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SMU offense outlasts Houston 77-63 in highest scoring regulation FBS game ever

Mordecai accounts for 10 total touchdowns, while the Cougars and Mustangs make history in 140-point scoring fest.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 05 Houston at SMU Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you turned away for a minute, you probably missed a touchdown. Because there were 20 instances of them.

In the final edition of an intrastate AAC rivalry, SMU defeated Houston, 77-63, in an electrifying, explosive, mesmerizing barnburner which shattered the record for most points in regulation in an FBS game, which was previously held by Pitt’s 76-61 win over Syracuse in 2016.

“I’m not really sure what to say,” SMU head coach Rhett Lashlee said. “I haven’t seen anything like that before.”

SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai was the star of the one of the most captivating offensive clinics in college football history. The senior gunslinger fired for a school record nine touchdown passes, falling two short of former Houston quarterback David Klingler’s all-time record from 1990. It was only the sixth instance ever of nine touchdown passes, and the first since Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon attained that threshold in 2019. Mordecai’s absurd passing touchdown output matched his incompletion output, and he finished 28-of-37 for 379 yards in the victory.

“It’s not a shock to any of us,” Lashlee said. “He’s the best quarterback in our league and we have some good quarterbacks in our league — you saw another one tonight. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody.”

In the first half alone, Mordecai — in his first game back from an Oct. 22 injury — registered 297 passing yards and seven touchdown strikes. But his achievements weren’t limited to his incomprehensible numbers passing game. He added 54 rushing yards on eight attempts, accounting for a 10th total touchdown as a runner. Mordecai is the first quarterback in college football history with nine passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown in a single game.

“The records are great and it’s awesome and it’s fun, but I would have been equally happy if we had seven touchdowns rushing,” Mordecai said. “We’re winning, we’re scoring, that’s all that matters.”

Despite winding up in the more somber locker room, Houston quarterback Clayton Tune posted outrageous stats as well, racking up 527 yards through the air and 111 on the ground, while accounting for eight total touchdowns — seven with his arm and one with his legs.

“He wanted this one pretty bad, and played just really, really, really good, but made two critical errors,” Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen said of Tune. “When you play against a team that played really, really, really good and scored 11 touchdowns and made zero errors, well, there’s the game.”

Clayton Tune shattered his career-high from the 2021 SMU matchup by posting 527 passing yards on the Mustangs. His seven touchdown passes is also a personal-best.
Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The first half of Saturday night’s SMU and Houston game at times looked like an open practice for the offenses. SMU made a statement from the opening kickoff that this game would not lack explosive plays. After Bryan Massey launched the evening with a 53-yard return, Mordecai mailed the ball downfield to RJ Maryland for a 38-yard pickup. That degree of explosiveness in the offense never quelled until the final triple zeros appeared on the scoreboard. SMU struck paydirt in less than two minutes, and the teams traded seven consecutive touchdown drives until the Mustangs garnered a 28-21 advantage.

“I think it’s just important for us to focus on us and not worry about the other offense because we literally can’t do anything about that,” Mordecai said. “It’s just keeping our head down for us and going to work.”

Other than a field goal attempt, which only transpired because Houston ran out of time in the second quarter, every first half possession resulted in one of two outcomes — a touchdown or an interception. SMU registered eight first half touchdowns, while Houston managed five with a pair of picks sprinkled in.

“I was at the (Texas) Tech-OU game in 2016 when Pat Mahomes and Baker threw for over 1,000 yards combined,” Mordecai said. “I was watching highlights of it yesterday. I thought to myself, I know they have a really good dude over there that could sling it, and I’m like, this could happen.”

In a game where the offenses moved the sticks at will, turnovers become even more costly. Houston watched its deficit amplify in the second quarter when quarterback Clayton Tune tossed interceptions to SMU free safety Nick Roberts on back-to-back drives. Roberts returned both picks inside the Houston 30-yard line, providing Mordecai and the offense favorable field position to strike — and that’s exactly what happened. When the aftershock from the interceptions settled, Houston found itself in a 21-point hole, and the Cougars never trimmed the deficit to single digits.

“The two interceptions by Nick is what allowed us to create the separation,” Lashlee said. “Fortunately we were able to, from that point on, just keep holding serve and keep that lead.”

Because the expense of punting or kicking a field goal in a shootout is disadvantageous, Houston elected to go for multiple fourth-and-longs in the first half. On a 4th and 7, Tune connected with wide receiver KeSean Carter, who snatched the ball out of his defender’s hands, for a 37-yard touchdown. Later on a crucial 4th and 10, Tune launched it deep to true freshman Matthew Golden for a 42-yard score, signifying the quarterback’s fourth touchdown pass of the half.

“Offensively we had 700 yards and this was the best that we’ve played,” Holgorsen said. “Their pass rush was a concern to me coming in, but I thought we did a good job up front. They outnumbered us in the box which is why we kept throwing it time after time. It looked good. You’d think 63 would be enough to win.”

The Mustangs entered the break leading the Cougars 56-35, and those 91 collective points marked the most in a single half since Marshall and Western Kentucky posted an aggregate 91 in 2014. Had Houston connected on its 49-yard field goal on the final snap of the second quarter, the matchup would have tied the 2007 North Texas vs. Navy game for most first half points in FBS history. Despite scoring a season-high 35 points in a half, Houston also trailed by 21 — tying its largest deficit of 2022. The Cougars tallied 333 yards in the first two quarters, while SMU one-upped them with 433.

