1st and 10 at the Houston 28 yard line. Ben Hicks takes the snap. He rolls right, pivots, and throws across his body, finding a wide open James Proche, who walks into the end zone for a touchdown. Gerald J. Ford Stadium goes wild, with the SMU faithful breaking out into the loudest SMU chant the stadium has heard in years.
The Mustangs were leading the 11th best team in the nation by three touchdowns. It was not even halftime yet.
After struggling against Temple and suffering a heartbreaking overtime loss at Tulsa, SMU made a complete 180 this week. The Mustangs looked like they were playing on auto-pilot for most of the game, upsetting a Cougars team that ranked as high as sixth in the nation earlier this season. SMU’s 38-16 win over No. 11 Houston was the Mustangs’ first win against a top-15 team since 1986.
“I knew we were in for a battle,” SMU head coach Chad Morris said at the postgame press conference. “I will say this, there are 111 guys in that locker room, there are about 35 staff members, while this might have shocked a lot of people and shocked the country, it didn’t shock those guys and our staff. You’re seeing a program take its next step.”
After sticking with ranked teams such as Baylor and TCU for each of the last two seasons, Chad Morris and his players finally earned the program defining win they have been looking for.
“This is something we have been working for, and for us to come in here and get a win, a signature win, is huge,” Morris said.
On a night where everything seemed to click for SMU, the Mustangs’ success undoubtedly started on the offensive side of the ball. The Mustangs accumulated 406 total yards and earned 19 first downs. SMU scored on each of its four trips inside the Houston 20 yard line, only the second time this season the Mustangs have been perfect in the red-zone when gaining the opponent’s 20 more than once.
Behind a healthy offensive line, SMU freshman quarterback Ben Hicks played his best game of the season. Hicks completed 16 passes on 31 attempts (52 percent), throwing for 228 yards and three TDs. After throwing nine picks through his first four starts, Hicks has now gone interception-free for two straight games.
“Our message to him was, ‘You don’t have to win the game,'” Morris said. “‘Go control it, get the ball into your playmakers hands and get your protections right.'”
“I feel comfortable,” Hicks said postgame. “I thought tonight was the most comfortable I’ve felt in awhile.”
Sophomore running back Braeden West had another breakout game despite missing workouts for most of the week with injury. West ran for 115 yards and one TD on 18 carries – the third time this season he has surpassed 100 rushing yards in a single game. Morris said West was a game-time decision.
“I didn’t think he was going to play at all,” Hicks said. “When he came in there and starting gashing them I was like, ‘Hey I’m all for it, if you want to do that, let’s go in there and get it.'”
SMU’s ability to keep the momentum on offense allowed the defense to stay off the field. Unlike in previous games, the Mustangs’ defense had the stamina to cover Houston late into the game, allowing the Cougars only 303 yards of total offense, a season-low for the Cougars.
With a bye week to make extra preparations, SMU solved the puzzle of containing Houston duel-threat QB Greg Ward Jr. The Mustangs held him to a season-low 241 yards through the air and only three rushing yards. Ward was sacked seven times and SMU tallied a total of 10 tackles for a loss.
SMU students have become accustomed to storming the court in Moody Coliseum, but on Saturday night in Dallas, Mustangs’ fans young and old had the chance to celebrate on the big red Peruna at the 50 yard line. SMU fans have been waiting a long time to celebrate anything related to football. For the players, the wait has felt even longer.
“We have been saying it all along, ‘we just need one, ‘” Hicks said. “Now that we got that one, now we have to flip the script and get ready for Tulane. We have five more games to get to a bowl game, our ultimate goal.”
“We needed this one,” Morris said. “This is the one that puts wind in your sails. We are going to build off it.”
SMU’s win over Houston did not just happen – it is the type of win the Mustangs have been working toward since Morris first stepped on The Hilltop. The Mustangs came into Saturday’s game with a 4-14 record under Morris, but this win over Houston might have been the win SMU needed to get over the hill.
“It just takes one to start a revolution,” Morris said. “We got to believe in the process, and that’s winning one play at a time, one day at a time.”
Morris said following SMU’s loss to Temple in Week 5 that it would only take one player on SMU’s roster to get tired enough of losing to do something about it. On Saturday night in Dallas, all of the Mustangs showed how tired of losing they are.
“There’s a great atmosphere in that locker room right now,” Morris said. “We’re turning the town red tonight.”
- This was SMU’s first win over a team ranked 11 or higher since 1983, when the Mustangs defeated No. 6 Pittsburgh in the Cotton Bowl.
- This was also SMU’s first win over a ranked team since October 2011, when SMU defeated No. 20 TCU in Ft. Worth.
- SMU has now scored first in each of its seven games this season.
- SMU had a season-high seven sacks (Jarvis Pruitt 3, Demerick Gary 2, Justin Lawler 1.5, Jackson Mitchell .5).
- SMU’s seven sacks were the most sacks in a game since the Mustangs tallied seven against Fresno State in the 2012 Hawaii Bowl.