In his three seasons as the Ole Miss quarterback, Archie Manning never lost to a school twice.
Except for the University of Houston. The Cougars were the only school in Manning’s three varsity years to beat the Rebels twice.
On October 26, 1968, the Cougars took down Archie and the #17 Rebs in Jackson, 29-7. Ole Miss proudly defended Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in the state capital. In Archie’s three seasons, Mississippi beat three top-10 teams and five top-20 teams in the stadium and went 8-1 there overall.
The only loss was to Houston.
“For me, personally, it was always a big deal for a boy from a little town like Drew (Mississippi) to play in that stadium,” Archie reminisced in 2018. “It was a place we won a lot of big games.”
As that Clarion-Ledger story puts it: Archie’s only loss in Jackson was against a rugged Houston Cougars team, 29-7.
364 days after the 1968 win, with Ole Miss was once again ranked 17th, UH beat blew out Archie’s team at the Astrodome, 25-11. The Cougars dominated both games, piling up a 1096-335 yard advantage in the two games combined.
“Houston was good…real good,” Manning said a few years ago at SEC media days. “I’ll tell ya, they were so dang quick, we just couldn’t do anything against them. We had more trouble against Houston than any team.”
Manning said the Cougars were tougher than the third-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks he beat in the January 1, 1970, Sugar Bowl.
UH guard Bill Bridges was a Consensus All-American in 1969, Houston’s second in three years. In a recent conversation, Bill told me that it was a badge of honor that Archie thought the Cougars were the toughest team he played.
But it wasn’t just Manning that was heaping praise on Bill Yeoman’s squad. Johnny Vaught, the legendary Ole Miss coach, called the 1968 Cougars the “best offensive team in the nation.”
“They have a terrific football team…simply terrific,” Vaught said after the game. “That Paul Gipson is one Hell of a football player.”
Gipson, playing his first game after an injury earlier in the year, ran for 210 yards and nearly doubled the Rebs’ output on his own. Houston’s 29 first downs and 573 yards were the most ever against Ole Miss at the time.
The Rebels scored less than five minutes into the game after a fumble gave them the ball at the UH 20. The Cougar defense then shut them out the rest of the way. Manning left the game in the second half with a back strain.
The AP wire story from Jackson said that the “hungry Cougars with powerful ball control and a savage defense wrecked the Rebs” while the Atlanta Journal-Constitution said that the Cougars, “stabbing deeply into the pride of the Southeastern Conference’s football hierarchy here Saturday afternoon, clawed to a stunning 29-7 victory over the proud, battered Ole Miss Rebels.”
In the 1969 game, the Cougars once again dominated the overmatched Rebels. It was UH’s third win in five seasons against Johnny Reb after losing the first 12 games in the series. Archie Manning ran for his life against a Cougar defense out for blood.
The Jackson Clarion-Ledger, marveling at the Astrodome, said “the setting was beautiful but the plot was horrible as the University of Houston Cougars completely overwhelmed the Ole Miss Rebels by a 25-11 count at the Astrodome here Saturday night.”
The Cougars fell to Ole Miss in Oxford in 1970 in the last-ever game in the series. Five minutes into the second half, trailing 14-7, the Cougar defense got to Manning, causing an injury to the Heisman frontrunner. Or as the Jackson Daily News said the next day, the “mean and mangling Cougars got to Archie Manning…leaving the redheaded senior with a broken left forearm.”
Ole Miss went on to win the game as the UH offense couldn’t get it going. The 1970 contest was the last game scheduled between the two schools. Houston had some thought that the teams might continue but Vaught suffered a heart attack three weeks before the UH game. He would retire later that year and with him went the chances of renewing the newly-competitive rivalry.
1970 was the last time the two teams met.