The Southern Methodist Mustangs (1-8, 0-3 Conference USA) dropped their seventh straight game with a 38-28 loss to Houston (6-3, 5-1 C-USA) before 22,774 at Robertson Stadium and a national audience on Sunday in a game televised by ESPN.
Although SMU outscored Houston 14-7 in the second half, the Cougars held on to win by 10 and become bowl-eligible with their sixth win of the season, bolstered by the performance of Houston’s seniors.
Senior wide receiver Donnie Avery passed 1,000 yards on the season with his second catch of the game, an 11-yarder from redshirt freshman quarterback Case Keenum in the second quarter, and finished the night with 159 all-purpose yards and one touchdown. He has 1,097 yards on the season.
Senior running back Anthony Alridge had 182 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns and recorded his fifth straight game with at least 100 yards.
Houston started the second half with a missed 51-yard field goal attempt by senior kicker T.J. Lawrence, which led to a Mustang touchdown with 11:09 left in the third quarter on a 51-yard touchdown pass from Willis to senior wide receiver Zack Sledge. The score brought the Mustangs within 10 with the score at 31-21.
The Mustangs pulled within 3 on another touchdown pass from Willis to Sledge, a 21-yarder with 5:19 left in the third quarter, but that was the closest SMU got to Houston in the second half.
SMU sophomore quarterback Justin Willis did everything he could to help the Mustangs, finishing with 351 yards on 19-of-32 passing and 51 net yards rushing. He led his team in both passing and rushing yards against Houston.
Houston didn’t score in the second half until there was 12:08 left in the game, when Keenum threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Avery to put the score at 38-28. Those were the Cougars’ last points, and the Houston defense ensured that SMU did not have a chance to come back.
Hunt and Pahulu had back-to-back sacks, both for 9 yards, with less than 11 minutes left to forcing the Mustangs to turnover the ball on downs. Houston did not score on the following drive, but senior free safety Rocky Schwartz broke up a pass from Willis to Givens on a Mustang third down with less than seven minutes left in the game to give Houston the ball on their own 34.
The Cougars marched down the field to the SMU redzone, but did not score again before time expired.
Most of Houston’s points and half of SMU’s points came in the first half. Both teams scored on their first drives of the game in the first seven minutes, SMU on a 4-yard touchdown run by Willis and UH on a 2-yard touchdown run by Alridge.
Junior safety Kenneth Fontenette got his third interception of the season with 8:03 left in the first quarter on the SMU 39, but Houston did not capitalize on the play and turned the ball over on downs with 6:26 left in the first quarter. SMU went 67 yards in the next 1:43 to score on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Willis to junior wide receiver Columbus Givens and put the Mustangs ahead 14-7.
The Cougars started the second quarter with a field goal by senior kicker T.J. Lawrence, who connected on a 31-yard field goal attempt to put the score at 14-10 with 13:08 left first half.
The Cougars scored again when junior defensive tackle Phillip Hunt forced Willis to fumble and sophomore strong safety Broderick Bean recovered on the Houston 36 with less than ten minutes left in the second quarter. Alridge ran the ball into the endzone on the next play to put the Cougars up for the first time of the game 17-14.
The play was set up by Schwartz, who forced Willis to fumble and recovered the ball on the Houston 11 with 2:21 left in the first quarter, following a fumble by Alridge on the SMU 27 with 3:40 left in the first quarter which was recovered by SMU redshirt freshman strong safety Tyler Jones.
A personal foul on Houston junior linebacker Chris Pilot gave the Mustangs the ball on the Houston 40, but SMU junior kicker Thomas Morstead missed a 26-yard field goal attempt. The Cougars then scored when Alridge threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Chaz Rodriguez with 3:46 left in the second quarter to put the extend the Cougars’ lead to 24-14. It was Alridge’s first touchdown pass and Rodriguez’s first career catch and touchdown.
Willis then fumbled, and Fontenette recovered on the SMU 49 with less than three minutes left in the half. It eventually led to another touchdown for Houston on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Keenum to senior wide receiver Jeron Harvey to put Houston’s lead at 31-14 going into halftime.