Dallas, TX – The SMU Mustangs set a school record by causing ten turnovers last week en route to a 52-0 victory over the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. The competition took a significant leap in quality this week as the Mustangs faced new SEC member Texas A&M. The Aggies last lost to SMU in 1984 during the Pony Express years and before the infamous Death Penalty decimated the program. Since then, the Mustangs are 0-10-1 against their former Southwest Conference rivals. Given the recent history and perceived strength of each program, a Mustangs win would be a landmark victory.
SMU Head Coach June Jones could not have scripted the first quarter any better, at least on the defensive side of the ball. The Aggies went three and out on each of their first three possessions and failed to convert on fourth and short after their fourth one took them into SMU territory. A&M’s much-heralded freshman quarterback, Johnny Manziel, seemed initially confused by SMU’s coverage schemes as he was indecisive in the pocket, took a couple of sacks and ran the ball more times (6) than he completed passes(4) in the quarter.
But offensively, the Mustangs were unable to capitalize on their early opportunities. Two of their first three drives started with excellent field position (SMU 42, A&M 43), yet they were unable to generate any consistent offense, nor any points. Coach Jones later said, “If we had answered anything early in the game offensively . . . I think that everybody could have kind of rallied up, but we just couldn’t
get anything going.” Mustangs quarterback Garrett Gilbert pointed to A&M’s secondary as the cause of their troubles, saying, “Their corners did do a very good job. I think it was them being able to change up their scheme. They changed up coverages quite a bit and kind of kept us off balance.”
There was a feeling of inevitability in the second quarter as Texas A&M found their offensive rhythm. First, the Aggies put together an eight-play, 61 yard touchdown drive where they seemed determined to get their passing game going as they only ran the ball twice. Manziel hit senior wide receiver Ryan Swope down the middle for 29 yards to open the scoring. The teams then exchanged punts, with A&M getting the better end of the field position battle.
They started their third drive of the quarter at SMU’s 48-yard-line. Johnny Manziel dropped back to pass on first down, saw nobody open, and then showed why his nickname is, “Johnny <bleeping> Football.” Manziel took off running towards the completely open left side and then quickly re-oriented towards the end zone in middle of the field. At about the 25, he was slowed as he cut through the linebackers before he turned on the jets and outpaced the SMU secondary to the end zone. Mustangs senior linebacker Taylor Reed later said, “He’s really shifty, he’s a really good athlete. He was able to make a play after I missed him. It’s definitely frustrating.” On the ensuing PAT, senior defensive end Margus Hunt continued his career-long block party (9 FGs, 7 PATs) to keep the score at 13-0.
On the ensuing possession, Gilbert under threw a deep ball that Tramain Jacobs intercepted at Texas A&M’s own 27. Manziel and the Aggies’ offense capitalized with an eight-play, 73 yard touchdown drive to make the score 20-0 at the half. The Aggies marched right down the field again with their first possession of the third quarter and scored another touchdown to effectively put the game away at 27-0, although A&M went on to score two more touchdowns in the quarter.
The focus after the game was the play of Johnny Manziel, who set a Texas A&M school record for a freshman with 418 yards of total offense (124 rushing, 294 passing) to go with his four passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. But A&M Head Coach Kevin Sumlin, in a futile attempt at mitigating the hype surrounding his young star, disagreed, saying, “I think the story of the game is how our defense played early. It kept us not only in the game, but gave us some energy, too. We weren’t hitting on all cylinders and couldn’t hardly do anything on offense, and I thought our defense played very, very well and turned it into a field position game.”
When asked how Manziel was progressing compared to his own expectations for his quarterback, Sumlin went on to say that, “He just set a record today, so, that’s pretty good. Like I said guys, it’s game two. You heard me last week; the quarterback gets way too much credit when we win and all the blame when we lose. I think he’s handling it very well. I think he’s been very objective as he comes in and he watches video, he wants to play better, he wants to be really good and there’s a difference between a guy who wants to be good and a guy who works at it and I think he’s very honest with himself as he tries to become a complete quarterback. That speaks a lot to him and <QB Coach> Kliff Kingsbury.”
The bright spot on offense for the Mustangs was once again senior running back Zach Line, who ran for 107 yards on only sixteen carries. Coach Jones singled out his play, saying, “We’ve got speed around (the offense). We’re just not executing . . . I think that Zach has done his job, everybody has just got to pick it up a little bit. I think we have enough talent.” The Texas A&M defense took note of Line’s running prowess as well. Senior linebacker Sean Porter said of Line, “He’s a big load, he’s a big back. We knew that going into the game that we would have to tackle well, but a couple of times we made mental mistakes, had busted coverages and he got out on us.”
The SMU Mustangs now have two weeks to prepare for their next big game, Metroplex rival TCU’s visit to Ford Stadium on September 29th. Early season games against two Big XII opponents and an SEC opponent will surely have the Mustangs battle-hardened before they face the UTEP Miners on October 6 to begin their Conference-USA schedule.