On this day in 1976, the Cougars returned “home” to Rice Stadium and rocked #9 Texas A&M, 21-10. The crowd of 70,001 was the largest in school history, with nearly 17,000 more fans than the previous top crowd (#5 UGA in 1967 at the Astrodome).
“Out on a sudden lonely Southwest Conference football street stands a Cougar, fangs dripping over yet another corpse.” – Austin American-Statesman writer George Breazeale
The headlines around the state after the game uniformly called the UH win an “upset” or used some form of “shock.” Going into the season, most writers had picked UH to finish in the middle of the pack in the SWC and had the Aggies winning it. Why would UH compete after they went 2-8 the previous year? And the SWC was stacked: Texas, Arkansas, and A&M were coming off of 10 win seasons in 1975.
The Aggies marched into Rice Stadium having just dismantled Virginia Tech and Kansas State. A&M was on a mission to atone for 1975 after a blowout loss to Arkansas derailed their national title hopes. USC then shut them out in the Liberty Bowl to end what could have been a magical season.
Houston opened the season at Baylor and won their first-ever SWC game, 23-5. But going into the A&M game, the Cougars were licking their wounds from a 49-14 thrashing by the Florida Gators in Gainesville. It was the most points the Cougars had given up in a game since 1969, also against Florida.
Cougars Control The Game
As a stipulation of Houston joining the SWC, visiting schools were allowed to decide whether to play the Cougars at the Astrodome or Rice Stadium. That arcane rule has never been repeated in major sports history. Due to its singular implementation, it should be known as the Yeoman Rule.
The teams started off the game trading punts before the Aggies mounted a bit of a drive. Cougar DB Mark Mohr put an end to that, intercepting Aggie QB David Shipman late in the opening quarter. A few plays later, sophomore QB Danny Davis hit Eddie Foster for a touchdown and Lennard Coplin added the PAT. The Cougars led the Aggies 7-0.
After the Ags punted again, Davis connected with flanker Robert Lavergne for another Cougar score. A&M went down and kicked a field goal before Davis hit Eddie Foster again, this time from 18 yards out. The sellout Cougar crowd was going wild, chanting “Think Cotton” after the score.
UH’s early success was remarkable as the Aggies had the #1 defense nationally for three years running. They’d given up less than 10 ppg since the start of the 1975 season and in the last 20 regular-season games, the Ags had given up 20+ points just twice.
“Those (scoring) plays were the same ones they ran the seven years I was there,” A&M defensive coordinator (and former UH coach) Melvin Robertson said. “Same sets and everything. They just outexecuted us.”
The real story of the game, as usual, was the Cougar defense. The Mad Dogs were on the attack the entire game. Cornerbacks Anthony Francis and Mark Mohr combined to pick off 3 Aggie passes. The Coogs also forced five A&M fumbles, one of which David Hodge fell on.
The Aggies added a fourth-quarter touchdown but were never in the game. UH held the Ags to just 196 yards of offense, a season-low, and the Mad Dogs were responsible for A&M’s lowest SWC scoring output stretching over 3 seasons. UH would shut out the Aggies in 1978, 33-0, which was the beginning of the end of the successful run for the Pooooooor Aggies.
As time ticked off the clock, Houston fans knew they had begun their first SWC season 2-0. The rowdy Rice Stadium crowd chanted “Think Cotton” once more as the game went final.
“I really appreciate the total effort of this team,” Bill Yeoman exclaimed in the joyous locker room. “We really have some super players.”
“Showing the arrogance of a kid that had just clobbered the biggest bully in the neighborhood, most of the Houston Cougars laughed their way into their dressing room Saturday night at Rice Stadium.” – Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Charles Clines
The 1976 Aggies led the SWC in offensive scoring and defensively in points given up. They also finished #7 in the country at 10-2. But it was the Cougars that would win the SWC and head to the Cotton Bowl. The Ags wound up in El Paso in the Sun Bowl.