Since I was up in Dallas for business late last week (where I am again for the first half of this week as well), I decided to stay through Saturday to catch the University of Houston's game against the SMU Mustangs at Gerald J. Ford Stadium on the SMU campus.
Things weren't going well for the Coogs in the first half. They jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead, but then the Unholy Trinity of University of Houston football - penalties, turnovers and lousy special teams play - began to manifest itself. The Coogs fumbled deep inside SMU territory on a botched handoff, which led to a Mustang score. Later, the Coogs jumped offsides while SMU was attempting a field goal, which gave the Ponies a first down that they later converted into a touchdown (to add insult to injury, the field goal SMU attempted sailed wide). Then the Cougars had a punt blocked well inside SMU territory. The Mustangs capitalized on these miscues as well as a confused UH defense and rattled off 24 unanswered points to make the score 24-14 at halftime. Things weren't looking good for the Cougars.
But then the Coogs did what they have done in the second half of so many games this season: they stepped up and started playing smart. Anthony Aldridge ran off a 77-yard touchdown run - his second of the day - and Jackie Battle added a 61-yard scoring scamper of his own to put the Cougars on top. Kevin Kolb did not have a great day, amassing only 147 passing yards and a touchdown, but his perfect strike to Donnie Avery to convert a third-and-19 from the shadow of the Coogs' own goal line midway through the fourth quarter was a back-breaker for the SMU defense. Houston's defense did their job as well, holding the Ponies to a single field goal in the second half and recovering a fumble that sealed the deal. The Cougars won, 37-27, and notched their eighth win of the season.
Even better: Rice's double-overtime win over Tulsa a few minutes later secured the Western Division championship for the Cougars. If the Coogs can take care of Memphis next Saturday, they will host the Conference USA Championship at Robertson Stadium the evening of Friday December 1st. The winner of that game will represent the conference in the Liberty Bowl December 29th.
Another Dallas-area team, the University of North Texas Mean Green, notched their third win of a disappointing season with a 16-7 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. This is the Cajuns' third loss in a row. How did the Coogs manage to lose to these guys?! Unfortunately, the Mean Green's victory was too little and too late for coach Darrell Dickey, who was fired by UNT athletics director Rick Villareal last week. Dickey will continue on as head coach for the final two games of the 2006 season.
This was my first visit to Ford Stadium. I really liked it. SMU has a very beautiful campus. I was especially impressed by their tradition of tailgating along the tree-lined "Boulevard" that stretches through the heart of campus. All in all, it was a good afternoon on Mockingbird Lane.
Not to be outdone, the Cougar mens basketball team opened their season with an 102-99 victory at Rhode Island this evening. Right now, things are rolling for University of Houston athletics.