Handling adversity is tough when you aren’t used to success, but the SMU Mustangs took a big step in turning around the program as they overcame multiple first half mistakes to defeat the North Texas Mean Green 31-13 to get their first win of the season.
There are three aspects of football: offense, defense and special teams and there will be times during the course of a game that one, or even two, parts are malfunctioning and its up to the other to keep the team in the game. That was the case at Gerald J Ford Stadium on Saturday because outside of the 27 yard touchdown pass from Matt Davis to Cortland Sutton, nothing seemed to go right for the Mustang offense. Three lost fumbles — including one by Davis while attempting to dive into the endzone — would have crippled most good teams, let alone a team that had lost 11 straight games the previous season, but the SMU defense held down the fort and only allowed the Mean Green to score six points on two field goals.
“I thought our defense made so much improvements over one week, it was unbelievable” said head coach Chad Morris. “They impacted the game, they impacted the quarterback, they got pressure on him. I thought Coach Malone and his staff did a great job getting those guys prepared this week.”
Part of that preparation allowed the defensive side of the ball to force Mean Green quarterback Andrew McNulty into low percentage throws and disrupt his timing. Through the first half McNulty only completed 8-of-17 passes for 62 yards and was sacked twice. The ability to fluster him was a big improvement from the Week 1 loss to the Baylor Bears where it seemed as if quarterback Seth Russell had all day to pick apart the SMU defense.
In the second half, thanks to the arm and feet of Davis, the Mustangs offense finally got going by scoring 24 points — including the final 21 of the game. The junior quarterback finished with just under 300 yards of total offense — including a game clinching 50 yard touchdown run to make the score 24-13 with 9:21 remaining in the fourth quarter. In the post-game press conference Davis admitted that he may be running more than he and Coach Morris would like, but he just wants to do what it takes to win and sometimes that may involve his feet more than his arm.
In the second half the offense did not turn the ball over and converted three out of four redzone scoring chances.
In addition to the stellar performance from Davis, the freshman running back duo of Xavier Jones and Braeden West continued to impress as the two combined to rush for 137 yards while showing no lingering mental effects from their own first half mishaps — Jones fumbled right outside the redzone and West fumbled a punt return.
Not wanting to be outdone by the offense, the defense continued to play well in the latter stages of the game as it forced three second-half turnovers — two interceptions and one fumble — and outside of one long run by North Texas back Antoinne Jimmerson the Mustangs did not allow any big plays that could have allowed the Mean Green to get back in the game.
“We really wanted to step up and put it on us” said senior defensive end Andrew McCleneghen. “When the game is on the line or things aren’t going well we want to have the responsibility to put it on our shoulders; we want to get a big stop make something happen and turn the momentum around.”
And that’s what he, and the rest of the defense, did as he had a sack and two forced fumbles.
That defensive intensity and focus will be tested this Saturday as the team travels to Fort Worth, TX to take on the No 3. ranked TCU Horned Frogs and Heisman candidate quarterback Trevone Boykin. Pulling off perhaps the greatest upset in program history will be a daunting task, but if the offense and defense can play more like it did in the second half versus UNT, the game could be a lot more entertaining than last seasons 56-0 embarrassment in front of a home crowd at Gerald Ford Stadium that seemed to have a lot of purple shirts on.