Keenum’s numbers overshadow Graham’s stellar performance

Published 2:14 am Monday, October 24, 2011

HOUSTON (AP) — In his first start, A.J. Graham led Marshall to the victory. In his second start, the redshirt sophomore helped the Thundering Herd to over 500 yards of offense.

This time, it wasn’t enough to get a win. Case Keenum was that good.

Keenum became the Football Bowl Subdivision’s career leader in total offense on Saturday, throwing for 376 yards and tying his career high with six touchdown passes in No. 21 Houston’s 63-28 win over Marshall.

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Keenum needed 130 yards to eclipse the record of 16,910 yards set by Hawaii’s Tim Chang from 2000-04. He moved past Chang on a 30-yard pass to Justin Johnson with 3:56 left in the first quarter.

The effort by the senior quarterback overshadowed a solid performance by Graham, who completed 27 of 35 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns.

“I thought he did some real good things,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “We’re moving the ball better than we’ve done it in two years. We just have to make sure that when we do it, we get the ball in the end zone.”

Graham also rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown. He made his first start last week, helping the Herd (3-5, 2-2 Conference USA) rally for a 24-20 win over Rice.

Saturday’s game plan was control the ball and keep it away from Keenum and the nation’s top-ranked offense. Marshall won time of possession by 24 minutes, and still lost handily.

“For the most part, it was just about keeping the ball out of their offense’s hands,” Graham said. “You see what they can do when they get the ball in their hands. They score quick. For us, it was just about making plays and keeping the drives going.”

Houston (7-0, 3-0) led 35-14 at halftime, and four of its five touchdown drives took less than 90 seconds.

“The crazy thing was that the one thing we tried to do was win the time of possession, and we did,” Holliday said. “The first half they had the ball for nine minutes, and we had it for 21, and the score is 35-14.”

Keenum was nearly perfect in the first half, completing 19 of 21 passes for 295 yards and four touchdowns. He also never faced pressure from Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry, Conference USA’s sacks leader.

“They had a good game plan and executed,” Curry said. “That is definitely the quickest release I have seen or played against. He had a three-step drop and every throw was on the money to his receivers. That’s called chemistry.”

The Herd drove to the Houston 1 late in the half, but the Cougars defense stopped Tron Martinez on fourth down on the final play before the break.

Graham scrambled for a touchdown on Marshall’s first series of the second half. Keenum promptly found Tyron Carrier for a 43-yard gain, then threw a 17-yard TD pass to Johnson to cap another lightning-fast scoring drive.

Linebacker Sammy Brown deflected a Graham pass that was picked off by linebacker Derrick Matthews, who returned it for another Houston touchdown to make it 49-21.

Cougars defensive end Kelvin King returned an interception 69 yards, and Keenum threw a TD pass to E.J. Smith, sending Houston over 50 points for the third time in four games.

“They’re good and they have done that to a lot of people,” Holliday said. “Unfortunately, they did it to us. The biggest disappointment I have is that we didn’t tackle very well.”

The Cougars piled up 621 yards and averaged 11 yards per snap.

“We pride ourselves on being good tacklers,” Holliday said. “We knew that we were facing some guys that were really good skill people. They have a boatload of skill over there, and they showed it.”