Tanner Mordecai led the SMU offense to 56 first half points. The Mustangs scored touchdowns on each of their first nine possessions in the 77-63 win.
Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Although the rivals exchanged touchdowns on their first drives of the second half, the scoring barrage temporarily subsided in the third quarter. Houston ruined its perfect streak of fourth down conversions by turning it over on downs in its own territory. But the defense responded by manufacturing its first and only stop of the night, forcing the game’s only punt after the Mustangs registered nine consecutive touchdown drives. Excluding victory formation, that third quarter punt ended the only SMU possession which didn’t register seven points.

“I’ve never seen that,” Holgorsen said. “Usually you get some stops. We got no stops. I can’t explain that. We’ve played good defense around here. We’re losing guys. We’re doing everything the same. Obviously, you’ve got to give SMU a little credit — their coaches, their plan their scheme. Mordecai played out of his mind. He didn’t make mistakes.”

The scoring continued after the offensive dryspell, but Houston never crept closer than 14 points, while SMU never held an advantage larger than 21. The Mustangs burned 4:17 of clock on a fourth quarter drive — the longest possession of the contest — with a high-powered rushing attack. SMU collected 263 rushing yards in the win, led by Tyler Lavine’s 146. To cap off this clock-eating drive, Lavine scampered for a 15-yard touchdown which provided SMU a 77-56 lead and set a new SMU record for points in a single game.

“Tyler’s a freaking dog,” Mordecai said. “He freaking runs harder than anyone I’ve ever seen. He loves football more than anyone on this team. He does everything right, waiting his turn. He didn’t start the year as the starting running back and he’s never wavered, his attitude’s never wavered, his effort’s never wavered, and he just plays his freaking butt off no matter what. He’s the ultimate football teammate. Ultimate. No. 1. Best ever.”

Tyler Lavine scored SMU’s 11th and final touchdown of the night. It was the first and only touchdown by a Mustang running back in the 77-point outing.
Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Houston responded instantly with a 53-yard rushing touchdown by Stacy Sneed, and the Cougars subsequently recovered an onside kick. However, the 77-63 deficit was never sliced to seven points, as Tune threw his third interception to SMU cornerback Jahari Rogers in the end zone with 1:52 remaining. Houston was 10 yards away from the goal line, and a touchdown would have broken the record for highest scoring game in FBS history, which remains Texas A&M’s 74-72 seven-overtime victory over LSU in 2018.

“We should have had seven more at the end,” Holgorsen said. “That would have been fun to give that a chance. We could have got to 77-70, who knows? That would have been really easy to score at the end. That makes me sick.”

Absurd stat-lines were commonplace in Saturday’s extreme high-scoring affair. Mordecai and Tune boasted the most supreme stat-lines, but there were other Mustangs and Cougars who posted numbers which looked fresh out of NCAA 14 Dynasty Mode. Houston featured three 100-yard receivers — Tank Dell (13 receptions, 180 yards), KeSean Carter (8 receptions, 136 yards), and Matthew Golden (5 receptions, 105 yards).

For SMU, Dylan Goffney led the charge with 100 yards on three catches while the FBS receiving leader Rashee Rice collected 86 yards on nine grabs. Even tight end Ben Redding stuffed the stat sheet with three receiving touchdowns, a successful fake punt conversion, and an unexpected kickoff return.

“Ben’s a winner,” Lashlee said. “He may not be the most talented guy in the country. He’s been playing hurt all year like everybody else it feels like on our team. He had been pulled out after one touchdown, but he just kept coming back in the game... He came back and caught two touchdown passes after he had at point been removed from the game. For him and RJ and the tight ends to do what they did was huge, especially in the red zone where they were doubling Rashee.”

Ben Redding accounted for three touchdowns in four receptions in SMU’s victory. Of Tanner Mordecai’s nine touchdown passes, five went to tight ends.
Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The game featured 1,352 yards of offense but the key statistic for both teams was in the win column. SMU and Houston now exhibit identical 5-4 overall records and 3-2 conference records. The defeat significantly hampers the Cougars’ chances of appearing in a second-consecutive AAC Championship Game, as Tulane, UCF, and Cincinnati all gained separation Saturday.

“I would imagine that they’ve had this one circled for a whole year,” Holgorsen said. “They were undefeated when we played them last year and we took it and went to the championship game and they didn’t. I would imagine that gave them a whole bunch of motivation. And then when the Big 12 stuff came out, that gave them a whole bunch of motivation too. Credit to them, we can’t use that as an excuse. We didn’t get it done.”

The conference title odds remain similar for SMU, but the Mustangs now have tangible momentum going into the final stretch after collecting two-straight victories — including emerging victorious in a 77-point explosion in the final edition of an in-state rivalry.

“It’s SMU-Houston. We beat Houston. I’m 3-0 against them,” Lashlee said. “We just took the mindset on Wednesday, we’re not just gonna go win, we’re gonna beat them... I don’t know when we get to play Houston again, so we wanted to send them back with an L, and I knew we would, and we did.”