The Mustangs sweated out a close 31-23 win over the Lumberjacks of SFA on Saturday night in Dallas. The Mustangs seemed a bit disorganized at points throughout the first three quarters and SFA was able to charge out to a 23-14 lead by the end of the 3rd quarter. Matt Szymanski drilled a 53 yard field goal early in the 4th to put the margin within 6 and then the Mustangs tacked on a touchdown on a 4th and 1 QB option keeper at the goal line which ended up being the game winner. Shawnbrey McNeal then added another touchdown late in the fourth with a 49 yard run after a Lumberjack missed field goal and put the game away.
How the positions performed:
Quarterbacks: Bo Levi Mitchell looked out of sync the majority of the game, throwing two interceptions. However, he stepped it up in the fourth quarter leading a touchdown drive that put the Ponies ahead. Bo's main problem tonight was overthrowing his receivers and it seemed at times as if he misread routes. Mitchell finished 23-45 with 202 yds, 2 interceptions and 1 touchdown.
Running Backs: Shawnbrey McNeal proved why he is such a highly touted running back. Finishing with 158 yards on 19 carries and the 49 yard run that sealed the deal, Mustang fans have to be pleased with how he performed. In addition, Zach Line had several key catches late in the fourth quarter and was able to bruise his way through the defense. While it took McNeal a little while to get going (just 34 yards after 3 quarters), the end result was better than expected.
Wide Receivers: Hopefully this was the game that the receivers decided to put butter on their gloves before the game. Too many dropped passes really hurt the offensive progress and despite two big catches by Darius Johnson and Terrance Wilkerson, the receivers just didn't have a great night. Much has been talked about the aerial assault and the big three wideouts, but the Mustangs will need better performances if they want to continue winning.
Offensive Line: The offensive line turned in a surprisingly solid performance and while June Jones admitted that the defensive line for C-USA teams will be a bit stronger, he gave credit to freshman Bryan Collins who played almost the whole game and didn't allow a sack. The O-Line was led by Josh LeRibeus who also had several key blocks on some of McNeal's runs. Overall, the line gave Bo the time and protection he needed and allowed the running game to succeed.
Defensive Line: The group had a pretty average night, putting slight pressure on the Lumberjack QB and overall they did a decent job stopping the run. Marquis Frazier had an interception in the first quarter on a deflection. Torlan Pittman had a lot of playing time at NT and stood out among the defensive linemen with his play. Margus Hunt saw a few snaps and looked a bit out of it at times. There is definitely a learning curve with him but just give it some time.
Linebackers: The linebackers were solid tonight; the only major flaw was that they struggled with the flat pass coverage. Cameron Rogers looked good in his first game as a starter and Chase Kennemer and Pete Fleps lead the tackling charge.
Secondary: Far and away the position of the night, the secondary pulled down 4 interceptions and 5 total turnovers. Rock Dennis lead the way with 2 interceptions and a fumble recovery. Sterling Moore had an admirable night filling in for the flu-ridden Derrius Bell, bringing down an interception and forcing a fumble. Bryan McCann had an interception as well. Overall, the secondary looks much improved from last year, especially against a pass happy offense of SFA.
Special Teams- A great night for the special teams. Emmanuel Sanders had a kickoff return for a touchdown and Matt Szymanski had the kick of the night with a 53 yard field goal that gave the Mustangs momentum. Also, Szymanski was able to utilize his punting ability, downing the ball within the 5 twice in the game. The return coverage looked solid as well.
Coaching- It's a good thing the Mustangs came out victorious, or else many fans would be questioning the decision of an unsuccessful fake punt on 4th and 6 at midfield in the second quarter. This decision allowed SFA back in the game and almost cost the Mustangs the victory. The decision to go on the ground in the fourth after Mitchell struggled in the first three quarters proved to be smart as McNeal helped seal the deal.
1. The secondary- Experienced group showed they are ready to play, hauling in 4 interceptions and 5 overall turnovers.
2. The running game- Shawnbrey McNeal proved how valuable he is. 3. Determination- The Mustangs had their backs against the wall in the fourth but hung tough and got the win, something that was lacking greatly last season. Room for Improvement: 1. Passing game- Bo Levi Mitchell needs to be more effective and accurate. 2. Catching- This seems obvious, but there were just too many dropped balls tonight. 3. Fast start- SMU needs to come out with a better start against conference opponents or else they will find themselves too far behind to catch up. Overall this might not have been the way the Mustangs were hoping to win. However, there are several positive signs especially defensively that give SMU confidence and momentum heading into next week's game. It is safe to say that a loss tonight would have been a crushing blow to the players, fans and the season. It's a good thing the Mustangs came together in the fourth quarter to pull this one out. As their new motto goes, "All Grit. No Quit." That's what the Mustangs had tonight.