You would think two East Texas college football programs like SMU and Houston would have a rivalry that dates back to the ’20s or ’30s. That is not the case, however.
The Cougars didn’t join the Southwest Conference until the 1970s. Their first season of football in the conference didn’t start until 1976. Houston hadn’t played SMU until 1975.
Houston had the early edge, winning three of the first five match-ups. However, starting in 1981, SMU won five of the next six meetings, including the 1983 Mirage Bowl at the famed Tokyo Dome in Japan.
The last win in that run came in 1986. There was no game between the two in either 1987 and 1988. SMU had been punished with the Death Penalty. I could go on about the death penalty and SMU’s story, but that is a post on its own. Plus that has probably been covered enough.
In 1989, the two teams finally met again. It was the first season back for SMU, led by former player Forrest Gregg. It wasn’t the same team from before the Death Penalty. The program still had sanctions.
On the other side, Jack Pardee had his Houston Cougars playing competitive football with one of the best offenses in the nation. In 1988, they finished third in the nation in scoring, averaging nearly 40 points per game. The Cougars finished 9-3, losing the Aloha Bowl and finished 18th in the AP poll.
Before the Aloha Bowl, the NCAA placed Houston on probation for three years, to go with a two-year bowl ban, starting in the ’89 season. The Cougars received the ban on account of recruiting violations.
While Houston did not go bowling in ’89, that didn’t stop them from their continued offensive dominance. Led by Heisman quarterback Andre Ware, the Cougars averaged 53.5 points per game.
The Cougars began the season with a 69-0 victory over UNLV. In the first four games of the season, Houston outscored their opponents 236-24.
Their fifth game, which took place a week before SMU, led to the Cougars first loss of the season. Texas A&M picked up 17-13 win.
Meanwhile, Gregg and SMU struggled out of the gates, losing 35-6 in the season opener to Rice. Their first win of the season came just two weeks later when the Mustangs defeated UConn 31-30.
SMU lost their next three games to Southwest Conference teams. Going into the Houston game Oct. 21, SMU had a 1-4 record. Maybe the Mustangs could get it going against Houston and try to save their season. That, unfortunately, wasn’t the case.
In the end, the losing skid for SMU continued. They lost the game 95-21. It wasn’t close. And keep in mind, the Cougars came into the game as a 59 1/2 point favorite. Houston tied or broke multiple NCAA records (at the time).
Among the records set include total offensive yards (1,021) and most passing yards in a game (771).
For Ware’s part, he set NCAA records for passing yards in a quarter (340) and half (517), as well as passing touchdowns in a quarter (five). He did not play in the second half.
As a team, they tied the NCAA record with 10 passing touchdowns. Dave Klingler also threw a couple of touchdown passes in the game.
Gregg was not happy 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 in fresh receivers to blow by our kids, who were obviously tired.”
It was an incredible offensive effort. But how much of that effort came because of the freshmen majority that made up the SMU line-up?
Pardee took out his first-string defense in the second quarter, yet Ware played until the half. Is the Run & Shoot really that hard to keep control of, as Pardee said after the game?
The Run & Shoot is a pass-centric offense. It’s an offense that focuses on wide receivers. For what it’s worth, Chris Brown of Smart Football really covers the subject well.
It’s weird to think that the Run & Shoot offense is this uncontrollable machine that relies so much on passing. It’s like a big, hairy monster cyborg or something that you can’t stop with pitchforks. Maybe a zone blitz could stop it.
Of course, it’s not like it had THAT MUCH success in the NFL. I think a lot of people remember how Jack Pardee’s tenure ended up when coaching the Oilers. Or they at least remember the playoff game against the Buffalo Bills.
For what it’s worth, Houston does have a bit of a history when it comes to “Running up the score.” Of course, one of those times occurred in the 1960s when they scored 100 against Tulsa.
Regardless, it didn’t take very long for karma to strike the Cougars. Just one week later, in Little Rock, Houston lost 45-39 to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
The Cougars got back on track, blowing out their last four opponents and finishing the season with a 9-2 record. Ware had 46 touchdowns and 4,699 yards passing. In the NFL Draft, he became the seventh overall pick, selected by Detroit. After the season, Pardee left the Cougars to coach the Oilers.
Ware wasn’t the only one going to the NFL. After the ’89 season, Pardee left the Cougars to coach the Oilers.
Meanwhile, SMU responded the week after the Houston game to defeat North Texas 35-9. It was their last win of the season. The next week, they gave up 63 to Texas A&M and the following week lost 59-6 to the No. 1-ranked team in the country at the time, Notre Dame. SMU’s final two losses came against Texas Tech and Arkansas.
When SMU and Houston met again in 1990, the game was much closer. However, it still resulted in a 44-17 loss.
The Mustangs finally defeated the Cougars in 1992. Houston still has more wins since, but SMU did knock them off last season.
We’ll see if SMU can start a new trend this weekend.