HOUSTON – While Case Keenum sets NCAA records, senior receivers Tyron Carrier and Patrick Edwards have been right there with him, putting up their own impressive numbers for high-powered Houston.
The No. 14 Cougars (8-0, 4-0 Conference USA) and the nation's top-ranked offense play at UAB (1-7, 1-4) on Saturday in pursuit of the best start in school history. Houston has never gone undefeated, and sits just outside the Bowl Championship Series standings with four games to play.
"Records are good things," Carrier said, "but we've got a bigger prize on our minds right now."
Keenum, already the Football Bowl Subdivision's career leader in total offense (17,692 yards) and touchdown passes (139), needs 267 yards passing to break the NCAA record of 17,072 held by Hawaii's Tim Chang.
It's likely that either Carrier or Edwards will make the reception that sends Keenum over the top. Both have caught a pass in every game they've played at Houston. Carrier's streak of 47 consecutive games with a catch is the nation's longest; Edwards is five behind at 42.
Carrier is already Houston's career receptions leader (277) and is chasing the NCAA record held by current Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles (333). Edwards holds the Houston record for career yards receiving (3,826) and needs one more TD catch to break the school record he shares with Elmo Wright (34).
Carrier matched another national mark when he returned the opening kickoff of last week's 73-34 win over Rice 100 yards for a touchdown. He has seven career kickoff returns for scores, tying the mark set by Clemson's C.J. Spiller.
Not to be outdone, Edwards produced the biggest receiving day in college football this season, catching seven catches for 318 yards and five touchdowns against the Owls. Edwards leads the NCAA with 11 TD catches and ranks second in yards receiving (1,069).
"We all have a connection to the records, to everything," Edwards said. "It's our job to make Case look good, and he makes us look good."
Keenum came to Houston in 2006, and Carrier and Edwards arrived a year later, when Art Briles was still the coach. Edwards was a walk-on and first-year coach Kevin Sumlin said he and then-offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen started seeing Edwards' potential during fall practices in 2008.
"When Dana was here, we'd look out there and say, 'He might be the best guy we've got,'" Sumlin said. "After we found out what his name was, we watched him for a couple of weeks and gave him a scholarship."
The receivers were just starting to develop chemistry with their quarterback that season when Edwards broke his right leg when he ran into a metal service cart behind the end zone during an October 2008 game at Marshall.
Keenum quickly turned to Carrier to become his go-to receiver that year, and Carrier led the team with 1,026 yards.
"It's so happened that every time he scrambled that year, the ball was thrown to me," Carrier said. "It comes through the heat of battle. During those opportunities, you learn a lot about a person. I know that he's poised, and I'll be just as poised as he is. Whenever we're in a bind, I know that he's looking for me and I'm looking for him."
Edwards was running again within four months, and fully healthy again by the time fall practices began in 2009. And that's when the offense really took flight.
Keenum set a single-season school record with 5,671 yards passing, the third-highest total in FBS history. Carrier, Edwards and then-junior James Cleveland became the first trio in school history to top 1,000 yards receiving, and the Cougars led the nation in yards passing (225 per game).
Keenum tore a ligament in his right knee in the third game of the 2010 season. He was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, and Carrier and Edwards didn't need much practice time to bond with him again.
"We just got back to the way we used to be, doing what we do every day," Edwards said. "We were very excited to get him back. He's like our coach out there on the field. He trusts us, we trust him."
By now, Carrier and Edwards can communicate with Keenum on the field without even speaking.
Keenum threw nine touchdown passes in last week's rout of Rice. On two of them, Carrier and Edwards flashed quick hand signals, Keenum nodded and threw to them for easy scores.
"It's pretty cool, when I don't even have to say anything to those guys," Keenum said. "They knew what wanted, they knew what they saw and we're on the same page. That's what you want between receivers and quarterbacks.
"It just takes time to do that," Keenum said. "It's pretty priceless when you get that sort of experience and chemistry going."