The SMU Mustangs fell to 1-8 on the season against the No. 23 Temple Owls on the night of Nov. 6 at Ford Stadium, losing 60-40 in their annual Hats Off to Heroes game.
SMU won the coin toss and elected to receive but was forced to punt after five plays. Temple got the ball on their own 4-yard line and wasted no time, as Jager Gardner busted up the middle on the Owls’ second play for a 94-yard touchdown run, the longest in Temple history.
After the two teams traded punts, Temple mounted a 6-play 55-yard touchdown drive on their third possession. This time the score came on a 6-yard pass from quarterback P.J. Walker to Robby Anderson.
The Mustangs responded with a 9-play drive that resulted in a 31-yard field goal early in the second quarter. Then, later in the half, a trick play pass by receiver Courtland Sutton to Braedon West set up an SMU touchdown run by quarterback Matt Davis, making it 14-10.
Temple went three-and-out for the third consecutive possession and punted it back to SMU. The Mustangs took the 17-14 lead just 34 seconds later after a 48-yard run by Davis set up a 13-yard touchdown run by Xavier Jones.
The Owls reasserted themselves before the half with a 10-play 75-yard drive. Walker hit Romond Deloatch on a perfectly executed back-shoulder throw for the touchdown with 24 seconds remaining. Temple took a 21-17 lead into the break.
SMU accomplished what looked like another solid defensive sequence to start the second half but Temple converted a fake punt for a first down. The drive eventually resulted in a 4-yard touchdown pass from Walker to Adonis Jennings.
The Mustangs were unfazed, however, executing an 8-play 75-yard touchdown drive. A 9-yard run by Xavier Jones made it 28-24 Owls.
This time, Temple responded with another long drive. A 46-yard pass from Walker to Anderson set up a 2-yard touchdown run by the Owls’ star running back Jahad Thomas, his fourteenth of the season. Temple added a field goal just minutes later after Davis fumbled on SMU’s own 13-yard line.
Just as it looked like the game might get out of hand, Davis led the Mustangs to another score on a 6-play 77-yard drive. He found tight end Jeremiah Gaines, who managed to sneak behind Temple’s secondary, for a wide open 30-yard touchdown.
The Owls took the momentum back on the first play of their next possession. Walker hit Ventell Bryant for a 75-yard touchdown catch and run that extended the lead to two scores.
SMU punter Josh Williams pinned the Owls on their own 1-yard line on the next possession. As a result, Temple was forced to punt from inside their endzone and a holding penalty on the play resulted in a safety. Braedon West returned the ensuing punt 60 yards for an SMU touchdown, making the score 45-40 with 8:02 left.
The SMU defense forced another 3-and-out to give the Mustangs a chance. Temple forced Davis and the offense into a fourth-and-four play on their own 32-yard line with less than three minutes remaining. Head Coach Chad Morris elected to go for it but Davis’ throw in the direction of a wide open receiver was knocked down at the line by Temple’s star linebacker Tyler Matakevich.
Walker scrambled for a 36-yard touchdown three plays later and Davis threw a pick six to defensive back Sean Chandler on the ensuing possession, giving Temple the 60-40 victory.
The Owls finished the game with 536 yards of total offense, their highest total of the season. Walker finished with 49 yards rushing, which was also his highest total of the season, to go along with 268 yards and four touchdowns through the air. Jahad Thomas managed to get into the endzone but tallied his fewest amount of yards rushing.
SMU scored the most points of any Temple opponent this season and tallied 397 yards of offense. Davis was 17-29 for 167 yards and a touchdown through the air and led the team in rushing with 102 yards and a touchdown. Nine receivers made at least one catch for the Mustangs. Though the defense yielded a lot of points, it managed eight tackles for loss and had several third down stops.
“Extremely proud of how our guys played,” said Morris. “Our effort again for the fourth week in a row has been exceptional. The guys are playing exceptionally hard and they are giving us everything they got. They are battling, fighting, clawing and I truly appreciate and love that about our guys.”
“We have to learn how to finish the last three minutes of the first half and start the first three minutes of the second half,” Morris acknowledged. “That has been our Achilles heel.”
Temple improved to 8-1 overall and 5-0 in AAC play with the win, maintaining first place in the East division. The Owls will travel to South Florida next week.
SMU remains winless in conference play with three AAC games left. The Mustangs travel to Navy for their next game on Nov. 14 at 2:30 p.m.