Charles Sims ran for a career-high 105 yards and two touchdowns and the Cougars handled the turnover-prone SMU Mustangs for a 38-15 win on Saturday night.
The Cougars (6-1, 2-1 Conference USA) jumped out to a 14-0 lead after taking advantage of two SMU turnovers and cruised to the victory in their first home game in almost a month.
Sims scored Houston's first touchdown on a 20-yard run and had a 6-yard score with about six minutes remaining.
Case Keenum, who entered the game averaging a nation's best 417 yards passing, had a season-low 233 yards and a touchdown. But it was plenty to win this one and hand the Mustangs (3-4, 2-1) their first C-USA loss.
"They showed us some new things and basically there was a couple of things where they said, 'You're not going to do that tonight' and made us have to do something else," Houston coach Kevin Sumlin said.
Keenum was 25 of 36 in his 23rd straight game with a touchdown pass. Patrick Edwards had nine receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown for the Cougars.
Houston ran the ball 37 times for 161 yards. It was the first time since last year's win over SMU that the Cougars ran more than they passed.
"We've got a couple of really talented running backs that I really don't mind handing the ball off to at any time," Keenum said. "You've got to take what the defense gives you and we had the run for the majority of the night and it was good enough to win the game."
SMU quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell was knocked out of the game with a dislocated shoulder on a sack near the end of the first quarter and did not return. The Mustangs alternated between Kyle Padron and Braden Smith after that. They often ran a wildcat formation when Smith was playing and he ran for 68 yards.
"We didn't execute to our potential," Padron said. "We committed some mental errors."
Tyron Carrier returned the second-half kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown to push Houston's lead to 31-3. He evaded the first group of defenders before shaking off a tackle and dashing down the sideline for his second career kick return score.
SMU's turnover problems continued in the third quarter when Darius Johnson fumbled on the 2-yard line after a 28-yard catch and run. C.J. Cavness fell on the ball for his second fumble recovery of the night.
"Turnovers were huge. With an offense like we've got, giving them the ball makes a lot of difference," Cavness said. "Giving them the ball gives them a chance to score, keeps us off the field and wears down the opponent."
SMU's offense finally got going in the fourth quarter with Shawnbrey McNeal scoring on a 4-yard run early in the period and Aldrick Robinson adding another touchdown with about 10 minutes left. Houston blocked the extra point on the first score and Smith was sacked on the 2-point conversion try on the second.
McNeal finished with 95 yards rushing.
"They made big plays in the first half and we didn't catch the ball very well," SMU coach June Jones said. "It's frustrating we all came ready to play, we just really didn't make the plays."
Keenum hit Edwards for the 7-yard touchdown pass to push Houston's lead to 24-3 about five minutes before halftime. SMU was called for two pass interference penalties on that drive.
SMU's second turnover came when Tyrell Graham sacked Mitchell and forced a fumble which Cavness recovered on the 1-yard line. Mitchell was shaken up on the play.
The Cougars made it 14-0 with a touchdown run by Bryce Beall on the next play.
Smith found Emmanuel Sanders for what at first was called a touchdown in the second quarter, but the play was reviewed and ruled an incomplete pass. The Mustangs settled for a field goal to make it 17-3.
Sims' first-quarter touchdown came six plays after the Cougars recovered a fumble by Sanders near midfield.
Matt Hogan had a 22-yard field goal for Houston early in the second quarter.