STARKVILLE, Miss., - Mississippi State hoped to put an end to the nine turnovers they had in the two previous outings.
But instead it was more of the same on Saturday turning the ball over four times in a 31-24 loss to Houston.
"You have got to win the turnover battle," said MSU head coach Dan Mullen. "If you turn the ball over four times, three in our red zone, you are not going to win the game. If you get down to the red zone you have to come away with touchdowns and we were down there a bunch and came away with minimal points."
Bulldog quarterback Tyson Lee tossed two interceptions and fumbled twice spelling the third defeat of a three-game homestand at Davis Wade Stadium.
"I just lost focus and I need to put the ball in there better especially in the red zone," Lee said. "Those are tough situations and you can't hurt yourself and you can't hurt your team. We've done that the past two weeks. I've got to work on that more."
Houston's top-ranked offense amassed 553 yards on the afternoon including 434 through the air and adding another 119 on the ground.
"Anytime you can win like we did today it's a team victory," said Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin. "Every Saturday it is hard to win but to go on the road in an environment like this and pick up a win is big time. I was proud of how hard we fought. We had a lot of players out of this game due to injury and we had some freshmen come in and make some big plays. Mississippi State is a very physical football team and we are fortunate to come out of here with this game."
Case Keenum hit on 39 of 52 passing for 434 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
"We knew they were going to have a lot of yards because their quarterback plays with a lot of confidence," said MSU linebacker Chris White. "He knows their offense pretty good. There is no way to shut down an offense like that. We just have to limit the big plays and I guess we didn't do that."
James Cleveland had a big day catching the football hauling in 11 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns.
Cougar running back Bryce Beall carried 15 times for 94 yards.
Mississippi State's defense provided the first points of the game. White came on a blitz forcing Keenum to be picked off by Charles Mitchell, who caught it off his shoestrings and raced 71-yards for the score. Derek DePasquale put up the extra point and the Bulldogs took a 7-0 lead with 5:07 in the first quarter.
Houston answered right back on the following drive. Keenum completed a 37-yard pass to Chaz Rodriguez that later set up a 5-yard scoring toss to Cleveland. Jordan Mannisto's point after tied the score with 2:38 in the opening quarter.
The Bulldogs got things going on the ground for their second score of the game. After a first down run by Christian Ducre, Anthony Dixon took a counter play up the middle breaking four tackles and also carrying four Houston defenders into the end zone with him on a 50-yard touchdown.
"It was really bad tackling on their part," Dixon said. "I guess when I've got that never say die attitude I don't choose to go down. I'm not trying to get down. I'm just in fighting-mode all the time. One thing coach tells us to do is pump our legs, keep the ball tight and fight for yardage. After that one yard thing with LSU I'm not trying to go down. I'm going to fight for every inch."
DePasquale booted the point after for a 14-7 lead with 9:30 in the second quarter.
The Cougars bounced right back driving 66-yards in only six plays and tied things back up with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Keenum to Tyron Carrier. Mannisto came on to provide the extra point nodding the score.
State retook the lead on the ensuing drive with an 11-play drive that resulted in a 34-yard field by DePasquale with 3:30 remaining before the half.
The Cougars drove down the field and tried to tie things up again but Mannisto's 29-yard attempt was blocked by Fletcher Cox and recovered by Damein Anderson.
Mississippi State drove down just before the buzzer sounded on the end of the second quarter and attempted a 51-yard field goal by DePasquale. The kick was short and wide right and the Bulldogs took a three-point lead into the locker room.
Houston came out and tied things up midway through the third quarter. The Cougars moved the chains five times on their first drive of the second half but had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Ben Bell.
MSU drove the ball down to the UH 32-yard line but a fumbled exchange between Lee and Dixon was recovered by Tyrell Graham. The Cougars responded with a pair of first downs including a 36-yard completion to Cleveland to the MSU 3-yard line.
But Jamar Chaney came up with his first career interception on the goal line preventing the go ahead score.
State had an opportunity to put up points early in the fourth quarter with a 10-play drive. But after taking a sack, Lee was picked off on the goal line for a second time by Brinkley keeping the score tied.
The Cougars made Mississippi State pay for the turnover orchestrating a 10-play, 78-yard drive finished off by a quick 3-yard touchdown pass from Keenum to Cleveland. Bell's PAT was up and good giving Houston their first lead of the day with 6:23 remaining.
The Bulldogs got the ball back on the ensuing possession and took the ball downfield to the UH 21-yard line in only two plays. Dixon then took an option 16-yards into the end zone but Arnil Stallworth was flagged for an apparent holding call in the backfield bringing the play back.
"I thought it looked like a good cut to me," Mullen said. "It was an option play and it was alright to cut the kid."
On the following play, Lee fumble out of a fake handoff which eventually came up costly. Zeke Riser fell on the ball for Houston.The Cougars went to work from there picking up 58-yards on a completion to Charles Sims immediately followed up with a 18-yard touchdown from Keenum to Carrier. Bell's point after put Houston up 31-17 with 4:14 on the clock.
The Bulldogs took the next possession down the field with an 11-play, 62-yard drive finished up by a 1-yard plunge from Dixon. DePasquale kicked the extra point pulling MSU within a touchdown with 1:22 remaining.
The Bulldogs failed to recover the onside kick and Houston was able to run out the remaining time from there.
State had their strongest offensive showing since 2007 with 490 yards on the day. The Bulldogs also chewed up 330 yards on the ground, the most since 2004.
"You just have to finish off drives with touchdowns, not turnovers," Mullen said. "We'll talk about it. We've talked about it since day one in every single practice since I've been here. Taking care of the football is how you win. What I am doing with our team is obviously not working so we have to change something. There is just way too many turnovers."
Dixon eclipsed the 100-yard plateau for the fifth consecutive gave rushing 21 times for 134 yards and two touchdowns.
"I set out this year to have fun and lead my team to victories and it's just not happening right now," Dixon said. "There are positives to take with me but I can't really enjoy it like I want to. It's very frustrating. If it ain't one thing, it's another. We've just got to put it all together. I think we can do it and that we are going to do it. We've got to stay and fight hard and keep trucking."
Lee hit on 15 of 23 passing for 160 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions and was sack twice.
Marcus Green grabbed four balls on the day for 37 yards while Chad Bumphis made three receptions for 43 yards.
Marcus McGraw tallied 13 tackles to lead Houston's defense followed by Nick Saenz with eight and Brinkley and C.J. Cavness with seven stops each. Graham and Ameen Behbahani added a sack each for the Cougars.
White and Chaney paced the Mississippi State defense with nine tackles apiece while Marcus Washington finished with eight. White and Chaney were also credited with a half sack each.
The loss was the third straight for the Bulldogs, who fall to 2-4 on the season. MSU will now turn it's attention to Middle Tennessee on the road next Saturday at 11:30 a.m. on ESPNU.