By Richard W Humphrey
SMU Mustangs Contributor
On behalf of Timothy O’Farrell Recovery
BY: Richard W. Humphrey
UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – There is no question last Saturday’s 38-16 triumph over the 11th ranked Houston Cougars is the signature win in the Chad Morris era on the Hilltop. The Cougars came to town with a 6-1 record and were the defending American Athletic Conference champions after going 13-1 last season. That included a 38-24 win over Florida State in Atlanta’s Peach Bowl.
The Cougars put their name on the map this season with an opening day win over Oklahoma, and had climbed to as high as sixth in the AP poll before losing to Navy in Annapolis. The Midshipmen are currently ranked 22nd.
Houston stopped the Mustangs after the opening kickoff and drove to the Mustangs’ 12 yard line where they fumbled. From there, the Mustangs drove 88 yards in 11 plays for the first score of the game, a touchdown on a one yard run from quarterback Ben Hicks.
Scoring first proved to be an important step toward winning Saturday. It was also impressive that the Ponies were able to finish off the drive with a touchdown. The Mustangs have struggled in the red zone this season, usually settling for a field goal, or even having their drive end with a turnover. On Saturday night, the Ponies were 4-4 in scoring opportunities in the red zone.
The Mustangs extended the lead to 14-0 with a 71 yard, six play drive that concluded with a 31 yard touchdown pass from Hicks to Jeremiah Gaines early in the second quarter. Biletnikoff Award candidate Courtland Sutton pushed the lead to 21-0 with his fifth touchdown catch of the year with almost 11:00 left until halftime.
Houston finally came alive after forcing a fumble on the SMU 10. The Cougars cashed it in for a touchdown to cut the lead to 21-7. Houston then forced a Mustang punt and drove again only to miss a field goal with a little over a minute remaining until the half.
SMU did not sit on the lead though. They drove 70 yards in three plays to take a 28-7 lead with 13 seconds until halftime. The quick strike to maintain the 21 point lead may have been the key point in the game.
The Cougars scored first in the second half with a touchdown that cut the lead to 28-14. Amazingly though, that proved to be as close as UH would get. Neither team scored over the balance of the third quarter, but SMU put up a field goal in the first three minutes of the fourth. Braedon West scored SMU’s final TD of the night to complete the Mustangs’ 38 point barrage. A late safety was Houston’s last hurrah on the scoreboard.
This win was no fluke. The Mustangs clearly outplayed UH. The Ponies’ defense was especially impressive. They constantly put pressure up front with seven quarterback sacks while forcing two fumbles. They held the Cougars to 303 yards of total offense. The offense put together three long drives of 88, 71 and 51 yards. For the second straight week, the offensive line did not allow a sack.
“It really was a collective effort,” head coach Chad Morris said about is offensive and defensive coordinators. “More importantly, it’s those players believe in what we’re doing. We’re trending. We’re in the right direction.”
The win is being likened to the breakthrough win of Ron Meyer’s 1980 team – the 20-6 victory over undefeated and number two Texas in Austin in late October. The Mustangs lost just once more in conference play that year to finish the regular season by winning four of the last five games and earning a Holiday Bowl invitation. They went on to win the Southwest Conference championship over the next two seasons and beat Dan Marino’s Pittsburgh Panthers in the 1983 Cotton Bowl to be the only undefeated team. The Mustangs were voted 1982 National Champions in some quarters, but finished second at 11-0-1 in the Associated Press poll to 11-1 Penn State.
This year’s win may not be that dramatic, but it shows the program is making more progress than many imagined. The Ponies travel to New Orleans to face Tulane this weekend in what should be a winnable game. Tulane is a slight 2-1/2 point favorite on the betting line. A win this weekend will even SMU’s record at 4-4, meaning they will need to split the last four games to qualify for a bowl. Three of the final four games are at home.
COCKTAIL CONVERSATION: The Mustangs unveiled some unusual uniforms for Saturday’s game. They wore pants, jerseys and helmets that were dark gray. Nike’s name for the color is “anthracite”. The numbers and names on the jerseys were red. This was the breast cancer awareness game, so the running Mustang on the helmet was pink, and other accessories such as socks and gloves were also pink.
MEN’S BASKETBALL: Shake Milton was named to the Jerry West Award watch list as the top guard in the country. The initial watch list has just 20 entrants. The Conference media day was this past Monday. Ben Moore was picked to the All-Conference first team. Milton was named to the pre-season All-Conference second team. The Mustangs were picked third behind second place Connecticut and first place Cincinnati for the conference championship.
* Quarterback Ben Hicks was named “Freshman of the Week” by CBS Sports after running for a touchdown and throwing for three more in the 38-16 win over Houston.