Last season, the Mustangs hit a brick wall in their final game. SMU was blown out 63-0 on the road in Memphis. In 2016, that kind of embarrassment hit a little closer to home.
The Mustangs, who have not won a homecoming game since knocking off Temple 59-49 in 2013, lost another on Saturday. The 51-7 loss to Memphis was both reminiscent of last season’s losing effort and characteristic of a team still figuring out how to win.
“I don’t think we executed very well at all,” SMU head coach Chad Morris said at the postgame press conference. “We didn’t play well, we didn’t execute well, in all phases. I thought the only thing we did well today was probably punt.”
SMU struggled on offense right from the start, with the Mustangs going three-and-out on their opening possession and failing to score first for the first time this season.
“I think you can guess what the mood of the team is,” SMU quarterback Ben Hicks said postgame. “I mean, we got our butts kicked. The mood is not good. I think everybody’s embarrassed and hurt. I know I am. That was about as embarrassing as…I’ve ever been a part of.”
Memphis out-gained SMU by 166 yards (474-308). The Mustangs rushed for only 100 yards on 32 carries, their third lowest yardage total on the ground this season.
“We felt like we could run the football after watching teams against them,” Morris said. “So our game plan was to come in and run the ball, we obviously didn’t execute that part of our game plan at all.”
Ke’Mon Freeman led the Mustangs in rushing with 84 yards on 16 carries. SMU’s leading rusher Braeden West only carried the ball four times versus Memphis.
“He’s been nagging with injury about the last three weeks and just couldn’t do it today,” Morris said. “We tried him early, and he couldn’t get it going.”
SMU failed to establish a rhythm in the passing game as well. Ben Hicks completed 17 passes on 31 attempts, but only threw for 170 yards, his lowest total in a start this season. Hicks was also sacked three times, two of which forced fumbles that resulted in Memphis touchdowns on the ensuing drives.
“They absolutely embarrassed us today and that’s all I can say about that,” Hicks said.
After Memphis took a 14-0 lead following its opening possessions, SMU got back into the game when Freeman hauled in a touchdown pass with 3:47 remaining in the first quarter. Memphis immediately responded when running back Darrell Henderson returned Michael Armstrong’s kickoff 99 yards to put the Tigers back up two touchdowns.
Big plays also took the wind out of SMU’s sails. Memphis’ first touchdown of the game came on a 50 yard reception to wide receiver Anthony Miller. A 55 yard run from running back Doroland Dorceus in the second quarter set Memphis up for a field goal. Both plays accounted for more than 50 percent of Miller and Dorceus’ combined yards on the day.
SMU trailed 38-7 at the half. The Mustangs would be held scoreless in the second half for the second time this season.
“My message at halftime was I was very disappointed,” Morris said. “It was very lackadaisical, I thought that we were just going through the motions. I didn’t think we were playing inspired – matter of fact, that’s exactly what I told them: I thought we were playing uninspired, as if we have arrived.”
“I just don’t think we understand how to win,” Hicks said.
The loss drops SMU to 4-5 on the season, still two wins away from bowl eligibility with three games remaining. The Mustangs will travel to East Carolina for their final road game of the season next week before returning home to play South Florida and Navy back-to-back. The Bulls and Midshipmen have a combined record of 13-4.
“It’s about moving forward now,” Morris said. “It’s about our response. I’m very disappointed in the outcome. I know we’re better than that.”
Since Morris arrived on The Hilltop, SMU has doubled its win total from each of its previous seasons. The Mustangs also defeated a ranked opponent for the first time since 2011. Now SMU must figure out how to win on a weekly basis.
“This program has taken huge strides this year, and this is a step back,” Morris said. “It’s a step back, not a setback.”