This week we have only one Southwest Conference rematch game and, while that’s a shame, the good news is it’s a game between old conference opponents who have met again in a new conference. Anytime a game is between conference opponents it adds a little extra something to the match up. While a non-conference game has little to no chance of impacting a conference title race, even the lowliest conference team can throw the whole league into upheaval my defeating a team sitting atop the conference rankings.
Indeed, that is what the Mustangs will be hoping to achieve this weekend when they travel to Houston to face the Cougars. However, the Cougars have proven themselves as a talented squad and they should be looking to take home the American Athletic Conference crown at the end of the season. SMU on the other hand, is still squarely in the rebuilding process and is quickly watching their bowl hopes evaporate.
While the Mustangs season is in disarray, there is no question that first year Chad Morris has already begun to turn the program in the right direction. When Morris arrived on the SMU campus, the Mustangs only had 68 Texans on their roster, the lowest total for any FBS team in the state. Perhaps even more indicative of where the program was, SMU had more out of state players (31) than they had DFW natives. Texas has more than enough talent to supply all the FBS programs in the state and there is no question that DFW is one of the most talent-rich metropolises in the entire country. Needless to say, Morris has had plenty to overcome.
Meanwhile, Houston’s first year coach, Tom Herman has stepped in and led the Cougars to an undefeated start. His 4-0 mark is the second best start by a first-year coach in Houston history and Herman, along with Florida’s Jim McElwain, is the only first year coach still undefeated. Everyone here at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame is rooting for the Cougars to become the first AAC football champion from the state of Texas – we all know Texans are the best, but a little hardware never hurt anyone.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at a memorable Southwest Conference match between the Cougars and Mustangs from days past. As always, we encourage everyone to share their own memories of the SWC and, specifically, of the SMU-UH series on Twitter and/or Facebook.
SMU versus U of H
October 21, 1989 – a date that will live in infamy for nearly every Mustang fan. Although I was born in 1989 and didn’t get to watch this game, that’s not too unusual, most people didn’t. After being handed probation in 1988 by the NCAA, the Houston Cougars were banned from playing in bowl games, from being ranked in the Coaches’ Poll and, perhaps most importantly, from playing in televised contests. That meant the only people that watched the Cougars’ record setting day were those there in attendance (slightly more than 20,000).
SMU was certainly no juggernaut entering the ’89 contest – if anything they were the exact opposite. Having been handed the death penalty in 1987 and self-imposing a football ban in 1988, the ’89 Mustangs were the first squad to play for SMU in years. Led by Forrest Gregg, SMU’s team was composed almost entirely of undersized freshmen. A matchup against Houston coach Jack Pardee, quarterback Andre Ware and the rest of the potent Cougar offense was not something the Mustangs were relishing; even the most hopeful of SMU’s supporters didn’t expect this to be much of a game (the line before the game favored Houston by 59.5 points).
The sixth game of the season for each squad, SMU was 1-4 while Houston was ranked #16 with a record of 4-1, their only loss was to Texas A&M at Kyle Field by four points. The loss to Texas A&M dropped the Cougars out of the top-10. It’s not like the Cougars needed extra motivation offensively. Through the first four games of the season, Houston scored an average of 59 points per game while they allowed a combined 24 points to be scored. Unfortunately for the Mustangs, after the loss to A&M, Houston came out with a vengeance.
It was clear who the more talented squad was in the first quarter, but in the second quarter where things got completely out of hand. Ware threw for 340 yards and five touchdowns in the second quarter alone. In doing so, Ware smashed the previous NCAA mark for both yards and scores in a single quarter of play (the previous passing mark was 304 yards in a quarter set by Brooks Dawson at UTEP in 1968). At halftime, the Cougars were up 59-14 and Ware had 517 yards of passing with six touchdowns, again setting a new NCAA mark. The previous record for a single half was 372 yards passing by Jim McMahon of BYU in 1980.
