Dallas, TX – The SMU Mustangs opened the home portion of their 2012 schedule looking to rebound from a 59-24 mauling at the hands of the Baylor Bears in Waco. June Jones enters his fifth season as coach of the Ponies with the expectation that he will have this program ready for SMU’s step up to the BCS automatic-qualifying Big East Conference in 2013, so the lopsided loss was a bit of a shock for many fans. The Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Lumberjacks from Stephen F. Austin were just what the ghost of Doak Walker ordered as the Mustangs galloped to a 52-0 victory.
This seemingly innocent home opener in the heart of Dallas turned out to be one of the weirdest college football games you will ever see. Consider the following:
- One team ran 100 plays, gained 466 yards and had 28 first downs. The other ran 70 plays, gained 328 yards and had 17 first downs. Guess which one got shut out?
- A career NCAA record was set in this game. The guy who did it did not even start playing football until he was a sophomore in college.
- Two more single-game NCAA records were severely threatened. The kind that no player or team wants to go into the record books for.
- There were more blocked kicks in the game (2 FG & 1 punt by SMU, 1 FG by SFA) than offensive touchdowns or made field goals.
- One team did something they had not done in almost 30 years.
- There were more turnovers in the game than third down conversions.
Based on the first quarter, though, one never would have guessed that the score would end up so lopsided. SFA sophomore quarterback Brady Attaway looked impressive in the opening frame, going 11-16 for 112 yards and one interception that was more the receiver’s fault than his as he fell coming out of his break. Conversely, SMU’s much more heralded junior, Garrett Gilbert, led the Mustangs to three-3 and outs and an interception in their first four possessions.
SFA was in position to take an early lead after Gilbert’s interception gave the Lumberjacks the ball at SMU’s 32. Attaway drove the offense down to the six where the drive stalled, so they lined up for what should have been a chip shot field goal. That’s when senior defensive end Margus Hunt, all 6’8” of him, broke through and blocked the ninth field goal of his career, a new NCAA record. After the game, Margus said, “When the opportunity came up, for that kick, we knew exactly what we were going to run and the play worked.” When asked what the record itself meant to him, the stoic Hunt broke into a big smile and said,
"“It’s fun! It’s not only my effort, it’s definitely a team effort, I couldn’t have done it by myself.”"
As good as Attaway looked in the first quarter, he showed his young age and inexperience in the second. The first three Lumberjack possessions of the quarter each ended in an interception, and none of them could be blamed on a WR mistake. Brady Attaway took a big hit near the end of the half and did not return, but his backup, Joe Minden, continued to throw the ball to the Ponies in his stead. For the game, Lumberjack QBs threw seven interceptions (the NCAA record is 10) and the team also lost three fumbles (the NCAA record for total turnovers in a game is 13).
The high number of turnovers more than cancelled out SFA’s large advantage in offensive statistics. It also helped the Mustangs record their first shutout since 1983. This meant a lot to the defensive players, as cornerback Kenneth Acker (who scored two return TDs) explained after the game:
"“It’s really big. We wanted to make sure that the people that were going in in the 4th quarter (backups and stuff), that they had the same mentality as the starters. They didn’t want nobody scoring, either. It’s really a team mentality and everybody was going for the same goal.”"
The offense finally got going in the second and third quarters as a result of a change in play calling philosophy by Head Coach June Jones:
"“I gave the ball to (senior RB) Zach (Line) a little bit more knowing that he would quiet down their front, which he did, and then we had a chance to make a couple throws and when we did, we made them. We caught them on a couple of screens, and that was big.”"
The Mustangs had a 21-0 lead at the half thanks to Acker’s 56-yard return of a blocked field goal as the half expired (the other TD return was an INT). SMU stopped the Lumberjacks on their opening drive in the third quarter and scored on the ensuing one to put the game away. The last four scores of the game were all defensive returns (two INTs, two fumble recoveries).
SMU put on a good show for the home fans in their home opener, but players and coaches alike know that the task at hand will be exponentially tougher next Saturday when new SEC member Texas A&M comes to town.