampley started the Golden Eagles' next series with a 28-yard run and Southern Miss took more than four minutes off the clock before Desmond Johnson scored on a 17-yard scamper.
The Cougars' secondary broke down again in the final minute of the third quarter, when Davis found Lampley open down the sideline for a 61-yard touchdown and a 42-21 Southern Miss lead.
Southern Miss linebacker Ronnie Thornton intercepted a Keenum pass and returned it 26 yards for a score with 2:41 left.
Thornton said their focus was to disrupt Keenum.
''We wanted to get after the quarterback pretty good,'' Thornton said. ''We couldn't give Case Keenum the time to sit back there and play dink and dunk with his receivers.''