The 1980 Houston squad finished their regular season 6–5 and tied for second place in the Southwest Conference. The Cougars lost to Arizona State, Miami (FL), Baylor, Texas and Rice. They accepted an invitation to play in the Garden State Bowl against Navy on November 15. The appearance was the first for Houston in the Garden State Bowl and their 10th overall bowl appearance.
The 1980 Navy squad finished their regular season 8–3. The Midshipmen lost to Virginia, Air Force and Notre Dame. They accepted an invitation to play in the Garden State Bowl against Houston on November 15 following their victory over Georgia Tech. The appearance was the first for Navy in the Garden State Bowl and their 8th overall bowl appearance.
After recovering a Navy fumble on their first drive, Houston scored their first of five rushing touchdowns when Terald Clark ran it in from one-yard out. After Leo Truss blocked a punt, the Cougars drove 43-yards for their second first-quarter touchdown on a one-yard Terry Elston run. Early in the second quarter, Navy had their best scoring opportunity of the afternoon after a Houston turnover. However, Steve Fehr missed a 27-yard field goal and Houston retained their shutout. The Cougars then extended their lead to 28–0 at halftime after touchdown runs of 16 and 26 yards by David Barrett and then Clark. Clark then scored the final points of the game in the third quarter after Clark's third touchdown of the day on a two-yard run. For his 163 yards and three touchdowns, Terald Clark was named the MVP of the game.