It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t always efficient. And it wasn’t all that for a team with high expectations for the season. But when you are one of the first teams out of the locker room in the COVID era, and with little training camp, you take the wins where you get them. SMU had a significant talent advantage Saturday and used just enough of it beat Texas State 31-24 in San Marcos.
SMU Win Is Good Enough
Mustangs quarterback Shane Buechele resembled the game itself. The senior was a crisp 26 of 36 passing for 367 yards and a touchdown. But he also had two interceptions. The offense racked up 544 yards, but also three turnovers that resulted in seven Texas State points. There is a lot to clean-up now that SMU has a week off with the postponement of the TCU game.
Both teams looked like they needed more practices in the early going. Neither was able to put up any points in the first quarter. SMU put its first points on the board thanks to a Texas State turnover early in the second quarter. Bobcats quarterback Brady McBride was starting for the first time in his career. He showed plenty of skill, but he proved to be a high wire act. He keeps plays alive with his footwork in the backfield, but the longer he scrambles, the more prone he is to poor decisions.
From his own 40-yard line, he threw short over the middle and was intercepted by SMU’s Jimmy Phillips, Jr. Phillips returned it a couple of yards. But a chop block call put the Mustangs back at their own 45-yard line. Four plays later, Buechele hit Austin Upshaw on a deep out pattern for 29 yards. Ulysses Bentley IV finished off the work with a 6-yard sprint to the outside for 7-0 lead.
The Teams Go Back And Forth
Texas State responded on the next drive with a healthy mix of run and pass. The running game was split all night with Calvin Hill and Brock Sturges. The Bobcats went 75 yards in 12 plays. Sturges ran it in from four yards out to tie the score. SMU defensive coordinator Kevin Kane is going to have his work cut out for him next week. It is not just that the Mustangs gave up 189 net yards on the ground. It is that Hill and Burges combined for a little over seven yards per carry.
Buechele highlighted the next SMU drive with a sideline completion to Rashee Rice for 24 yards down to the Bobcats 21-yard line. Bentley finished the seven-play drive with a 12 yard run over the left guard for the touchdown and the 14-7 SMU lead.
The run game was a concern for coach Sonny Dykes coming into the game. The Mustangs lost both of their top rushers from last season. T.J. McDaniel got most of the workload out of the backfield Saturday. He finished with 27 carries for 130 yards and one touchdown. Bentley left in the third quarter with leg cramps and never returned to the line-up. He finished the day with 11 carries for 49 yards and the two rushing touchdowns.
Texas State Takes Advantage
The Bobcats finished out the first half with a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, using all but the final 32 seconds off the clock. McBride was again inconsistent. But he was bailed out on a pass interference call against SMU defensive back Brandon Stephens that kept the drive alive. Stephens would twice commit a penalty in the end zone that would give Texas State renewed scoring opportunities. This time, McBride would hit Jeremiah Haydel on a fade to the right corner of the end zone. Haydel made a stunning one-handed catch over Ar’mani Johnson for three yards and the touchdown.
The teams went into the half tied at 14. McBride was certainly more of a wild ride than Buechele with seven of 17 passing in the half, but he did have the one touchdown pass. Buechele went into the locker room 12 of 15 for 127 yards but both scores were on the ground.
SMU opened the second half with Buechele accounting for 50 of the 75 yards in the touchdown drive. He used three different receivers, including a 38-yard completion to Danny Gray. McDaniel finished the last nine yards of the drive with a run outside the right tackle box to give the Mustangs a 21-14 lead.
The Bobcats were not going away quietly though. After having lost last season’s game by 30 points, they never backed down Saturday. Buechele was intercepted at the Texas State 25 yard line by Kordell Rodgers who returned it 30 yards to the SMU 45 yard line. A couple of McBride passes and 18 yards rushing from Hill put the Bobcats at the SMU 19. From there, McBride found Chandler Speights over the middle for the touchdown, and it was tied again, at 21.
SMU Finally Puts It Away
SMU needed only six more plays to go up for good. Buechele went play-action-pass. Reggie Roberson, Jr. had gotten behind the safety by a good two yards on a post pattern and Buechele connected with for a 5-yard touchdown pass and the 28-21 lead.
Both teams would add a field goal in the fourth quarter for the final score. For SMU kicker Chris Naggar, his 32-yarder with 2:20 left in the game was the first career field goal for the grad transfer from Texas.
Time To Regroup
So now SMU gets an extra week off. They found out Thursday that their game, scheduled for September 12 at TCU is postponed because of a COVID outbreak on the Horned Frogs team. They have a lot to work on. The defensive line put pressure on McBride but only got to him for two sacks. The linebackers did a good job of keeping him reigned in when he did scramble. He had a net of three yards rushing. The defense also clearly has a lot of work to do in getting to running backs sooner. And Stephens can’t be committing penalties in the end zone.
But there is a lot of upside from the game. Buechele played well. If he was not spectacular, he was efficient minus the two interceptions. He also utilized both Rice and Roberson well, with the two of them combining for 200 yards receiving. And, assuming Bentley was just suffering from leg cramps, they have found a new running back tandem with McDaniel.
The reality is few teams look like they should right now. Camps opening and closing just as quickly; a lack of contact practice and not knowing how their schedules would change until a week prior to the season. Expectations for most teams have to be kept in check. The early on-field product is not going to be clean. But now the Mustangs have a very valuable extra week of practice before they head to North Texas on September 19th.