When: Saturday, December 17, 12:30 p.m.
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium
Who: Houston (9-3) vs. San Diego State (10-3)
Series: Houston leads 2-0, but both games were played during the Nixon administration.
The Line: Houston Cougars -3.5
Prediction: San Diego State 21, Houston 20
Houston boasts the nation’s third-ranked rushing defense, having allowed fewer than 98 yards a game. It is a fitting denouement, then, for Las Vegas native Donnel Pumphrey to try to become collegiate football’s all-time rushing leader; he has tallied 6,290 yards in four seasons at San Diego State, and with 108 more he will eclipse Wisconsin great Ron Dayne. Pumphrey, a product of Canyon Springs High, has had success at Sam Boyd, having accumulated 226 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries in two previous games against UNLV.
Houston senior linebackers Steven Taylor and Tyus Bowser nullify many opposing runners, as does 290-pound freshman tackle Ed Oliver. However, they are not infallible. Houston defeated Oklahoma and Louisville when both were among the top three in the country, but the Cougars also allowed Navy to run roughshod, for 306 yards, in a rousing victory by the Midshipmen, and four other teams ran for triple digits in yardage against Houston.
Pumphrey has 66 career TDs. That draws attention. If SDSU coach Rocky Long employs his ace Rashaad Penny—a 5-foot-11 junior who ran for 995 yards and 11 TDs this season—as a decoy, that could confound Taylor, Bowser and Oliver. Overplaying Pumphrey can be hazardous in other ways, too; a year ago, Pumphrey completed the lone pass attempt of his career for a 16-yard TD. Does Long tap that play on this stage? Houston senior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. is gifted as a thrower and as a runner. But he, too, will be challenged against an Aztecs defense that leads the nation with 22 interceptions.
NCAA Career Rushing Leaders
Name School Yards
1 Ron Dayne Wisconsin (1996-99) 6,397
2 Donnel Pumphrey San Diego St.* (2013-pres.) 6,290
3 Ricky Williams Texas (1995-98) 6,279
4 Tony Dorsett Pittsburgh (1973-76) 6,082
5 DeAngelo Williams Memphis (2002-05) 6,026
6 Charles White USC (1976-79) 5,598
7 Travis Prentice Miami-Ohio (1996-99) 5,596
*Pumphrey prepped at Canyon Springs High in Las Vegas