SMU has only had one true threat to run the ball the last few years and that has been Zach Line, but quarterback Garrett Gilbert has stepped up the last few weeks like June Jones said in his post game press conference. The Mustangs now have two legitimate threats that defenses have to watch each game for their ability to make plays and keep the chains moving. Tulsa did not account for Gilbert well today, and it hurt them especially when SMU caught the Tulsa defense napping on that quarterback draw that went for a 74-yard score. Line did not have a stellar day, with 92 yards but where Line was effective was in the red zone where he was able to account for three touchdowns. Going into the bowl game, SMU will have to mix up how the team gets Gilbert and Line involved rushing the ball because whoever plays SMU next will account for the rushing duo.
SMU's defense, especially Ja'Gared Davis knew the team had to win the turnover battle if the team had any hopes of pulling off the upset, and the team did that with three turnovers and a blocked punt. Davis made plays all over the field and what was most impressive was that the offense was able to capitalize on the turnovers and the blocked punt, scoring 21 points off of turnovers. Another thing the defense did very well was tightening up when it needed to especially in the redzone. The Mustangs turned Tulsa away a few times on fourth downs and made plays when the Hurricane was in the redzone. SMU has been one of the best teams in the country at turning the ball over and that is something the team did especially well today.
SMU did a great job limiting Tulsa's chances on returns, the team blocked a punt and had something to do with a extra point that went wide right. The team has always stressed special teams and SMU saw the fruits of their labor on the field today. The Mustangs limited punt returners to just 12 yards on five returns on the day. SMU also limited kick returners to just over 20 yards per return and the coverage did not allow Tulsa much room to have a chance to return either. Even though Darius Johnson muffed a punt that could have been catastrophic for the Mustangs, the heads up play and effort by the rest of the team allowed Jeremy Gray to gather the fumble and keep the ball in the Mustangs' possession. Mike Loftus also had a nice punt that pinned Tulsa deep in the final minute of the game.
2nd Half Near Collapse
The one thing that kept me from believing this team was going to collapse was that SMU was 13-0 and now 14-0 when scoring first, but the rest of the stadium, especially on Tulsa's last drive, was holding their breath. SMU's seniors played their hearts out to keep this from really falling a part. The offense couldn't get a first down after its last score until the Mustangs got the ball with 5:05 to go and ran most of the clock out with a few key first downs. The offense did not do anything in the second half, but when it needed to milk some clock, the team came through. Defensively, it was a poor second half as well with the Mustangs giving up 21 unanswered points and with a little luck, the hail mary pass was caught short of the endzone and the Mustangs held on.
SMU's secondary gave up 413 yards passing to Cody Green, who had not passed for more than 274 yards all season before this game. Granted the Hurricane were in hurry up mode to try and catch the Mustangs, which is why Green completed 36 of 64 passes, but the secondary was not getting it done. SMU got decent pressure on Green and while the team only had one sack, Green was under duress all game and just kept completing passes. If not for a few dropped balls, the secondary may have been torched for over 500 yards, but there was some luck on SMU's side especially in the first half.
The Passing Game
While neither Gilbert or the receivers had great games, the SMU receivers had plenty of dropped balls, sloppy routes and just a lack of chemistry. The passing game made a couple plays that were huge like Gilbert to Der'rikk Thompson for the touchdown, Gilbert to Johnson in the redzone that set up Line's touchdown and then Gilbert to Johnson again on third down to keep their drive alive. The passing game other than that was suspect. SMU did have a little success passing in key situations, but Gilbert completed just 37 percent of his passes, which is unacceptable, and the Mustangs must put together a better passing attack to compliment their ground game in the bowl game.
3 Up, 3 Down
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