Donnel Pumphrey became the FBS all-time leading rusher and San Diego State earned a 34-10 triumph over Houston in a Las Vegas Bowl that will be remembered as one of the best wins in Aztec football history.
Though the Aztecs eventually ran away for the win, the first quarter played completely differently. Like a Houston rout, to be exact. Thanks to a Ty Cummings field goal and a Greg Ward, Jr., touchdown plunge, the Cougars jumped out to a 10-0 lead, limiting the Aztecs’ offense to four punts and three three-and-outs to open the game. Houston finished the frame with a 102-5 yardage advantage, limiting Pumphrey’s first seven carries to minus-1 yard.
The game after that, though. John Baron II chipped in two short field goals to get the Aztecs on the board, while the San Diego State defense limited Houston to just five total yards in the second quarter.
That domination continued in the third quarter as three consecutive Houston drives ended in Ward interceptions. The Cougars forced a punt after the first pick, but Pumphrey cashed in on the second with a 32-yard touchdown jaunt to put San Diego State on top 13-10 at the 3:14 mark of the third quarter, and Ron Smith stepped in front of a wide receiver screen and raced it 54 yards for a touchdown to push the lead to 20-10 with 56 seconds left in the frame. Ward finished the day completing 25-of-34 passes for 229 yards with four interceptions while netting zero yards on 14 rushes and eight sacks. He was sacked three times on Houston’s next-to-last possession alone, including a fourth down that the Coogs’ coaches for some reason felt necessary to go for despite being deep in their own territory and trailing by 17 with just over three minutes remaining.
Pumphrey topped Ron Dayne‘s all-time record early in the fourth quarter, racing 15 yards around right tackle to become the first player in FBS history to top the 6,400 yard mark. Pumphrey finished the day with 19 carries for 115 yards and one touchdown, officially closing his record-breaking career with 1,059 carries for 6,405 yards and 62 touchdowns spread over 53 games. He also became the only player in FBS history to record three consecutive seasons of 2,000 rushing/receiving yards. Dayne, as far as the NCAA is concerned, carried for 6,397 yards on 1,149 carries in 47 countable games. (Dayne, however, rushed for 7,125 yards when including three non-countable bowl games.)
After San Diego State turned away a desperation 4th-and-1 Ward rush at the Houston 31-yard line, the Aztecs put the game away with 8:58 to play as Christian Chapman (10-of-14 passing for 128 yards) hit Curtis Anderson III over the top for a 28-yard play-action touchdown pass, nudging the score to an out-of-reach 27-10. Juwan Washington punched in the capper on a 13-yard carry with 1:11 left to play. In the only downer of the day for the club, Rashaad Penny totaled only 10 yards on nine carries, leaving him five yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark to go with Pumphrey’s 2,133 yards this season.
The win pushed San Diego State to 11-3 on the year, the second consecutive season the Aztecs have won 11 games and the Mountain West championship, cementing SDSU’s status as the nation’s most underrated program. Houston’s loss dropped the Cougars to 9-4 on the year and 0-1 in the Major Applewhite era.