What We Learned from the SMU Mustangs’ 54-48 Loss to the Memphis Tigers

 

The 2019 SMU Mustangs football team took part in a lot of historic firsts this past Saturday as it traveled to Memphis, TN to take on the 24th ranked Memphis Tigers. It was the first time that the program participated in a game that hosted ESPN College Game Day. It was the first time the program was featured in the primetime TV slot on ABC. The team also played before the largest attended conference game in American Athletic Conference history as 59,506 fans filled the Liberty Bowl. Unfortunately, it was also the team’s first loss of the season as it fell to the Tigers, 54-48.

 

The Special Teams unit was far from special 

The biggest worry for the SMU Mustangs special teams most of the year was whether the placekicker for that day could make extra points and field goals. On Saturday, placekicker Kevin Robleto did his job by making his only field goal attempt and three extra points, but the rest of the unit did not get the memo that it was a big game, and it cost the team. Not only did the kickoff unit surrender a 97-yard kickoff return on the opening play of the second half, but the Memphis offense had excellent field position (starting beyond the 40 yard-line) on seven of eight kickoffs. The Tigers offense is too good to be giving them that type of starting field position, and they took advantage of it.

The offense did enough to win.
On Friday if someone would have said that SMU would be playing without its big-play receiver in Reggie Roberson Jr., running back Xavier Jones would have his worst game of the year (11 carries, 22 yards, one touchdown), and the offense would still put up 48 points and 553 total yards, most SMU fans would be ok with that. Quarterback Shane Buechele continued his record-breaking season as he passed for 456 yards and three touchdowns. With Roberson Jr. out of the lineup, Rashee Rice and James Proche’ were the focus of the SMU passing attack, and they came up big. Rice, a true freshman from Richland Hills, TX, had the first 100-yard game (seven catches, 122 yards) of his career, and Proche continued to be Mr. Reliable as he finished the night with 13 catches for 149 yards and one touchdown. It was the first time that two Mustangs receivers went over the 100-yard plateau, but with the quick development of Rice, it probably won’t be the last. And not to be forgotten tight end Kylen Granson had his best game of the season with four catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns — including an improbable grab on a flee-flicker in the second half. Buechele and this offense have more than enough weapons at its disposal, even IF Roberson is unable to return this season.

 

The Good, Bad and Ugly of the SMU defense

The Good

The defense did a great job limiting Memphis do-it-all back Kenneth Gainwell. The 102 total yards was the lowest yardage output in a conference game for the electric running back all season.

Finishing the game with four sacks and nine tackles-for-loss, the SMU defense had success attacking the Memphis offensive line all evening.

The Bad

The SMU defense prides itself on forcing turnovers, and for the first time in 20 games, there was no…

via GIPHY

The Ugly

All season, the SMU defense made a point of coming up with a big play when the team needed, but for some reason on Saturday, they just couldn’t make enough plays to get off the field. After Granson’s 30-yard touchdown made the score 40-32, the defense gave up touchdowns on two drives that took less than two minutes — a 49-yard touchdown pass and a 78-yard touchdown run where both scores were courtesy of poor tackling angles.

 

Despite the loss, the Mustangs still have a lot to play for this year. The West Division championship is still a possibility, and there is an excellent chance that the team will finish the season with 10+ wins — the first since 1984. The team hosts an East Carolina Pirates team this weekend that is dealing with its own share of disappointment. The Pirates are coming off a 46-43 loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats in which they led 40-28  at the end of the third quarter. Despite being 0-5 in the AAC, ECU has a passing offense that could give the Mustangs issues. Sophomore quarterback Holton Ahlers is coming off a game in which he passed for 535 yards and four touchdowns. And like Memphis, the Pirates have a trio of receivers, CJ Johnson, Blake Proehl, and Jsi Hatfield, who will have to be accounted for.
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