Dallas – The 2-4 SMU Mustangs came into their Thursday night game against the University of Houston Cougars (3-3) desperate for a win to erase the taste of a disappointing loss last week to previously winless Tulane. Their last season in Conference USA was supposed to be a tune-up for the leap to the BCS-qualifying Big East next season. Instead, it is starting to raise questions about the future of the program and if June Jones will be the man to lead the charge East. If SMU is going to turn this season around and make any kind of a run for the conference crown, this game was one they had to have.
Junior quarterback Garrett Gilbert and the offense were almost immediately gifted the ball in the red zone when Houston muffed the punt after SMU’s first offensive series ended in a three-and-out. This was the first of two punts muffed by Houston in the quarter that were both recovered by SMU (the Cougars’ turnovers would definitely become a trend). The Mustangs capitalized on the first mistake and took an early lead 7-0. Houston QB David Piland (Soph.) efficiently moved the Cougars’ no-huddle offense down the field on the ensuing drive and tied the game at 7.
The Mustangs mounted a long drive (75 yards) of their own to take a 14-7 lead, but the Cougars again immediately responded by marching right back down the field and scoring a touchdown on the first play of the 2nd quarter. After that it was almost all Mustangs for the rest of the game. The defense caused nine (9) University of Houston turnovers and retuned three of them for touchdowns. Margus Hunt had two sacks and a pass deflection. Taylor Reed had a highlight-reel hit to cause one of the turnovers and he later had his first career interception return for a touchdown. It would be easy to say that the defense was the story of the game, and for the most part they were, but much-maligned QB Garrett Gilbert had what was easily his best game of the year.
Gilbert went 9 of 11 passing in the 2nd quarter for 67 yards, but more importantly he stayed cool under pressure and twice he overcome adversity to finish a drive with a touchdown. On one drive, Gilbert dropped back to pass on 2nd and 9 from the UH 24, nimbly stepped up in the pocket to avoid a defender, looked downfield and spotted a WIDE open Darius Johnson running a post route into the end zone…and then he promptly overthrew Johnson by 10 yards, a sight Mustangs fans have become very familiar with. But what they aren’t familiar with is Gilbert shaking off the bad play and leading his team to a score. Later, the Mustangs had a very questionable call go against them on what looked like a touchdown pass from Gilbert to Johnson. The ruling (reminiscent of the Calvin Johnson non-TD last year) did not phase Gilbert, though, as the Mustangs scored anyway on the next play. In the 4th quarter, Garrett made a bad decision and threw a pick-six that cut the lead to 59-35, but then he led the offense on an almost 9-minute drive (that was heavy on Zach Line runs) to effectively ice the game.
The final score of 72-42 was a bit of sweet revenge for many SMU fans who still remember the 95-21 thumping the Cougars gave them back in 1989, their first year back from the Death Penalty. It also set an all-time single-game scoring record for SMU, who have been playing football since 1915. The victory moves the Mustangs to 2-1 in conference play and they are still very much in the mix in Conference USA’s West Division; they even control their own destiny. If they win out, they will earn a spot in the conference title game at the end of the season.