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Keenum and Cougars take on Green Wave in Big Easy battle

The 11th-ranked Houston Cougars will continue to make their case as a BCS buster this weekend in the Big Easy, taking on Tulane Thursday night in a Conference USA matchup.

The Cougars are rolling, out to their best nine-game start in school history following last weekend's 56-13 win over UAB. It was a record-setting affair for quarterback Case Keenum, who became the NCAA's all-time leading passer in the third quarter, passing Hawaii's Timmy Chang. The Cougars close with perhaps their two toughest games of the C-USA slate, hosting SMU next weekend before traveling to Tulsa in the season finale on November 25th.

Tulane is reeling following a 45-24 loss to SMU last weekend, marking the seventh consecutive loss for the Green Wave. Tulane has been outscored 112-54 in its last three games, and last week's loss mathematically eliminated the team from bowl eligibility. The final three games won't be an easy go for the program, facing Houston at home this weekend, followed by road trips to Rice and Hawaii to close out a difficult 2011 campaign.

Keenum completed 39-of-44 passes for 407 yards in last week's record-setting performance against UAB, with two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns as well. Tyron Carrier had 12 catches for 105 yards and two scores to lead all receivers, and the Cougars used an effective running attack when it needed to. Michael Hays ran 16 times for 93 yards and one touchdown, while Charles Sims had 71 yards on 14 carries.

Keenum's extraordinary season continues to balloon in numbers after last week's win. Keenum leads the country in total offense (405.8), and is second in passing efficiency (192.4) behind Wisconsin's Russell Wilson (196.6). He has thrown for over 400 yards fives times this season. Keenum has thrown for 3,626 yards and 34 touchdowns against three interceptions. The accomplishments have been high in number this season, a growing list of accolades that he maintains won't become part of his conscious until after the season.

"They will probably sink in later. I know for a fact that it is an honor to be a part of the things we have been a part of this season," said Keenum at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. "They are really special, but at the same time I won't take it all in until the end of the season. I want it to be a part of what this season could be."

Carrier is 14th in the country in catches per game (7.2) and averages 82.5 yards per game. Patrick Edwards is third nationally in receiving yards per game (127.5), hauling in 6.2 catches per game.

Houston ranks first nationally in passing offense (457.1), total offense (617) and scoring (52.6), and averages 159.8 yards rushing per game.

Houston's defense continues to be anchored by linebackers Marcus McGraw and Sammy Brown, who lead a Cougar squad that is sixth in the league in total defense (400.1). McGraw averages 10 tackles a game, while Brown leads the country in tackles for loss per game (2.3) and third in sacks per game (1.06).

"It feels good to lead the nation in tackles for loss, but I don't look too much into individual stats," said Brown at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. "I just want to win."

As a team, the Cougars average 8.7 tackles for loss per game and 2.7 sacks per game, and also lead C-USA in turnover margin (19 takeaways, 12 turnovers). Houston allows 183.7 rushing yards and 216.3 passing yards per game, the latter of which ranks fourth in the C-USA.

After Tulane fell into a 31-0 hole at halftime last weekend against SMU, Ryan Griffin rallied the Green Wave in the third quarter. Tulane pulled to within one score after 24 unanswered points, but it simply wasn't enough on a day when the rushing attack produced just 57 total yards. Griffin was one of the lone bright spots, finishing 20-of-36 for 214 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked four times, and Tulane lost two fumbles on the day.

Griffin is eighth in Conference USA in both passing efficiency (127.1) and total offense (205.6), and has thrown for 2,100 yards and 12 touchdowns against seven interceptions. Orleans Darkwa has been up and down at running back, and the ground game is recording just 114.4 yards per game. Darkwa averages 65.2 per outing and has scored nine touchdowns this season, but has rushed for over 100 yards in a game just once. He had 46 yards on 16 carries against SMU. Darkwa also leads the team in receptions with 29.

Wilson Van Hooser has 27 catches for 383 yards and four touchdowns this season, and was Griffin's most viable option against the Mustangs, catching five balls for 66 yards and a score.

Tulane is 92nd in the country in total offense, averaging 351.7 yards per game. The Green Wave are also 93rd in the country in scoring, averaging just 22.7 points per game.

Trent Mackey led the Green Wave defense against SMU, recording 12 tackles that included three tackles for loss and one sack. Tulane was gashed by the Mustangs, as J.J. McDermott threw for 322 yards and three touchdowns, while Zach Line ran for 143 yards and three more touchdowns.

Tulane surrenders 388 yards per game, which is fifth in Conference USA. The Green Wave are near the bottom of the national barrel in scoring defense, giving up 36 points per game. In four of its last seven losses, Tulane has allowed 44 points or more.

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