The Houston Cougars won their first game against a Southwest Conference team on September 27, 1952, a 17-7 victory over Arkansas in Fayetteville. It was UH’s most significant win to date and the start of a historic season: first SWC win, first eight-win season, first conference title, first All-American, and first AP Poll ranking.
A week earlier, the Cougars fell to Texas A&M, 21-13, in front of 54,000 fans at Rice Stadium. Undeterred, UH traveled to Northwest Arkansas for the game that Razorback coach Otis Douglas said: “alarmed him.”
The Coogs had been experimenting with a novel strategy for the era – deferring the opening kickoff – and it paid off. Arkansas fumbled the opening kickoff, and after a short drive, Verle Cray kicked a field goal, and Houston led 3-0. Arkansas scored a touchdown on a 62-yard pass in the second quarter and led 7-3 at the half.
At halftime, the Cullen Rifles performed and went on so long that Arkansas could not sing their alma mater. The outrage even made the local newspapers after the game.
The Cougar defense continually thwarted Porker drives in the second half, forcing punt after punt. No Arkansas runner had more than 31 yards in the game, and the Razorbacks were held to 71 as a team.
Late in the third quarter, behind a senior-laden offensive line, S.M. Meeks scored from four yards, and UH took a 10-7 lead. Meeks led all rushers with 92 yards that day.
The student newspaper in Fayetteville, The Arkansas Traveler, reported that Shasta “spent most of the first half pacing up and down in its cage, but, evidently satisfied with the turn of events, settled down during the second half.”
In the fourth quarter, the Coogs sustained a long drive before sophomore Tommy Bailes, playing in his second collegiate game, ran it in from five yards out to push the lead to 17-7. The Cougar defense stymied the Razorbacks near the goal line late in the game, and Houston walked away with a ten-point victory.
“The rumbling sound that came out of the Ozark mountains this Saturday afternoon was the University of Houston flexing its football muscles.” – The 1953 Houstonian Yearbook
J.D. Kimmel played a fantastic game for the Cougars on both lines. After the game, legendary radio broadcaster Gordon McClendon said Kimmel “made the difference out there today. He looked great on defense.” McClendon was broadcasting games that season for the Cougars. Following the season, Kimmel would be named UH’s first All-American.
UH ended the season winning eight of their last nine games, beginning that day in Fayetteville. The Cougars moved to #19 in the AP Poll in late November, then won its next two games, but somehow dropped out of the poll. Despite going 8-2 and winning the Missouri Valley Conference title, UH was not invited to a bowl game.