LAS VEGAS -- Donnel Pumphrey seemed nowhere near as excited about the chance to become the NCAA career rushing record as his San Diego State teammates during the week leading up to his final game.
Fittingly, when he broke the record on a 15-yard toss sweep to the right early in the fourth quarter, Pumphrey ended being pushed out of bounds on the sideline where he could be immediately swarmed by his friends and coaches.
Pumphrey passed former Wisconsin star Ron Dayne's mark of 6,397 yards and wrapped up his sensational career in his Nevada hometown with 6,405 yards, earning the game's most valuable player honors.
Pumphrey's senior total of 2,133 yards rushing ranks in the top 10 for an FBS player.
"It means the world to me," Pumphrey said on the field immediately after the game as his father wiped away tears before hugging him.
It means just as much to his teammates.
"It's emotional," running back Rashaad Penny said. "To watch that guy do what he do and accomplish so many goals, it's amazing."
"We're just as fired up as he is," linebacker Calvin Munson said. "All of our defensive guys hate him in practice because he is good and he gets us better. He couldn't have done it without the O-line, the fullbacks, the offense.
"I'm just trying to take some credit for you," Munson joked, with a smiling Pumphrey sitting next to him.
Head coach Rocky Long turned to Munson and responded: "You don't block anybody."
Ron Smith returned an interception 54 yards for a touchdown, Curtis Anderson caught a 28-yard touchdown pass from Christian Chapman, Juwan Washington ran for a touchdown, and John Baron kicked two field goals for the Aztecs (11-3). They overcame a 10-0 first-quarter deficit against the Cougars (9-4) to turn their second consecutive bowl win into a laugher.
Neither the victory nor Pumphrey's record-setting performance seemed likely after Houston's defense absolutely smothered the Aztecs in the first quarter. Led by freshman Ed Oliver, Houston had seven tackles for loss on San Diego State's first 16 plays. Pumphrey had minus-1 yard rushing on seven carries in the first quarter and the Aztecs didn't have a first down until the first play of the second quarter -- on a penalty for running into the kicker.
"The first quarter, they came out with more intensity than we did, at least their defensive side of the ball," Pumphrey said.
But Pumphrey started to gash Houston on the perimeter, giving San Diego State the lead for good on a 32-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, and the defense intercepted four of Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr.'s passes in the second half.
"When you are leaving your defense out there too long that's what happens," Houston coach Major Applewhite said. "When you give a great back that many at-bats and that many opportunities, one is going to hit at some point and it did."
Ward threw for 229 yards and had a 2-yard touchdown run, tying Bryce Beall's school record of 39 rushing touchdowns.
Houston finished with 254 yards of total offense and just 25 yards rushing.
"They beat the crap out of us," tight end Tyler McCloskey said. "We didn't show up. We didn't execute the way we needed to."
San Diego State: The running game for the Aztecs was historic. Not only did Pumphrey set NCAA and school records, but Penny topped the 1,000-yard mark to give San Diego State the first college backfield with a 2,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard rusher in the same season. Capping its most prolific rushing season ever, San Diego State had 127 yards on the ground against the nation's No. 3 run defense.
"We a run-first team," Penny said. "That's all we count on."
Houston: Oliver is the real deal, finishing his remarkable freshman season with 23 tackles for loss and five sacks after picking up 3.5 stops in the backfield in his first bowl game. With his knack for delivering in showcase games -- Oliver had 8 1/2 tackles for loss, four sacks and a forced fumble against Oklahoma, Louisville and San Diego State -- it wouldn't be a surprise if his second season ends with national awards.
The Aztecs could find themselves ranked in the final poll for the first time since 1977. Houston's tumultuous season will end outside the Top 25.
HE SAID IT
"They don't get their per-diems unless they show up for curfew, so they were all there because they love money." -- Long on why his team obeyed curfew this week.
Houston wide receiver Chance Allen, who had a team-leading six touchdown receptions this season, did not play after breaking curfew Thursday night.
San Diego State: The Aztecs must replace four starters on the offensive line, but should be contenders to defend their Mountain West title for a third consecutive season with a strong group of returning skill players.
Houston: After dropping his first game as head coach, Applewhite must build a staff. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando is set to join Tom Herman at Texas, and the American Athletic Conference is not lacking for offensive firepower.