Dazzling Debut: The headliner from this one is obviously the play of freshman, walk-on quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Lake Travis product put on a show, and was everything Kliff Kingsbury could have hoped for and more. The stats were impressive enough—Mayfield connected on 43 of 60 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. He also had 12 rushes for 16 yards and a rushing TD. And he put those numbers up not against an FCS team but a respectable FBS squad that's on a four-game bowl streak. Oh, and he did it on the road.
But aside from the gaudy stat-line, Mayfield simply looked like he belonged out there. If you didn't know that Mayfield was the freshman and SMU's Garrett Gilbert was the senior, you might have thought it was the other way round. From the very first drive Mayfield hung it out there and let it fly, just as if he was doing it against the old Austin high school competition. Mayfield never looked like the stage was too big for him. Heck, he was the star of the stage.
Fine Debut for KK Too: When Kirby Hocutt hired Kliff Kingsbury to be Tech's head coach, it was a feast or famine move. Either Kingsbury was going to be the prodigal son his mercurial rise suggested, or he was going to be in waters way over his head. Consequently, there was always a little warning bell ringing in the back of my mind, saying that a disaster against SMU was a possibility, albeit a remote one.
Well, we need not worry anymore. Kingsbury's team was not always dominant, and it wasn't always pretty, but it looked like a real football team. The Red Raiders were well organized, well schooled, and fundamentally sound in all aspects of the game. There were penalties and mistakes, of course, but perhaps fewer than one would expect in a season-opener, and definitely fewer than one would expect in a head coaching debut.
Based upon Tech's performance against SMU, Kingsbury isn't just a lot of flash and dash. Instead he's a real ball coach, and he'll have many a glorious day ahead of him.
Close It Out: I'm sure coach Kingsbury will be very gratified by the way his team played. He will not, however, be thrilled by the way the Red Raiders finished the game. After Tech salted the game away by going up 41-16 with 2:40 remaining, the Red Raider defense got lazy and gave up a 75-play touchdown drive that took only 1:05 off the clock. Then Tech's special teams, excellent up to that point, fell asleep at the switch and allowed SMU to recover an on-sides kick. To make matters worse, the Mustangs again marched down the field and came within a yard of scoring a touchdown on the final play of the game. Only a bone-rattling tackle by Thierry Nguema prevented SMU from tacking on another seven points. This late swoon will be a boon in helping Kingsbury get the team's attention going into preparations for Stephen F. Austin.
Wally's Defense Shows Signs: Yes, the Tech defense gave up 23 points and 490 yards, but this group gave evidence that it can be pretty good. The Red Raiders sacked Garrett Gilbert five times and pressured him many more. Wallerstedt's blitzes, in contrast to most blitzes under previous defensive coordinators, were well-timed and generally quite effective. Except for a series of scrambles by Gilbert, Tech clamped down well on SMU's running game. And although the secondary gave up a fair amount of yardage, they did not surrender the damaging, explosive play. The only real negatives were SMU's final two drives, which came against some of Tech's second-teamers, and the failure to create a single turnover. The Red Raiders forced a pair of fumbles but were unable to recover either of them. You can bet Wallerstedt and Kingsbury will make creating turnovers the prime defensive focus in the coming week.
Fearing for Foster: For a moment I thought I had seen SaDale Foster's final play as a collegiate football player. Foster fair caught a punt, but was then wiped out when teammate Summit Hogue was blocked into him. Foster was in obvious pain, and the instant replay showed Foster's planted shin getting whacked hard by Hogue's lower leg. Honestly, it looked like a break to me. What a relief it was then to see Foster back on the gridiron and fielding punts in the second half.