With an impressive 45-10 win in their first bowl game in 25 years, the SMU Mustangs completed the nation's best win percentage turnaround and put the icing on the cake to their program-changing season. The 2009 campaign was filled with emotional highs, milestone marks, and game changing plays. There are several reasons why the Mustangs returned to the postseason and put themselves back on the national map. Join us as PonyStampede.com takes a look back on the season that was and the top 10 moments that defined the 2009 SMU Mustangs.
10. The Sheraton Hawaii Bowl- It's saying something if the Hawaii Bowl trouncing comes in at number ten. While heavily favored Nevada- 91% of America thought the Wolf Pack would win-expected to run all over the Mustangs, the SMU defense shut down the nation's top running program and one of the top overall offenses in the country. Led by an impressive SMU postseason record of 460 yards passing by Kyle Padron, the high octane offense stormed out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back. The lopsided win confirmed even further that SMU is back from the "dead."
9. September 12, SMU defeats UAB in Birmingham- Coming off a season opening win against SFA, the Mustangs headed on the road for their first conference game of the season. The main question coming into the game was how SMU would be able to stop dual threat UAB quarterback Joe Webb. After leading 28-7 at the half, a few costly turnovers by SMU allowed UAB back in the game. SMU would seal the deal when Joe Webb was stopped on an unsuccessful 2 point conversion attempt. The game featured the emergence of freshman linebacker Taylor Reed who had a key interception in the end zone late in the game. June Jones commented on how he felt the players really "got it" after the road win and he knew the team was on the right track.
8. October 31, SMU defeats Tulsa in Padron's first start- Following consecutive losses to Navy and Houston, SMU was looking at a potential three game skid with a tough road game against Tulsa. Kyle Padron was making his first start of the season and it's safe to say there was worry in the hearts of Mustang fans. However, Padron threw for 354 yards in a 27-13 victory on Halloween and the Mustangs secured another challenging road win. Freshman running back Zach Line had the dagger touchdown on a two yard run with less than two minutes to play. SMU would go on to win their next two at home.
7. Linebackers lead defensive turnaround- The linebackers can arguably be considered the unit of the year for SMU. The switch to a 3-4 defense by defensive coordinator Tom Mason allowed several of the quick and agile linebackers to flourish in the new system. Led by senior standout Chase Kennemer who led the team with 133 tackles, the linebackers were able to shut down running attacks and cause havoc for short passing games. Two freshmen, Taylor Reed and Ja'Gared Davis, saw lots of playing time and offered a slight preview of what greatness is to come in the future. Reed, an All C-USA freshman, finished the season with 57 tackles, 2 forced fumbles and an interception.
6. Bo Levi Mitchell injured in loss at Houston- With SMU deep in their own territory, the Houston pass rush brought a blitz that quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell was unable to avoid. Slammed into the turf, Mitchell would end up leaving the game with a dislocated shoulder, never to see the playing field again during the season. True freshman Kyle Padron split time with Braden Smith after Mitchell went out in the 38-15 loss. Padron would go on to be the starting quarterback for the rest of the year.
5. Taylor Thompson's fourth quarter sack on UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe- All of the emotions, effort, practices and games since the death penalty came down to one play late in the fourth quarter against UTEP. SMU at the time had five wins and was looking for that elusive sixth win to guarantee bowl eligibility. With 26 seconds left and UTEP facing a fourth and 6 from the SMU 14, Vittatoe dropped back to pass looking, looking, looking for an open receiver until he was sacked by SMU defensive end Taylor Thompson. The crowd erupted in joy, happiness, and satisfaction at Ford Stadium as the Mustangs appeared to be bowl bound for the first time since 1984. And the rest was history.
4. Emmanuel Sanders re-writes SMU record books- Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is arguably the greatest wide receiver to ever play at SMU. After an outstanding junior campaign, it seemed as if it would be hard for Sanders to possibly achieve anything more. Sanders finished the season with 1,339 yards, 7 touchdowns and 275 punt return yards. The senior leaves SMU as the all-time leader in receptions (285), TD catches (34), and yards (3,791). What's more impressive than the numbers is the fact that Sanders came to SMU to turn around the program and get to a bowl game. He did just that and more.
3. Kyle Padron gets his chance- When Bo Levi Mitchell went down there was lots of speculation as to who would be the starting quarterback. However, true freshman Kyle Padron quickly calmed those concerns with outstanding passing performances highlighted by winning at Tulsa in his first career start. Padron finished the season with 1,922 yards, 10 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in just 7 games. In addition to the numbers, Padron carried the offense with poise and leadership that is almost unheard of for a freshman quarterback. Not enough can be said about the importance of the play of Kyle Padron on SMU's turnaround season.
2. September 4, Shawnbrey McNeal ruled eligible for 2009 season- There was lots of concern and speculation that Miami running back transfer Shawnbrey McNeal might not be eligible for the 2009 season. Just two days before opening kickoff, McNeal was ruled eligible by the NCAA. McNeal, who had game changing speed and agility, was trusted by Coach June Jones to share the load and carry the offense on his back. McNeal rewarded June's play calling by putting up 1,188 yards rushing with 12 touchdowns in addition to 283 receiving yards. Early in the season when the passing game struggled at times, it was Shawnbrey McNeal who was able to take over games and lighten the load for the quarterbacks. Whether McNeal returns for his senior season is still unknown, but Mustang fans can only hope he'll be back for one more year.
1. Coach June Jones and staff-The moment these guys stepped on the practice field this fall, you could tell this was going to be a different. You almost can't put into words what June Jones and his staff have meant to the turnaround of the SMU football program. Without the expertise, knowledge and savvy of June Jones, this dream season would not have been possible. Even with an 8-5 record in 2009, the best is yet to come for SMU football.