Cougars look to improve after loss to UTEP

Oct 6, 2009 - 9:27 PM By KRISTIE RIEKEN AP Sports Writer

HOUSTON(AP) -- The first ranking in 18 years and the possibility of becoming a BCS buster are gone after Houston's weekend loss to UTEP.

It was a defeat that has left this formerly high-flying team "embarrassed and angry," as it prepares for a tough game against Mississippi State on Saturday.

Coach Kevin Sumlin is concerned about the emotional effects from the 58-41 loss that knocked his team completely out of the AP poll from No. 12.

"I'm worried about us being so upset right now that we can't do things right," he said. "I think right now we've got a whole other mindset. I think this team is embarrassed and angry."

He hopes those feelings will help propel Houston to bounce back against the Bulldogs.

Houston allowed UTEP's Donald Buckram to run for 262 yards and four touchdowns in the win. It was the most yards rushing this season for a Football Bowl Subdivision player and the most by a Miner since 1948.

"The whole defense was for sure embarrassed," senior linebacker C.J. Cavness said. "I think we've learned that we don't want to feel that anymore. Our effort and our attitudes have definitely been affected and it's going to be different from now on."

Improving the run defense will be a focus this week and the Cougars know dealing with Mississippi State's Anthony Dixon will be a challenge. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Dixon is averaging almost 107 yards.

Sumlin expects the Bulldogs to rely on the senior heavily on Saturday.

"Seeing as how he's carried 739 (career) times, I would doubt that they would not hand him the ball if they watched the tape last week," Sumlin said.

Quarterback Case Keenum had a career-high 536 yards passing and set school and Conference USA records with his 51 completions against the Miners. He leads the nation with an average of 424 yards passing.

But Houston was unhappy with two turnovers, one which led to a 70 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

"I'd rather be leading the nation in wins than anything else," Keenum said. "That's the only thing that matters to our team. We don't care if we throw for 1 million yards or two yards. We just want to win the game."

Keenum said he learned a major lesson from the loss that he thinks will help the Cougars as they work to get back into the race for the C-USA title.

"We can't just show up and expect to win," he said. "We have to show up and be the most prepared and focused football team and be ready to play."

The Cougars are looking forward to facing the Bulldogs and proving themselves after their poor performance against UTEP. Mississippi State has lost three games, but those losses came at the hands of two ranked teams and undefeated Auburn. No. 4 LSU needed a goal line stand to get a 30-26 win over Mississippi State.

"It's one of those opportunities where people get to watch you and you get to perform on the big stage so of course you want to go out there and show them what U of H is about," linebacker Marcus McGraw said. "It's a chance at redemption after what we did last week. People have many different opinions of us right now, so we're trying to come out and show people that we are a great team."

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