Houston's high-powered offense hopes to blast UCLA
UCLA safety Tony Dye isn't exactly clinging to the possibility that Houston quarterback Case Keenum will sit out when the high-octane Cougars visit the Rose Bowl this weekend.
Dye knows two salient facts about the third game of both teams' seasons: No. 23 Houston's runaway locomotive of an offense won't slow down, even in the absence of its conductor - and the Bruins (0-2) must fix their own woes before worrying about anybody else's problems.
''Somebody has got to throw the ball for them,'' Dye said. ''That's their offense. We know this matchup is daunting, no matter who's playing for them. This is what you want as a defensive back, though. You come here to play pass defense. Playing the run is fine, but this is when the game can be fun.''
Keenum already is the fifth-leading passer in NCAA history early in his senior season at Houston (2-0), but he received a concussion trying to make a tackle during last week's win over UTEP. Cougars coach Kevin Sumlin hasn't revealed whether Keenum will play, saying he'll be a game-time decision.
Even if Keenum sits out and backup Cotton Turner fills in, the Cougars expect to punctuate their return to the national rankings and their first Pasadena trip in 13 years with another banner performance from an offense that has scored 122 points in two games.
Turner is a former walk-on who went 9 for 10 after relieving Keenum with four series to go against UTEP. Offensive coordinator Jason Phillips confirms Dye's suspicions about the Cougars' determination to keep flinging it - when they're not handing it to running back Bryce Beall, who racked up 195 of Houston's 308 yards rushing against UTEP.
''It doesn't change our plan,'' Phillips said of the possible quarterback change. ''We are going to do what we do. Our system is in place. Our players are confident in what we are doing. Cotton (Turner) is confident in what we are doing. Our players believe in Cotton.''
Most of the Cougars will be making the first trip of their lives to California, according to Sumlin, but UCLA's historic home stadium isn't likely to intimidate them.
''I'd say out of the 66 guys that are traveling, probably 60 haven't seen a mountain in their life,'' Sumlin said. ''One of the reasons we want to play the game is because it's (an) experience that a lot of people don't have from this area of the country. ... It's a great place to play, particularly at the time we are playing. For our guys, it will be something they'll never forget.''
Houston's task is to avoid an upset loss to a struggling opponent coming off a 35-0 home loss to Stanford. UCLA has stumbled early in coach Rick Neuheisel's third season, facing the distinct possibility of an 0-4 start with a visit to No. 6 Texas looming next week.
''Certainly there were high hopes and expectations from within,'' Neuheisel said. ''I know they weren't shared externally, but we believed we had a chance to be a good football team, and we still do. ... Hopefully the ship will get righted as soon as this weekend.''
The coach realizes it's a tough order against Houston's offense, which has made few mistakes while scoring on 19 of its 26 drives this season. Even Neuheisel enjoys watching the Cougars' invention and tempo.
''And I'm sure (Sumlin) has got a lot of things in his holster that he hasn't even shown yet,'' Neuheisel said.
Meanwhile, UCLA's offense was humiliated in its first Pac-10 game, managing just 233 yards - just 81 by the nation's worst passing offense through two weeks. Neuheisel is sticking with quarterback Kevin Prince and his new Pistol offensive scheme, but it's already running out of time to show results.
''I'm definitely not happy,'' said starting tailback Johnathan Franklin, who has just 133 yards rushing. ''I'm definitely not pleased. We're all disappointed in ourselves thus far. We know we have to compete against Houston's offense, try to reach that level. It's about whose offense scores a bunch of points this week, so we've got to be going for all 60 minutes.''