HOUSTON – The high-scoring Houston Cougars want everyone to know that they can run the ball a little bit, too.
When star quarterback Case Keenum left Friday night's win over UTEP with a mild concussion, the Cougars turned to their unheralded ground attack.
Running back Bryce Beall ran for a career-high 195 yards in Houston's 54-24 victory — something else for UCLA (0-2) to think about before the No. 23 Cougars (2-0) visit the Rose Bowl this weekend.
"It's very important to make the offense as balanced as possible," Beall said. "Most teams try to sit back and try to load up on the receivers. If they do that, we have to run the ball to be successful."
Houston may need to rely on its runners even more on Saturday with Keenum's status uncertain. Coach Kevin Sumlin said Tuesday that Keenum was "day to day" and did not elaborate.
Junior Cotton Turner replaced Keenum on Friday and completed 9 of 10 passes for 69 yards and a touchdown. Houston didn't need him to do much, piling up 308 yards on the ground in its highest rushing total since 2007. Beall ran for three scores, and so did Michael Hayes, who ran 17 times for 77 yards.
"Me and Mike, we feel like if Case can't go, we've got to do a little extra running between the tackles and making things easier for Cotton," Beall said.
Houston's passing offense has ranked among the top 10 nationally in three of the past four seasons. Sumlin said the Cougars haven't adopted a run-first mentality, but are showing that their offense can adjust.
"If that's what the defense is going to present, we're not going to put a square peg in a round hole," Sumlin said. "When we get into the games, some things change. We've got to be ready to execute things as the situation presents itself. I think our coaches were able to take advantage of it Friday night."
Beall, picked as the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week, said Sumlin began emphasizing the importance of a running game before the season and backed up his plea with statistics.
Houston went 9-2 when they topped 100 yards rushing last season. Beall said that Sumlin reminded the Cougars that they mustered only 46 yards on the ground in a 37-32 loss to UCF and 30 yards rushing in a 38-32 loss to East Carolina in the league championship game.
The offensive linemen were listening, too.
The Cougars ran for 151 yards in their opening 68-28 win over lower-division Texas State and now rank 23rd nationally in rushing (229.5 yards per game).
"The coaches got it in our minds to change our demeanor and be more physical. That's what we have to be to win games," junior right guard Chris Thompson said. "We're just trying to get another dimension to our offense, get that physical nature going."
Houston has cracked the Top 25 for the first time since last season, when the Cougars were ranked for nine consecutive weeks. Thompson said he didn't even realize the team was ranked this week until someone told him, and Beall said offensive coordinator Jason Phillips told the team to keep the number in perspective.
"He told us that now that people see that we are a Top 25 team, we have to act like it," Beall said.
Houston vaulted into the national spotlight last year with wins over then-No. 5 Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. The Cougars are downplaying the significance of Saturday's game, even though it's an opportunity to knock off a team from a top-tier conference on its home field.
"People are going to try to hype it up," Thompson said. "Honestly, it's just another football game. They have lines on their field, just like we do. We're going on a business trip, strictly business.
"To me, winning legitimizes anything," he said. "Any win against any team is what we're working for. The 12 teams on our schedule is what we're really aiming for, and UCLA is the next one."