By Zach Walker
The game against the winless Huskies wasn’t like any other home game this season. Unlike having to fight back into the game, like the Rutgers or Temple game, nor was it a struggle like the Texas Tech and Montana State games. The Huskies game, well, it was quite a routine football game. Not a whole lot of adversity especially compared to at least the last two home games. The Mustangs didn’t surrender a huge early lead by turning the ball over; they just didn’t get the wheels spinning until about ten minutes into the game.
The Mustangs’ first drive started with promise, after a Huskies timeout before the first play of the game, Garrett Gilbert started with a great throw to Der’rikk Thompson, who took the pass 25 yards, two plays later, a pass to Keenan Holman for 19 yards, the drive fizzled, but the Mustangs would go for the throat on fourth down. The Huskies pass rush was very good all game, and on the first cut-throat situation of the game, they were able to get to Gilbert, he was just able to muscle away out of the grasp of a Husky rusher, but by that time in the play, the coverage was bolted down and Gilbert had to attempt to fit a throw into an effectively closed window, so a turnover on downs for SMU.
Then two series in a row, by both teams, went three and out, and the only interesting thing for a while, was wondering how far the Huskies punter Cole Wagner would punt the ball downfield, because that guy has a cannon of a foot. And when the Huskies were knocking on the door of taking a lead, they couldn’t take advantage, and missed a 42-yard field goal. This missed opportunity by Connecticut, would be exactly what SMU would need to capitalize on. A pass on the first play to big Jeremiah Gaines for 25 yards would end with a 15-yard horse collar penalty tacked on to the end of the gain. But the Mustangs would be forced into another 4th down situation, but this time Gilbert would complete the ball to Jeremy Johnson for the first down. The next play was a designed Gilbert run off right tackle, which initially was ruled a 24-yard touchdown run, but after the review was brought to the 1 yard line, then a slightly high pass along the back of the endzone had Keenan Holman showing off some aerial maneuvers to bring in the touchdown pass.
The defense would force the Huskies off of the field the following drive. For SMU, a couple of quick completions to Darius Joseph and a couple of Prescott Line runs would close out the first quarter. After picking up the first down with his legs, Gilbert found Collin Lagasse out of the backfield, and he lowered his shoulder and went right through a UConn defender. A couple of first down throws to Holman (12 yards) and Joseph (11 yards) would put SMU in the redzone. A handoff to Lagasse, who bounced the play off right tackle and gained 14 yards, and brought the ball to the 3 yard line. In ‘Let-it-ride’ fashion, they tried another Lagasse handoff, but the Huskies weren’t having that happen again, and swarmed him for a loss of 3 yards. After rushing out of bounds on second down, Gilbert would be under heavy pressure on third and goal, but Gilbert stood very poised and threw the ball where only Jeremy Johnson could adjust to catch the ball, with a defender right in his face. But UConn wouldn’t let the game get too far away from them, and while the Huskies were pounding the ball down the field, something strange happened. I cannot recall ever seeing all seven referees toss their flags on one play before, but when someone gets horse collared the way that Lyle McCombs was taken down, you’re going to draw some laundry, there was actually a second penalty on SMU on the play which drew two flags, but still, seven flags on the field isn’t good. The Huskies would, after another SMU penalty, punch the ball in from 2 yards out. After a back and forth punt per team, the Mustangs would get the ball with 2:28 left in the half. And this is a time in the game where the Mustangs love to get points. And the final drive would be a completion train: Ryan Walker, 1 catch, 11 yards; Der’rikk Thompson, 2 catches, 25 yards; Jeremy Johnson, 4 catches, 27 yards, and the touchdown. And on the touchdown play, the defender who was trying to cover Johnson fell down on the play, making it just a pitch and catch for Gilbert and Johnson.
The second half, UConn would get the ball to start, and on third down, SMU’s Stephon Sanders made a great solo tackle on Lyle McCombs, on a screen pass for no gain. After a Mustangs’ three and out, the Huskies would tighten the game back up with a touchdown drive that would come down to a 4th and goal from the 1 yard line. The play was a very good design, it was an all roll right, tight end slide left, and hopefully he’ll be sitting pretty solo on the left side of the endzone, and that’s exactly what happened. A punt by SMU, and a turnover on downs by the Huskies, and SMU wouldn’t wait around to start a drive, they wanted to score now. Gilbert got the ball to Der’rikk Thompson, who burned up the sideline then UConn safety Obi Melifonwu absolutely blew him up, tossing Thompson to the ground for his 54 yard effort. And the next play, Keenan Holman would catch a short pass, and one great use of a stiff arm later, he was in the endzone for the touchdown. The Huskies, again, wouldn’t let SMU pull too far away, and quarterback Casey Cochran would not miss a pass on the drive, completing 7 of 7 passes including the beauty of a touchdown throw, which Geremy Davis made a fantastic catch to earn his first touchdown grab of the season. A three and out by SMU, raised the stakes and collective blood pressure in the stadium, but the Huskies came back with their own three and out, but their punt was very poor, only a 14 yard punt. A big K.C. Nlemchi 25 yard run, then a defensive pass interference put the ball on the 4 yard line, but a sack and two zero yard plays would have the Mustangs settling for a field goal. Now a ten point game, with about 4 minutes left in the game, had the defense knowing that the ball was coming off of the arm of Cochran, and three plays into the drive, the Mustangs made Cochran very uncomfortable and he let a pass get a little away from him, and Stephon Sanders made a great play on the ball, secured it, and burned up the sideline for the pick-six and the icing on the cake. The Huskies would get another bit at the apple, and the Mustangs defense would deny anything else happening, with another pick, this time by Damion Richardson. And K.C. Nlemchi would drain the rest game away.
Players of the Game
Offense: Garrett Gilbert
Defense: Stephon Sanders
Special Teams: Chase Hover/ Jordan Miller (great special teams tackles)