Cougars want to get going early

No. 17 Houston and its prolific offense started slow against Tulane last weekend, scoring just nine points in the first half – a season low.

They got going after halftime to take control and cruise to the 44-16 win, but know starting strong will be important as they look to move up in the Conference USA standings. The Cougars next test is against an SMU team that is tied for the C-USA West lead with a 2-0 conference record.

Quarterback Case Keenum said starting fast is something the Cougars shoot for each game.

“It sets the tone for the whole team, offense, the defense, special teams,” he said. “Whether we get the ball or the defense is out there to start fast and get a stop, it sets the tone for the game.”

In fact, Saturday was the first time this year where Houston’s No. 1 ranked offense didn’t score a touchdown in the first quarter. Coach Kevin Sumlin said the uncharacteristic start isn’t cause for concern.

“Whenever we don’t score every time we have the ball everybody seems to think we’ve got a problem,” he said. “Well, they’ve got coaches and defenses, too. So we’d love to score every time we have the ball, but sometimes that doesn’t happen.”

Sumlin thinks the pressure of performing like the top offense in the country may have gotten to his players this weekend. He noticed they didn’t seem to be having fun and looked a bit “tight” in the first half.

“We didn’t make a whole bunch of adjustments,” Sumlin said of their second half play against Tulane. “We just came out and I think our attitude changed and guys started flying around, smiling and having a good time.”

The Cougars’ new attitude resulted in a season-high 20 points in the third quarter points as they scored touchdowns on all three possessions.

Keenum, who leads the nation in passing and total offense, believes his team learned an important lesson against Tulane.

“You can’t put too much pressure on yourself to perform,” said Keenum, who had his 19th career 300-yard passing game against the Green Wave. “When it comes down to it you just have to go out there and play. We only get a certain amount of guaranteed opportunities and … there’s no point wasting it on putting pressure on yourself or nerves or any other factor.”

Starting well may be even more important Saturday against the Mustangs. SMU has outscored its opponents 94-50 in the first half this season. They’ve only trailed once at the break, a 12-7 deficit in a loss to No. 10 TCU.

Houston’s Tyron Carrier, who has 483 yards receiving with four touchdowns, said talking about the importance of starting fast doesn’t really help, everyone simply has to make happen.

“You’ve just got to go out there and make some big plays real early and get everybody out there having fun,” he said. “You’ve got to show your excitement and show that you want to make plays and then everybody will become involved in it.”