Houston's aerial attack gets boost from run game
But when SMU slowed the Cougars' passing attack this weekend, Houston ran for a season-high 161 yards and scored three touchdowns in the win.
It's a performance coach Kevin Sumlin said creates a complete offense. It could make the nation's most potent attack even better heading into this weekend's game against Southern Mississippi.
"It just makes us that much harder to stop," running back Bryce Beall said. "Teams just can't sit back in coverage if they're worried about the run and the pass."
Beall is Houston's leading rusher with 505 yards. But the Cougars like to use two running backs, and Charles Sims was Saturday's star, rushing for a career-high 105 yards and two scores.
Beall has learned a lot in his second year with the Cougars. His high school team ran the ball "almost every play," so he had to adjust to Houston's wide open offense. He said playing for the Cougars has improved his catching and blocking skills, making him a complete running back.
Saturday was the first time all season the Cougars ran more times than they threw and Case Keenum finished with a season-low 233 yards passing after entering the game averaging 417.
"When people take away the pass, we've got to be able to run the ball," he said. "They did a great job of doing that, especially this Saturday. It just shows another side of our offense. If we need to run the ball we can and we can be successful doing it."
Houston (6-1, 2-1 Conference USA) is in a four-way tie for the lead in the conference's West division. Southern Mississippi (5-3, 3-1) is tied with Marshall and East Carolina for the East division lead.
The Cougars' improved running game will be tested against a Golden Eagles defense that held Tulane to 54 yards rushing last week and is 4-0 when holding teams under 100 yards.
Sumlin said the increased production from his running backs is due in part to the work of second year offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen.
"It's not like we haven't run the ball since I've been here, we're just running it more now," Sumlin said. "Those guys are good players and we need to get them on the field. I think Dana's doing a good job of getting the ball to our playmakers."
Beall had 198 carries for 1,272 yards as a freshman last season, so Sumlin's decision to spread the carries between Beall and Sims has confused some fans.
"People want to know what's wrong with Bryce Beall," Sumlin said. "There's nothing wrong with Bryce. We're going to extend his career and do what's best for our team and try to keep both of them healthy."
Sumlin believes splitting the load between the backs has cut down on Houston's turnovers.
"It's no secret that when a guy gets tired, it's just a fact of life, you get careless," he said.
Keenum, who remains the nation's leader in total offense and passing yards a game despite Saturday's season-low outing, loves the options Houston's three running backs provide.
"They've all got different talents and some may be better at some plays than others, but they can all run any play in our offense," he said. "It's nice to know that when you see different guys coming on it's just not a drop-off in talent level or in preparation or how hard they're going to play."