The game was securely in hand but high point totals were nothing new for Houston. The Cougars were the last NCAA D-I team to score 100 points in a game when they defeated Tulsa 100-6 in 1968. Would the Cougars reach triple-digits again against their SWC foe?
As is typical in a blowout, Ware was benched at halftime for Cougar backup David Klingler. However, in an unusual move, even in today’s world, Pardee pulled his first-team defense after the first quarter, playing backups the rest of the game. By the time the game ended, Houston’s on-field receiving corps consisted of three walk-ons.
Of course, even with his least talented players on the field, Pardee and Houston strolled through the second half. Klinger threw several long touchdown passes and the offense continued to score with ease. When it was all over, Houston had won by a final score of 95-21. It wasn’t quite a triple-digit score – but it could have been. Pardee chose to run the clock out when his team had the ball at SMU’s 17-yard line. While the Cougars didn’t get 100 points, they did reach 1,000 yards of offense. Houston’s 1,021 yards of offense broke the previous single game record of 883 set by Nebraska in 1983. Houston’s mascot set a record of his own. Having to do pushups after every score, Cougar-suited Jason Lee did 682 pushups during the game.
Not surprisingly, the final score and the effort of the Houston offense even when backups were played ruffled the feathers of SMU’s fan base. Most upset was SMU coach Gregg, who said, after the game, “I don’t think it’s necessary and I don’t appreciate it. They had their second and third defense in there in the second and third quarters, but I didn’t see any reason why they had to keep sending fresh receivers to blow by our kids, who were obviously tired…I guess I should be happy they didn’t get 100.” SMU’s worst defeat in SWC history prior to this game was a 49-3 loss to Baylor.
Pardee, for his part seemed sympathetic after the game, saying, “If I had a choice, I wouldn’t have gotten 1,000 yards. I didn’t want that or 100 points. It’s a shame to work with freshmen and redshirt freshmen. That’s not what college football is about. We’re not interested in rubbing it in on anyone…I’ve been dreading this game all year. It was a no-win situation for us. [A coach] can’t ask his players to go out and do less than their best.”
Despite not being televised, the game was reported around the country in major publications. After the game, the Los Angeles Times suggested the Astrodome be renamed “The Warehouse” in honor of Andre Ware. In fact, Ware had spent most of the season as college football’s best kept secret. After the SMU game, he wasn’t a secret anymore. Despite not playing on TV and not having many people watch him in person, Ware would go on to win the 1989 Heisman Trophy.
Houston would finish the season 9-2, good enough for second place in the SWC. SMU would struggle to a 2-9 finish with their only victories against D-IAA opponents, Connecticut and North Texas. While the 95-21 loss was by far the worst, the schedule didn’t get any easier for SMU. They would fall to #20 Texas A&M 63-14 and #1 Notre Dame 59-6 in the first two weeks of November.
Since receiving the death penalty in 1987, SMU football has seen just four winning seasons. A 6-5 record in 1997 under Mike Cavan was their first followed by three under Junes Jones in 2009 (8-5), 2011 (8-5) and 2012 (7-6). Chad Morris has every bit of the ability needed to return SMU football to its once prominent position. Unfortunately, the Mustangs won’t be getting revenge on Houston this weekend.
Houston has continued to see spurts of success with coaches, such as, Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin but hasn’t been able to achieve sustained success since their days in the SWC. Herman looks to be another in the long line of Houston coaches that could take the Cougars to great heights. The biggest question is whether Herman can achieve those heights and then whether or not he will stay or use the success to move to another position. There are multiple factors that will come into play, not the least of which is whether or not Houston stays in the AAC or if they move to another conference, such as, the Big 12.
Regardless, let’s all enjoy a Thursday night game between two old SWC foes and hope for a good game. Oh, and just in case SMU needed some extra motivation against the Cougars this weekend, Houston went ahead and provided it. Have a great college football week, y’all!
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This article was written and researched by Ryan Sprayberry, Collections and Exhibits Manager at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame