SMU has been an inconsistent high wire act all season long. Saturday night, in Tulsa, the Mustangs had theirs cut out from under them in a 28-24 loss that all but knocks them out of contention for the AAC title game.
SMU Unravels In Tulsa
Numbers can often be made to look like whatever someone wants others to see. But in this case, the numbers don’t lie. SMU gave up a 21-0 lead in the loss. The offense managed only 166 yards in the second half and as a predictable result were shut out on the scoreboard in the second half. Related to all of that was the Mustangs going four of 16 on third down conversions in the game.
If the stats don’t work for you, let’s turn to Sonny Dykes, who after the game called his team’s performance, “Pathetic.”
Tulsa’s Turnover Troubles
Tulsa worked hard to give the game away early. Quarterback Zach Smith was scrambling deep inside his own territory. He tried to throw a check down pass to Keylon Stokes. But he never saw Brandon Crossley sitting under the patter. Crossley picked off the pass and cruised in the final 18 yards for the touchdown the 7-0 lead.
On Tulsa’s next possession, Smith went back to pass at his own 19-yard line. As he was raising his arm, the ball came out. Elijah Chatman recovered it for the Mustangs and SMU was getting another chance to score without even having to mount a drive. After a Beau Morris false start pushed them back a little further Shane Buechele scrambled out to his right and then threw across his body all the way to the front pylon where Kylen Granson made the touchdown catch for the 14-0 lead.
Tulsa managed to push the ball into the SMU red zone but penalties moved them back the 17 yard line. Zack Long missed a 34-yard field goal. Nothing was going right for Tulsa. Yet.
SMU Expands Lead
At the end of the first quarter, Uysses Bentley IV took the ball on a play designed to go up the middle. With the line stacked, he immediately planted and cut to the left, picking up 19 yards down to the Tulsa one-yard line. On the first play of the second quarter, Bentley busted through the right side of the line untouched for the touchdown. SMU was now up 21-0 and Tulsa was making it worse on themselves. On a fourth and three play at the Tulsa 38-yard line, Buechele was sacked but the Hurricane were called for being offsides. It was the way the first half was going all around.
Tulsa managed to run off 53 yards to the get to the edge of the SMU red zone again at the 20 yard line. This time they converted. Smith scrambled to his right and dumped off a nine yard pass to Josh Johnson who ran it the remaining 11 yards for the touchdown. Tulsa was finally showing signs of life and cut the deficit to 21-7.
SMU got a 45 yard field goal out of Chris Naggar towards the end of the half to take a 24-7 lead into the locker room. But the kick was not easy, as the wind had started to swirl hard around Chapman stadium. It was a factor in things to come in the second half.
The Winds Of Fortune Swirl The Other Way
Halfway through the third quarter, Naggar attempted a 50-yard field goal. But he appeared to overcompensate for the wind and sliced the kick just wide right. Later in the quarter, he would have a punt that got caught up in the wind and would go only 18 yards. It ensured that when SMU was on the edge of field goal range on fourth, Dykes would choose to keep his offense on the field.
Tulsa got its second touchdown with a bit of fortune. Running back Deneric Prince appeared to fumble at the one-yard line and SMU recovered in the end zone. The replay booth reversed the call on the field, saying that Prince’s elbow was down before the ball came loose. T.K. Wilkerson bulled his way in from one yard out on the next play and suddenly Tulsa was back in it at 24-14. They had done this repeatedly all season long. They would get off to slow starts and then finish strong in the second half. Mix that with SMU’s propensity to take its collective foot off the gas this season, and it was a bad mix for the Mustangs.
SMU’s Offense Goes MIA
SMU finished the third quarter with only 66 yards of offense and no points. Tulsa had 151 yards of offense and the touchdown that closed the gap to 10.
Tulsa went 80 yards in just over two minutes in a drive that hit paydirt early in the fourth quarter. Smith found Johnson behind SMU’s completely blown coverage. There was not a defensive back within five yards of him as he cruised into the end zone. The 21-point lead was now down to just three at 24-21.
SMU’s battling the wind in its end of the field caused the need for more down efforts. On fourth and eight at the Tulsa 35-yard line, Buechele took off out of the pocket but picked up only seven of the eight yards needed. Buechele also struggled with his completion in the second half going seven of 18 in the last two quarters.
The lack of offensive production in the second half finally caught up to SMU. With just under two minutes left in the game, Smith completed a four-yard touchdown pass to tight end James palmer for the go-ahead score at 28-24.
SMU would need to go 75 yards in about 1:50 to pull off the miracle win. But on first and 10 at his own 35 yard line, Buechele was picked off by Zaven Collins. Tulsa ran out the clock and SMU’s weekly flirting with danger came back to bite them where it hurts most, in the conference standings.
After the game Dykes did not dance around the team’s performance. ‘We couldn’t do anything on offense. Like I said, it was a pretty pathetic performance by us. When you don’t score in half of a college football game, you are going to lose. That is what happened to us tonight.”
SMU’s four of 16 third conversion rate is its lowest of the season. Dykes said it was just a matter of execution. The bottom line is we didn’t make plays and didn’t execute at all,” Dykes said. “We had some opportunities to do some things. But we either didn’t protect, or didn’t make the throw or didn’t make the catch, or got a penalty.”
Buechele was visibly dismayed after the game when he heard the third down conversion stat. “We got to be a lot better of doing our job,” Buechele said. “There was a lot of stuff on third down where we weren’t executing. We’ve got to do a lot better job of all being on the same page.”
The loss drops SMU to 7-2. More importantly, the Mustangs are 4-2 in conference play with Cincinnati and Tulsa holding the tie breaker against them for the top two spots. SMU hosts Houston on Saturday.