By Zach Walker
How’d it go for the Mustangs?
This one is going to stick with Mustangs’ fans. The lead at the half, no points allowed in, almost, the first 52 minutes. The Mustangs just couldn’t ever really separate from USF. The weather at game-time was cold (felt like 32 degrees) and there was a constant haze.
The game looked to start strongly in favor of the Mustangs, with Deion Sanders Jr returning the opening kickoff 53 yards down to the South Florida 39 yard line. But as it’s been all season long, when a window opens with an opportunity, the Mustangs couldn’t get a drive going and went three and out but, got Jackson Koonce pinned the Bulls at their own 11. The Bulls would feature their freshman Marlon Mack on their first drive, and would average 6 yards a carry off of six carries, on a 14 play drive, but on play fourteen, USF would roll the bold dice and pass up a chip shot field for a rush on 4th and three yards. But the running back Darius Tice would run straight into Darrian Wright and Robert Seals would get behind Tice and pull him backwards to ensure that he wouldn’t gain any fall-forward yards and secure the ball over on downs for the Mustangs. The two teams would exchange three and outs, then the Mustangs would finally put something together.
There was clearly a connection between Matt Davis and Deion Sanders Jr, as they connected three times in four plays for 26 yards, before connecting with Der’rick Thompson on an inside wide receiver screen through the heart of the defense for 39 yards. The drive would fizzle after that play, and the Mustangs would take the 28 yard field goal for the Mustangs first home lead of the season. The Bulls would counter back with another dose of Marlon Mack, until the first of many Chop Block penalties would derail the USF drive. The Mustangs would have a small drive, including a flare pass to Deion Sanders Jr, with exceptional blocking on the outside by Thompson and Darius Joseph to spring Sanders for 15 yards. But SMU was forced to punt, and had a shot at the ball after Chris Dunkley couldn’t control the fair catch, but the ball was seemingly destined to get back to SMU. After the Bulls gained a sizable chunk of the field, and a flip-flop pass interference by the comedy troop of referees, the Bulls ran Ryshen Bronson on a sweep for 6 yards, so the Mustangs called timeout for the impending 3rd down. The move panned out better than just preserving the remaining 90 seconds, because Darrion Richardson would jar the ball loose from the grasp of Andre Davis and Hayden Greenbauer would recover.
The Mustangs wouldn’t stay patient with their drive, the first pass would be a shot down the field for Der’rick Thompson for a gain of 45 yards. Matt Davis would carry the ball three straight times, getting the ball down to the 3 yard line and use the last two SMU timeouts. On 2nd and goal, the play that the Mustangs used to convert the second two point conversion against Tulsa a game ago, would make an important comeback appearance. The defensive end Justin Lawler did almost the exact motions as he did against Tulsa, and showed very solid soft hands to catch the touchdown with 21 seconds left in the half. But the ball would continue to smile a Mustangs’ smile, because Nate Godwin couldn’t handle the squib kick and SMU’s Cameron Smith would recover the ball at the USF 33 yard line. The offense would gain a yard, and set up Cody Rademacher for a 49 yard field goal attempt, with his previous career best being 40 yards, and he would rub a little drama on the kick but would make the kick ring home for SMU, and extend the halftime lead to a 13 point blanking at the half.
The third quarter wouldn’t have any points being scored, but some things did happen. On the first play for the Bulls offense of the second half, would have another Chop Block 15 yard penalty, this time taking away a 22 yard Marlon Mack rush. The Mustangs would get bailed out of a three and out with 15 yard facemask penalty, and the Mustangs would make a drive out of it, driving another nine plays down to the South Florida 24 yard line for a 3rd and 11. Matt Davis just got the throw away to Darius Joseph in the flat for a 5 yard gain, before Auggie Sanchez absolutely hammered Davis for his efforts in setting up a 36 yard field goal attempt. But I already stated that no points would be scored, because Rademacher would kick the ball almost completely straight from the right hash marking and miss wide right. USF would do nothing but rack up two more 15 yard Chop Block penalties, one being declined on 3rd and 27. Der’rick Thompson would foolishly field a punt at the Mustangs 7 yard line and actually lose yards on the return to the 2 yard line. The Mustangs would move the ball away from their own endzone for a more comfortable punt for Jackson Koonce, and the ball glanced off of USF’s Jalen Spencer but Chris Dunkley recovered to keep the ball for the Bulls.
The teams would exchange three and outs, and Kevin Pope would nearly intercept the pass intended for Sean Price, and USF would switch quarterbacks going from Quinton Flowers to Mike White and he would take advantage of his opportunities. White would take over the game for the Bulls, chewing the field in 22, 11, and finally the remaining 12 yards to D’Erne Johnson for the touchdown and tightening the game to one score, and the tightening the tension in the game. The Mustangs would go three and out for the final time in the game. With 6:02 left in the game, Tice would rush for 4, then Mike White would pick up the remaining 6 with his legs. Zach Wood would get the 1st down sack, and then White threw an incomplete pass, forcing a 3rd and 12. Mike White would look cool in the pocket, completing a little pass to D’Erne Johnson and he would show more power on his way to a 20 yard pickup. But the SMU defense would force the Bulls into another 3rd and long, this time nine yards out. Mike White would find Andre Davis on the slant play, and Hayden Greenbauer would take his legs away and stop Davis a yard short. On 4th and 1, D’Erne Johnson would power straight forward for 4 yards. But again the defense would force another long 3rd down, this time seven yards away. Mike White, again would stay cool and zip a pass to tight end Mike McFarland for 8 yards. On the next play, the Bulls would be flagged for a hold, forcing a 1st and 17 from the SMU 30. After an incompletion on 1st, White found Johnson for a check down of 7 yards, and setting a 3rd and 10. White once again looked for McFarland short but missed him, bringing up a 4th and 10. Again going to McFarland, he picked up 14 yards right through the heart of the defense, rolling down at the SMU 9 yard line. Johnson rushed for 3, USF called their final timeout on 2nd down from the 6. White would throw at Alex Mut on the right side of the endzone but the pass was too high because of the forced rollout by Mason Gentry’s pressure. USF would try the gut punch one last time with big D’Erne Johnson on 3rd down, but the defense wouldn’t yield any more than 2 yards. And with clock in free-fall, and on 4th and goal, Mike White would break the hearts of Mustangs’ fans. White took the shotgun pass, took one step, threw for Andre Davis, and Davis would make the catch after some solid jousting with JR Richardson, maybe should have been called, maybe could have been called, but was not called for offensive pass interference, instead makes the catch and it was the dagger that killed the pony.
Best and Worst plays of the Game:
BEST: The sequence of plays that led to the SMU touchdown, the forced fumble by Darrion Richardson that Hayden Greenbauer recovered. And the deep pass to Der’rick Thompson along the left sideline for 45 yards down to the 16 yard line.
WORST: The worst play isn’t a play that was made, it’s knowing that there was one more play that needed to be made to secure the win. The slow feeding into the wood chipper on that final drive giving time to reflect on the missed opportunities. Maybe picking up a single first down before giving the ball back to USF for the final drive. Maybe, Kevin Pope can come with that interception of Quinton Flowers and it seals the game for SMU. Maybe Cody Rademacher makes that 39 yard field goal in the 3rd quarter. This season has been a season of maybes and could-have-beens.