A team that came into the season with such high expectations behind a Heisman Trophy candidate is now officially reeling after the news Sunday afternoon that both Keenum and Cotton Turner are done for the year. Keenum tore his ACL while trying to make a tackle on an interception in a 31-13 loss to UCLA on Saturday night. Turner broke his clavicle after getting hit following a pass.
The Cougars will most likely turn to freshman Terrance Broadway, who was supposed to be redshirted this season. Instead, Broadway came into the UCLA game in relief of both quarterbacks and went 5-of-8 for 84 yards and a touchdown despite getting no reps during practice. Coach Kevin Sumlin said he would decide between Broadway and another freshman, David Piland, who was also supposed to be redshirted as the team prepares to play Tulane.
"It’s a blow to our team, really to lose both of them and I’m really disappointed for them personally -- particularly for Case," Sumlin said on a conference call Sunday night. "It’s an unfortunate situation, but different things happen and we’ve got to have some guys who will step up and play. I thought Terrance Broadway coming in at the end of the game in those circumstances on the road and with very limited reps I thought he handled it very, very well for his first time out. We’ve got talented young players and our team’s going to have to rally behind our young quarterbacks and continue to move on."
Keenum, of course, was the centerpiece of a team that has returned to national prominence thanks to his stellar play. He and Graham Harrell of Texas Tech are the only players in NCAA Division I history with multiple 5,000-yard passing seasons. Last season, Keenum set the school single-season record with 5,671 passing yards, the third-highest passing total in NCAA Division I-FBS history.
He was also poised to become the NCAA career passing leader going into this year. But now he faces the reality that his season is over. To make matters worse, this was the second game in a row he got hurt trying to make a tackle on an interception. Last week, he sustained a mild concussion against UTEP. Sumlin said the thought that ran through his mind when he saw Keenum trying to make a tackle was this: "You should not be doing that."
"We talked about it last week," Sumlin said of a conversation he had with Keenum. "We all know what kind of competitor he is."
As for how Keenum is handling the injury, Sumlin said, "I think you guys would know that this is a difficult time for him. He’s the kind of guy that’s resilient, but I do think things of this nature take time for guys to deal with."
Sumlin said his offense won't change much with two inexperienced quarterbacks now competing to lead such a wide-open attack. Both Broadway and Piland come from successful high school programs -- Broadway from Capital in Baton Rouge, La., and Piland from Southlake Carroll in Texas.
But still, they are going to obviously be without a four-year starter, a leader, the heart and soul of a team that has been rejuvenated because of him. The defense showed against UCLA it still is a work on progress and has a long way to go before becoming an elite unit. The running game, so good in the first two games, struggled against the Bruins. You can bet teams are now going to force Houston to try and pass -- something they wanted to avoid with Keenum there.
For the terrible news his team received, Sumlin is eager to see how his players respond.
"We’re going to have to depend on some leadership from within," Sumlin said. "As I told the team after the game, we’ve got some experienced players who are going to have to pick up the slack. We do have people around who will surround our quarterbacks, and they’ve got to raise their level of play. We’ve got a long season ahead of us. All our goals are still out in front of us.
"Right now we’re 1-0 in our conference and we’re playing a conference game this week. We’ve got to turn our attention now to still reaching our goals and our players know that. This is another challenge for this team and for this program."