HOUSTON — They were throwing passes and breaking records like crazy Saturday in the Astrodome, which may need a new name in honor of University of Houston quarterback Andre Ware.
Although Ware played only the first half in Houston's 95-21 Southwest Conference victory over Southern Methodist, he passed for 517 yards, a National Collegiate Athletic Assn. record for a half, and helped the Cougars reach another remarkable NCAA milestone--1,021 yards of total offense.
Ware reacted as if it had happened before.
"It was just another day," Ware said. "Just another day at the office."
Actually, it was hardly that. Ware, a 6-foot-2 junior, completed 25 of 41 passes for his record of 517 yards and six touchdowns. A single-quarter record five touchdowns were worth another single-quarter record 340 yards in the second quarter, when Houston scored 35 points to lead, 59-14, at halftime.
Having to play Ware and Houston was the second time SMU has received the death penalty. The once-proud Mustangs are playing their first season of football since the NCAA forbid them from fielding a team for two years--the death penalty--for recruiting violations.
Seventeen of SMU's 22 starters are freshmen. The last time freshmen played so prominent a role, there were four of them and they were singers.
Was this a mismatch? Well, the Fat Lady sang the national anthem.
Houston Coach Jack Pardee actually seemed to try to keep the score down. He pulled Ware at the half, pulled his first-string defense in the first quarter and used three walk-on receivers.
Pardee also let the clock run out when the Cougars had the ball on SMU's 17. Mustang Coach Forrest Gregg was not amused.
"For someone to try to build their stats and build their reputation against a bunch of freshmen . . . I hope they really feel proud of their accomplishments," Gregg said.
"I don't really appreciate that. There is not a whole lot I can do about it, but it is just an experience you remember."
Oddsmakers established Houston as a 58 1/2-point favorite, which is spreading it a little thick. The Cougars had 14 scoring drives and only one took as long as three minutes. Four took 45 seconds or less.
As the game ended, Pardee and Gregg met at midfield and shook hands and in the locker room afterward, Pardee said there wasn't anything more he could have done to keep the score down.
"I've been dreading this game all year," Pardee said. "It was a no-win situation for us. We can't have our players go out and do less than their best."
In 1969, the Cougars of Bill Yeoman scored beat Tulsa, 100-6, and Pardee said the century mark was certainly within reach again.
"If we wanted 100, we could have had 100," he said. "We chose not to."
Ware and sophomore David Klinger combined to throw 10 touchdown passes and for an NCAA-record 771 yards. The 10 touchdown passes tied a 20-year-old NCAA record held by San Diego State.
Houston also set seven SWC records, including most push-ups by a team mascot. At each game, after each Houston touchdown, Cougar-suited Jason Lee flops down on the sideline and does the same number of pushups as points on the scoreboard.
Saturday, Lee did 682 pushups. Naturally, that also broke the record of 567, which was set last year by his predecessor, Mike Pede, in an 82-28 victory over Tulsa.
Pede still remembers what it felt like when the Cougars scored 75 points the last three quarters against Tulsa.
"By the time your heartbeat comes down, they'd score again," Pede said. "I told (offensive coordinator John) Jenkins if he didn't start running the ball, I was going after his family."
Only 20,009 watched the game in the 59,544-seat Astrodome, which isn't so unusual since the Cougars are used to being ignored this year.
Pardee's program is on probation because of NCAA sanctions levied against Yeoman's regime and that has kept Houston off television and will prevent them from playing in a bowl game, even though the Cougars are 5-1.
"I still think everybody knows how good we are," said Chuck Weatherspoon, who ran 15 times for 209 yards, caught four passes for 39 yards and scored three touchdowns.
"But I won't be lying to you," Weatherspoon said. "It hurts."
In spite of his limited visibility, Ware may no longer be the best-kept secret in college football. He is the nation's leader in total offense, averaging 411.5 yards a game.
Ware grew up in Dickinson, about 40 miles from Houston on the way to Galveston. Reared by his mom after his father died when he was 2, Ware began playing football when he was 5.
Ware is adept at the helm of Houston's run-and-shoot offense, which Pardee brought with him across town after the Houston Gamblers of the United States Football League folded.
"We've seen him every day, so we know he's special," Pardee said. "And we're glad he's ours."
So far this season, Houston has scored 45 touchdowns and 344 points in just six games, an average of 57.3 points a game.