Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson
By the time Bryce Beall returned to the locker room after Houston’s win over No. 5 Oklahoma State, he had 36 text messages and the phone wouldn’t stop buzzing.
Beall is from Tatum, a small town in East Texas, and nearly every person in the town contacted him before the night was over.
The attention was warranted. Beall had followed his scramble drill lesson and gave quarterback Case Keenum another target while he was scrambling across the 6-yard-line on fourth down trying to give the Cougars the lead.
As Keenum threw, James Cleveland was the intended receiver but Oklahoma State linebacker Donald Booker knocked the ball up in the air and that’s when Beall said the entire game went to slow motion.
“Case was scrambling trying to make a play and I was just trying to be an extra option to him,” Beall said. “So, I went to the back of the end zone and it just happened that the ball got tipped and I was the closest player. It was like everything happened so slow to me. I had time to think about the play and everything it seemed like.”
And what was Beall thinking about as the ball fell into his arms?
“Whatever you do, do not drop this ball,” Beall said laughing. “It seemed like I just had too much time to catch that ball. That’s probably one of the biggest plays I’ve ever made in my life.”
It was a play that helped Houston to its first major upset since 1984 and its first national ranking since 1999. It also started talk about the Cougars potentially being a BCS buster, especially if they win this weekend’s game against Texas Tech.
But Beall, a sophomore, would be one of the first on the team to emphasize not thinking too far ahead. After all, his road to Houston’s immaculate deflection wasn’t an easy one. In fact, this time last year, Beall wasn’t even the starter and didn’t know if he’d even have a role in the offense.
During fall camp of 2008, coach Kevin Sumlin’s first season, he had both quarterback and running back controversies. He settled on Keenum as his starting quarterback and gave sophomore Andre Kohn the starting running back position. Kohn was great through the first three games of the 2008 season. He had 216 total yards, a touchdown and gave the Cougars another offensive threat. But then he suffered a knee injury, opening the door for Beall, who had been playing in spot time.
“I wanted to show the coaches so bad that I could be that guy,” Beall said. “That was a lot of motivation for me for last year.”
Beall admits the first couple games he was nervous, but as he got comfortable, he became the diverse threat the Cougars needed to be feared on offense. After rushing for 92 yards in his first game as starter, he rattled off three consecutive 100-yard games. He finished the season with six 100-yard games, including 176 against Tulane, and 1,247 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.
But Sumlin said what made Beall such a valuable member of the offense was his ability to be an every down back. While Beall was working his way into the starting lineup those first few weeks, he spent extra time on his blocking, route running and catching. He made sure that he could be whatever threat the Cougars needed him to be and that he could keep defenses on their toes.
Beall’s ability to be an every down back is what allowed him to be on the field against Oklahoma State when Houston needed him the most.
Beall said he looks back on last season and is shocked that he put up 1,793 yards of total offense and 17 touchdowns. Two games into this season, Beall already has 231 yards of total offense and four touchdowns.
“For us,” Sumlin said. “[Beall’s ability to stay on the field] created a whole other weapon in the passing game. It made him a complete back instead of a guy that just came into the game to run the ball.”