Football is a game of what have you done for me lately. Just a few minutes earlier, SMU kicker Chris Naggar hit the right uprights on a 58-yard field goal attempt that would have beaten Tulane at the end of regulation. But on the first series of overtime for the Mustangs, Naggar hit a 34-yarder for the 37-34 win in New Orleans Friday night.
The win moves the Mustangs to 5-0 on the season and 2-0 in AAC play. Tulane drops to 2-3.
SMU Squeaks By Tulane, 37-34
SMU head coach Sonny Dykes said earlier this week that the game would not be easy. We suggested it looked like a blowout on paper. Dykes was right. Nothing came easy for SMU in this game.
There was talk all week that this could be a “trap game” for SMU. Tulane was starting a freshman quarterback, their running game was by committee, and SMU could be looking ahead to next week’s game against Cincinnati.
Dykes did not use any of those excuses for the closeness of the game. Afterwards, he said, “We did a bunch of things you normally do and lose when you do that. But we were able to win. And it’s because our guys just played really hard, showed a lot of grit, fought their tales off and made plays down the stretch when they needed to.”
SMU Mistakes Turn Into Tulane Points
Indeed, the Mustangs did not make it easy on themselves. In fact after stopping Tulane on the Green Wave’s first possession, T.Q. Jackson fumbled the punt when one of his blockers ran into him. Tulane recovered at the SMU 45 yard line. Quarterback Michael Pratt converted that with a play action pass to Mykel Jones for 31-yards and the touchdown. It was the first time anyone had scored a first quarter touchdown against SMU all season. The Mustangs made the first of more than a few mistakes and Tulane was taking advantage of them all night.
The Mustangs offense put up the numbers, even if it was not clicking on all cylinders Friday night. They had 581 yards of total offense. Quarterback Shane Buechele finished 23 of 37 for 384 yards and two touchdowns. Probably more impressively was that SMU finished the game with three receivers each with at least 100 yards in receptions, (Danny Gray, Rahsee Rice, and Tyler Page).
Granson Makes A Difference
But it was tight end Kylen Granson who the first to strike out. The Mustangs started the first actual possession on their own eight-yard line. But Buechele found Granson on a slant over the middle for a 43-yard reception, that included 15-yards after the catch. It was an obvious part of the SMU passing success all night, the yards after the catch.
On the next play, it was Gray who got the call to carry the ball on a jet sweep, and it was Granson who set the block on the edge to free him. Granson carried it 32 yards for the touchdown and the 7-7 tie.
Naggar added a 48-yard field goal to make it 10-7 at the end of the first quarter. He would later miss a 45-yard field goal early in the second quarter, his first miss of the entire season.
Tulane Takes Advantage
Again, Tulane converted. On third and two from midfield, Phat Watts rushed over the left end for 14 yards to the SMU 37. Six plays later, Pratt pushed his way through the line for a one-yard touchdown run and a 14-10 lead.
SMU would answer with a nine play, 75-yard drive where Buechele was four of four for 64 yards passing. Ulysses Bentley IV took it the final yard for the touchdown and SMU was back in the lead at 17-14.
Tulane added a 34-yard field goal from Merek Glover to tie it at 17 going into halftime.
Green Wave Hits The Ground
While the running game had been carrying Tulane in previous weeks, it was Pratt with a balanced attack for 200 yards that SMU was having trouble with. Dykes had said earlier in the week that it was not so much a specific Tulane player to key in on, as it was their schemes. The Green Wave changed up at halftime and came out with a concentrated ground attack.
On their first possession of the second half, Tulane put running back Stephon Huderson to work. He carried the ball four times for 49 yards including a 22-yard touchdown run over the right guard. The Green Wave was up again 24-17.
The SMU offense was putting up numbers, as it always does, but it the end results weren’t there. Dykes turned deep into the playbook.
A Difference Making Call
Buechele pitched out to Bentley, who got to it Page on the end around. Page pulled up and threw to Rice along the left sideline for a 55-yard completion. Another 15 yards was tacked on for a facemask penalty and SMU was quickly at the Tulane 10-yard line. After the game Dykes said, “That was something we planned on running at some point during the game. We kind of needed something to get us going a little bit. It was a big play for us. It kind of got us going again a little bit on offense when we were stubbing our toe a couple series in a row there.”
The drive ended with a two-yard touchdown run over the left end. With the drive taking only 1:02 off the clock, the game was now tied at 24.
Naggar added a 34-yard field goal and the third quarter ended with SMU clinging to a 27-24 lead.
Giving Up Big Plays
It’s not that SMU’s defense was getting run over. They surrendered a game total of 387 yards, with 192 through the air and 195 on the ground. But it was the big plays they gave up and the opportunities they handed to Tulane.
On Tulane’s first drive of the fourth quarter, the Green Wave was struggling. With penalties on back-to-back plays, Tulane had it third and 39 on their own 48-yard line. Yeah, no problem. Duece Watts got a step behind SMU’s Ar’mani Johnson and Pratt found him for a 42-yard completion. Huderson finished the drive with a three-yard touchdown run. Suddenly, it was 31-27 Tulane and things were getting a little nerve wracking for the SMU faithful.
Buechele engineered a 14-play, 81-yard drive that burned more than five minutes off the clock. He completed a 10-yard, back shoulder pass to Gray on a slant pattern in the end zone. SMU was back up 34-31 with just over seven minutes left.
Tulane tied the game at 34 with a 27-yard Glover field goal. More importantly at the time, The Green Wave had burned 5:42 off the clock and left SMU with only 1:24.
Buechele used a completion in the middle of the field to Gray for 40 yards to help get SMU into field goal position for Naggar. The kicker, who earlier in the game had his first miss of the season, had plenty of distance on the 58-yard attempt, but it hit the right upright and bounced off to the right.
Earlier in the week, few could have imagined overtime for this game. Yet, here was SMU fighting to save its undefeated season and Top 25 ranking.
This Is Why Naggar Is In Dallas
On Tulane’s first drive in overtime, Pratt was intercepted by Brandon Crossley. That turned the ball back over to SMU. Three Zach Lavine runs picked up eight yards. That put it back on the foot of Naggar. Despite a low snap the hold was perfect, and the kick cruised through the uprights from 34 yards away for the very hard-fought Mustangs win.
Dykes said Naggar, the transfer from Texas, has already proven to be a critical difference maker a few times this season.
He also said these are the type of games that can turn a season. “If you ever want to have a special season, you got to win some football games like this, where you don’t play your best and you just figure out how to do it. We are going to have to play better than we played tonight to have a chance to have the kind of season we want to have. But we’re not apologizing for going on the road and winning a hard-fought game.”