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Houston QB to face UTEP for fifth time

Published: Thursday, September 29, 2011

Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 12:05

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Special to The Prospector

Houston senior quarterback Case Keenum (7) drops back to pass against the North Texas during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011, at Apogee Stadium in Denton, Texas.

While NMSU may be considered UTEP's main rival, as far as football players are concerned, Houston is high on their list.

"Houston is at the top of our conference rivals. We can't stand Houston, they can't stand us," senior wide receiver Russell Carr said.

The Miners will take on the Cougars for the ninth time in school history with the series tied at four apiece. However, Houston holds a 4-2 mark against UTEP since the school joined Conference-USA in 2005. The last four games have all been led by senior quarterback Case Keenum who will play the Miners for the fifth time in his career.

"He is a great quarterback. He is in the Heisman run right now," Carr said. "He has a great team and his team is undefeated."

Keenum gained a redshirt last season when he was injured early in the season. In their second game against UTEP, then-junior defensive back Travaun Nixon intercepted Keenum in the third quarter. When attempting to tackle Nixon, Keenum injured himself and sat out the rest of the game.

"The interception felt good at the time. It would have felt even better if we had won," Nixon said. "But I never like to see people get injured. That is the worst thing that can happen to somebody, especially people that don't get to play ever again. Fortunately for him, he is playing again."

Keenum returned to play against UCLA the next week but was injured, again, allowing him to gain a fifth year of eligibility.

In his junior year, Keenum led the Cougars into the Sun Bowl as the no. 12-ranked team in the nation. Despite going 51-of-76 with 536 yards and five touchdowns, the Miners won the battle 58-41 causing the crowd to storm the field. Keenum broke Sun Bowl records for completions and attempts that game and was seven-passing yards shy of breaking that record, too.

"Last time they came in ranked twelve on a high horse, and we knocked them off," Carr said. "It was a great feeling and I will never forget it every time I think about that."

Players still feel privileged to play him once more, such as Nixon, who said that quarterbacks like Keenum were the reason he joined the UTEP football team.

"The guy is definitely going to go to the NFL so we have to see how we fare against him, to see what kind of defense we are," Nixon said.

Other players are not tired of hearing the name Case Keenum, such as senior running back Joe Banyard who is from the Houston area.

"I played against him in high school, so we are good buddies. When I hear his name, I am glad he is doing good things, but of course, I want to beat him as well," Banyard said.

No matter how big the rivalry is, the players know that this team is no pushover and they must prepare accordingly.

"I feel like every game is a rivalry game; that is how I approach the game," Banyard said. "They are a good team. It is going to be a good rivalry game but we are taking it one step at a time."

The Cougars are ranked first overall in passing yards in the nation and 11th in points scored. Keenum has completed 1,534 passing yards, with a 71 completion percentage, 12 touchdowns and only two interceptions this season. In his last game Sept. 24, Keenum was 29-for-34 for 415 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia State. Keenum is considered a Heisman Trophy candidate and is only 1,953 yards away from breaking the NCAA's all-time passing record.

Against UTEP, Keenum has thrown for 1,411 yards overall, nine touchdowns and one interception in his career.

Houston is a few votes away from being ranked and is the second team outside of the Associated Press top-25 rankings. Beating a team like the Cougars is a must for some players.

"UTEP won the year before I came. Last year we went in there and got blown out," Nixon said. "This year we are back at the Sun Bowl, so we can't lose at home; it is a big game for us."

Frankie Rodriguez may be reached at prospector@utep.edu.

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