The SMU defense kept Case Keenum and Houston's prolific offense under control -- at least as much as any team can control the high-scoring Cougars.
The Mustangs' offense, however, sputtered without its star tailback and No. 11 Houston rolled to a 37-7 victory Saturday. Keenum set the Football Bowl Subdivision career record for completions, threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score. Houston's defense held SMU to 263 total yards and forced two turnovers that led to 10 points.
"I'm just frustrated that we didn't play better," SMU coach June Jones said. "We had opportunities in the first half to make it a close game. I thought the defense played really hard. I thought the kids played really hard. They played with a lot of emotion and nobody quit."
Playing without Conference USA leading rusher Zach Line, who underwent season-ending toe surgery on Thursday, the Mustangs rushed for 24 yards. Freshmen Rishaad Wimbley led the Mustangs with 19 yards.
J.J. McDermott was 23 of 40 for 239 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw an interception and fumbled. The Mustangs didn't score until McDermott threw a short touchdown pass to Darius Johnson with 8:33 left in the game. "I can't turn it over," McDermott said. "Everybody knows that you have a better chance to win if the other team makes a bunch of them. I obviously have to do a better job of not turning it over."
Keenum completed 30 of 45 passes for 318 yards, a ho-hum day for the nation's leader in total offense and pass efficiency. He set the completions mark on his seventh throw, breaking the previous mark (1,403) set by Texas Tech's Graham Harrell (2005-08).
The Cougars' sixth-year quarterback also joined Hawaii's Tim Chang as the only quarterbacks to reach 4,000 yards passing in three seasons, and he tied Chang's FBS record for career 300-yard passing games (36). Chang set his records in 2000-04, when he played for Jones.
Houston had scored at least 56 points in its past five games, but met more resistance than it has in more than a month on its opening series. The Mustangs pressured Keenum with blitzes and sacked him once. The Cougars settled for Matt Hogan's 28-yard field goal. We played well," defensive end Marquis Frazier said, "but not well enough to win."
SMU had its chances to keep it close. After the Cougars took a 6-0 lead, J.R. Richardson returned a ensuing kickoff to midfield. But Houston outside linebacker Sammy Brown then sacked McDermott and Mike Loftus missed a 35-yard field-goal attempt. Loftus replaced regular kicker Chase Hoover, who sat out with an illness.
McDermott finally got the Mustangs moving early in the third quarter, and found Cole Beasley down the sideline for a 27-yard gain to the Houston 4. But on third down, linebacker Phillip Steward intercepted a McDermott pass in the end zone.
"When you are playing good football teams, you have to make the plays," Jones said. "The defense played pretty hard. But it was one of those days where we didn't make the plays to win." Michael Hayes took a screen pass 60 yards to the SMU 2, and Hogan kicked another field goal for a 16-0 lead.
McDermott then fumbled on a scramble near midfield and safety Kent Brooks recovered. Keenum threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Justin Johnson for a 23-0 Houston lead.
He went over 300 yards passing in the fourth, just before running 16 yards for a touchdown with 6:17 remaining. Backup quarterback Cotton Turner threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Gino Collins five minutes later as Houston hit 35 points for the 11th straight game. SMU has lost four of five since a 5-1 start.
"We are a .500 team or whatever we are," Jones said. "We aren't where we need to be. But it's been a long time since they (the Mustangs) have won six games, and that's where we are right now."