And just when you thought it was time to stick a fork in the Cougars, they not only pull off a key C-USA road victory, they simply embarrass an SMU team that had thoughts of running away with the league's West Division crown.
The Cougars, beaten and battered, apparently are not done yet.
A week after they lost to one of the league's worst teams, Rice, the Cougars beat arguably the league's best team, 45-20.
"Tonight, this afternoon, whenever we played, was a team win," coach Kevin Sumlin told the Houston Chronicle after Saturday's victory. "For us to win, we've got to be a complete team. We can't wait for one guy to win the guy the game at the end all the time."
The Cougars (4-3 overall, 3-1 in C-USA) certainly didn't leave this one in question very long.
Houston had a 24-10 lead at halftime and closed the door on SMU with two fourth-quarter rushing touchdowns. The Cougars had an unusually balanced attack with 164 rushing yards and 233 passing yards.
And the defense did its part, too, forcing three turnovers and holding coach June Jones' potent run-and-shoot offense to 20 points.
The all-around dominant performance couldn't have come at a better time for the Cougars, who felt people had given up on them.
"I'm proud of our guys going on the road, handling this week of basically everybody writing us off," Sumlin said in the Chronicle. "I was proud of our coaching staff rallying these guys together, our guys believing we could get it done on the road, in adverse conditions."
Houston is still very much in the C-USA West Division title hunt and only two games from bowl eligibility.
The way things appeared over the last month in the wake of losing star quarterback Case Keenum, there was no reason most onlookers shouldn't have written the Cougars off.
Saturday, however, Houston served a friendly reminder that they aren't done yet.
--In an Oct. 16 loss to Rice, the Houston defense allowed the Owls to convert on 9-of-16 third down tries, including the eventual game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. "I take that personally, I really do," defensive coordinator Brian Stewart told the Houston Chronicle. "Third down is probably the Achilles heel that we're fighting right now. I personally want to be not good, but great, on third down." In Saturday's game, the Cougars still weren't great on third down, allowing 7-of-15 third down conversions, but they were certainly better. Houston ranks 116th in the nation in defensive third-down percentage, having allowed 54 conversions on 108 attempts this season.
--With the 45-20 victory over SMU, Houston crept back into the top 10 nationally in scoring. The Cougars are averaging 39.6 points per game, good for ninth in the nation. Oregon leads the nation at 55.1 points per game.
GAME BALL GOES TO: RBs Bryce Beall and Michael Hayes -- Beall and Hayes combined for 39 carries, 171 rushing yards and four touchdowns against SMU. The Cougars have certainly been at their best this season when those two are the driving force offense, and that was the case on Saturday.
KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Tyron Carrier -- The junior's 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter Saturday vs. SMU was his first of the season and sixth career kick return for a touchdown. That puts him one behind former Clemson great C.J. Spiller, who has the NCAA record of seven.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We knew inside it was a must-win game, but we didn't want to put that pressure on ourselves. It was just good see us play like we did. We played like the old Houston Cougars." -- RB Bryce Beall after a 45-20 win over SMU.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: This isn't the Houston Cougars of recent seasons. The team beat up on SMU on Saturday thanks to a different brand of football, namely solid defense and a power running game led by RBs Michael Hayes and Bryce Beall (171 combined yards, four touchdowns). When a defense can hold a June Jones-coached offense to 20 points at home, you're doing something right. The Cougars had as good of an all-around, everybody-contributed-something type of game as they've had all season. Special teams scored a touchdown, the defense forced three turnovers, the passing game was solid and the rushing attack found the end zone four times. That sort of balance will keep Houston cruising toward another bowl-eligible season.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Considering he's a true freshman, picking on QB David Piland may seem a little unjust, but the reality is Houston needs the youngster to continue his development in order to fully open up the playbook. Houston loves what it got out of the running game Saturday at SMU, but the reality is this offense wasn't built to run like that against top line defenses and if the team wants to remain a league favorite, Piland needs to continue getting better. He's certainly not there yet. The secondary did allow 318 passing yards which is never a good thing, but considering it was against an SMU team that threw the ball 46 times, and the defense did come up with a pair of interceptions, maybe this performance was a push.
--Senior S Jacky Candy made his first career start Saturday at SMU and
recorded his first-career interception.
--QB David Piland completed 19-of-32 passes for 233 yards and one touchdown against SMU to earn his first career victory as starter.