By Zach Walker
To start, an admission. It’s not my job to feel anything for these teams, these players, or these coaches, but man, was I proud of what I saw out of SMU on Saturday. I saw guys stepping up, making differences in the game, and making great plays. I know that in adult sports, there aren’t style points or orange slices, for a “great effort”, but these players kicked butt to get back in this game. Enough dribble, now the piece.
On a beautiful, muggy October day, with a light haze in the air and sporting uniforms as cool as the temperature, it felt like a great football game was on tap. And this being the opening game of AAC conference play, that’s what unfolded.
In the first quarter, SMU had a couple of solid drives that stalled out, and when they had to punt, punter Mike Loftus just didn’t have it, averaging only 19 yards and got pulled after two punts. Hold on, because it didn’t get better. After being pinned back on their own 9 yard line, and already down seven points, the Mustangs fumbled the ball into their own end zone, and Rutgers pounced on the ball for a touchdown. It was a miss-communication between the center Taylor Lasecki and Garrett Gilbert, but it was an untimely and costly mistake. In the second quarter, the Scarlet Knights added another touchdown before SMU responded with their own touchdown, a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Johnson on 4th and 1. Then the defense made a stop, and then clock was on SMU’s side as the half ended as Rutgers had the ball.
The third quarter, outside of a sweet 55-yard touchdown strike from Gilbert to Keenan Holman, was all Rutgers, with the Knights forcing three and outs on the Mustangs’ drives following the one play score. And once Rutgers’ running back Justin Goodwin punched the ball in from two yards out with a little more than a minute left in the third, the outlook was bleak. But the fourth quarter was all SMU. The Mustangs would hold Rutgers to 52 yards on 14 plays and wouldn’t surrender points in the quarter, meanwhile on offense, the Mustangs would gain 253 yards on 37 plays and climbed back into the game, drive by drive. A 17 play drive that would not be derailed by failed third down conversions, converting on two 4th downs and Garrett Gilbert would be sharp, completing 12 passes. It wouldn’t end well; however, with Chase Hover missing the extra point, the Mustangs would have to have a successful 2-point conversion to tie the game. The following drive would be a no-go, and with Rutgers pinning the ball at the SMU 6 yard line, it’d take some A-level fortitude to drive from that kind of distance, and on the first third down, JaBryce Taylor would take a pass 69 yards, then fumble the ball out of bounds at the Rutgers 18 yard line and four plays later, the Mustangs got in the end zone, a Darius Joseph 6-yard touchdown catch. A four and out by Rutgers, with the key play being a supreme tackle for no gain by Randall Joyner. Gilbert’s first throw would go to Jeremy Johnson for 43 yards, then a fumble, recovered by JaBryce Taylor. A seven yard pass to Joseph, then an incompletion.
Jeremy Johnson had an absolutely epic game, a 15 catch game to this point. 190 yards and two touchdowns to go with it. But catch number 16, would be epic. A 13-yard catch for a touchdown, but that’s just the print version, in reality, is was a short route and a ton of effort to get close, then just as he was close enough, a final lunge would break the goal line just as Johnson took a huge hit. If you could see it in slow motion, it’d probably look like a movie. But now, that missed extra point would rear its ugly head as the Mustangs would line up for the two-point conversion. Garrett Gilbert was excellent, all game long, but the two-point conversion required an ability Gilbert doesn’t show nearly often enough, the ability to move around, get outside the pocket, keep the eyes downfield, and find it. Those are just words; however, the play was much crazier. Gilbert would drop back, go through his reads, slides right, rolls left, runs right, looks left and sees Jeremy Johnson standing, waving his arms in the left side of the end zone. Gilbert would launch a pass, against the grain of the field and Johnson would readjust to the ball in air, place his feet along the edge of the end zone, and make a truly epic catch to knot the game at 35. Rutgers would get another possession, and it looked like they were driving to kick a field goal, then Zach Wood forced a fumble on Gary Nova. And after a couple yards gained by SMU, time expired in regulation.
Overtime in college football is excellent, and if you get the right game, points will start to add up like a basketball game. And just like you’d like it, points started to rack up. Trading touchdowns, Gilbert 3-yard touchdown run, Nova 4-yard touchdown pass, Nova 29-yard touchdown pass on 3rd and 29, Gilbert 1-yard touchdown run, but then a hiccup. SMU kicked a field goal. Rutgers saw the tell, and they went long for the big score. A 13-yard run, then a 17-yard run that ended the game. The defeat was just that, defeating. The Mustangs fall to 1-4, but 0-1 in conference play, so nothing’s out of reach.
Last Game’s stars: Offense: Garrett Gilbert/Jeremy Johnson; Defense: Randall Joyner;
Special Teams: Nobody (bad punts, a missed PAT, and a muffed kick return luckily called back on penalty)