By Zach Walker
If there is anything I’m learning about this SMU team its that just when you might think it’s time during a game to write them off, you might want to hold off on heading to the parking lot, because they don’t quit, they don’t get down on themselves, they scrap to get back into games doing anything possible. And last Saturday the Mustangs would find themselves down early. Despite a nice scramble by Gilbert on the opening play, three plays later Traylon Shead would fumble at mid-field and the Temple Owls would recover. But the ball seemed to be buttered because on 2nd and 8, Randall Joyner peeled the ball away from Owls freshman quarterback PJ Walker, but Walker would land on it. Two plays later, the Owls would play it aggressively and go for it on 4th and 2, only to go two yards backwards and a great gang tackle of the ball carrier Kenneth Harper.
The Mustangs next drive would be an impressive one, a nice pass in the flat to K.C. Nlemchi for 16 yards, then Darius Joseph showed a little athleticism when he finished his 21-yard play with a leap of a Temple defender. The Mustangs would finish the drive on a beautiful Traylon Shead draw, who ‘shed’ a would-be tackler to get it in the end zone. But the Owls wouldn’t let themselves get far behind, after a couple of foiled runs and a few medium level pass plays, the Owls threw a screen pass to Robby Anderson and he would find the end zone but not without a great block by another wide receiver. But the Mustangs would seemingly unravel from there. The following drive by SMU would start strong, a couple of 11 yard passing plays then and great pass and use of pump fake to get the ball to Der’rikk Thompson. But the next few plays weren’t so successful, and then a false start penalty on third down brought the drive to a halt. After a Gilbert punt downed at the Temple 17 yard line, the Owls displayed some serious trickery, with a reverse to wide receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick, but then Fitzpatrick threw the ball to a completely wide open Robby Anderson and the 83-yard touchdown. It was explosive and it totally caught everyone off guard.
The next SMU drive wouldn’t go anywhere, and Temple would just keep the hammer down. PJ Walker would run twice for 38 yards and complete all four of his passes, including a nice soft loft to John Christopher for the touchdown. And as if things weren’t tipped on the Temple side of the scale, this drive would all but break the game. Like the previous two drives, it started well, a couple of great passes from Gilbert, then a 2-yard rush by Shead would be absolutely destroyed by a mega-UFC take down tackle laid by Tyler Matakevich, who would force and recover the fumble on the play. Shead would get injured on the play, which shouldn’t surprise anyone, based on the epic-ness of the tackle. And PJ Walker would take the ball and continue his hot streak and on 3rd and 2. Walker would connect with what could only be described as a broken play, because there was no one within fifteen yards of the receiver Ryan Alderman who caught a breeze of a touchdown. And at this point, the Owls had a 28 to 7 lead on the Mustangs, and the Mustangs wouldn’t do anything with their next possession and with the Owls driving on every opportunity, something had to happen on defense.
The Mustangs tightened up and forced Walker’s first incompletion of the game on 3rd and 6, and SMU finally got their stop. The Mustangs would get into a long third down, but a nice strike to Keenan Holman for the first down, but just going with the flow of how the game had gone so far, the next play, Darius Joseph would fumble the ball. But the defense had another stop in them before the halftime, and on third down, something very strange happened. On all defensive third downs, the stadium plays a very loud, sort of thrash song. It never doesn’t get played. But apparently the referee had never been to a SMU game, and came over his microphone and told the man with the music to not play the third down jam when the offense is lined up over the ball. This ticked off the homecoming crowd, and absolutely energized the crowd, I had never heard or felt the stadium rumble like that all season long, and the Mustangs on the field made a great play on Walker, to force the punt.
With the ball pinned back to the 5 yard line, the Mustangs would have to be more impressive than basically the whole rest of their game. The offense would drive 95 yards and finish with a touchdown to Holman. With all the bad fumbles and drive sputtering penalties, Garrett Gilbert remained poised, composed, and cool. He wasn’t rushing throws or forcing the ball, he was just in control. But the Mustangs would still have to climb to get back into this game.
The second half would be electric. Out of the gate, the Mustangs’ defense would pick up a stop, and the offense would continue to build off of their momentum and cap off the drive with a zaney touchdown. Gilbert would put the ball on the back shoulder of Keenan Holman and it would bounce off his hands and be plucked out of the air by Der’rikk Thompson and turned up field for the 17-yard touchdown. The Owls would attempt to get back on track, with a scoring drive to match SM, making it a 35-21 game in favor of the Owls. The next drive for SMU, would be run heavy, just the first two plays being passes, the next five plays would be runs, and Gilbert would be the big play runner, on 3rd and 6, he would rush for 53 yards and would finish the drive with a 10-yard run for a touchdown. The SMU defense would come up with another big stop, albeit with a huge drop by Ryan Alderman on third down. And just like the last time the defense mustered up a stop, the offense would end the drive in the end zone, on a Gilbert to Keenan Holman 64-yard touchdown strike.
The Owls would three and out the following drive and the Owls would either attempt a direct snap to Kenneth Harper or the team messed up the snap, either way, the Owls lost five yards and turned the ball over on downs. And by the end of the third quarter, the game was tied 35-35. The Mustangs wouldn’t have to travel very far to score, following the fake punt, Gilbert completed an almost perfect pass to setup 1st and goal from the 2 yard line, and then SMU punched the ball in by Prescott Line, taking their first lead since 9:13 in the first quarter. And as the freshman Walker displayed all game, he orchestrated an efficient touchdown drive. The kick-off following Temple’s tying touchdown would be an amazing one, maybe a vision of the future, Deion Sanders Jr. had a spectacular 87-yard kickoff return down to the Temple 8 yard line, but unfortunately the Mustangs could only get a field goal off of the great field position. But the SMU defense would force another three and out, and give the ball back to the hot offense, who would add another score a sweet strike to Keenan Holman from 50 yards out, putting the Mustangs up 10 points. With a little under seven minutes, and the Owls driving, the Mustangs would slow the Owls down and force them into a 4th down. And Stephon Sanders would dagger the game for the Owls with a sack/forced fumble on Walker, and the ball would bounce out of bounds and go over on downs.
Gilbert would shelf the game by running the ball in from five yards out, on a personal note he damn near trucked me as he ran through the end zone. But the game was 17 points in favor of the Mustangs, and the Owls would add a late Kenneth Harper touchdown run, but it was over. The Mustangs had won, 59-49, in an epic. The Mustangs overcame early turnovers, and a threatening conference quarterback, to pull out the victory. This SMU team has unbelievable resolve and fortitude, and since the Rutgers game, this team hasn’t been out of a game, and I feel they won’t let themselves get pushed out of games. And as long as Garrett Gilbert can continue to play the way that he has been, I don’t think that they will fall out of a game, because his performances have been absolutely sensational.
Players of the Game
Offense: Garrett Gilbert/Keenan Holman
Defense: Stephon Sanders/Randall Joyner
Special Teams: Deion Sanders Jr.
Next Game: 11/9 at Cincinnati