SMU had too few takeaways in last week’s loss to Memphis – zero, to be exact. It’s not by coincidence SMU’s first game this season with zero takeaways was its worst of the season.
If there is such a thing as too many takeaways, SMU certainly came close on Saturday. The Mustangs forced two fumbles and intercepted three passes – returning two for touchdowns – in a 55-31 win at East Carolina that moved them to 5-5 this season. It’s the first time since 2013 they have reached five wins. They are one victory away from a bowl eligibility, with home games against South Florida and Navy left to play.
SMU has 17 interceptions this season, tied for the most in college football. Horace Richardson and Darrion Millines are the only teammates in the country with five interceptions apiece.
Richardson started a streak of three straight SMU defensive series with a takeaway in the second quarter. With SMU leading 24-17, he intercepted Philip Nelson’s screen pass and ran it back 70 yards for a touchdown, giving SMU 31-17 lead with 4:53 left in the first half.
Two series later, after Jackson Mitchell’s force fumble, Millines intercepted Nelson to set SMU up at the ECU 40-yard line. The Mustangs scored four plays later when Ben Hicks found Courtland Sutton for a 22-yard touchdown with 1:09 to go.
With Garnder Minshew at quarterback in place of Nelson, ECU scored a touchdown as the half expired and started the second half with the ball, down 38-24. Facing fourth-and-9 from the SMU 33, the Pirates decided to go for it. Minshew’s pass hit off the hands of Zay Jones, went up in the air and fell into Richardson’s arms. He ran it back 80 yards for his second touchdown, giving SMU a 45-24 lead.
The 55 points is SMU’s highest total in Chad Morris’ 22 games as head coach.
Ben Hicks took a sack on SMU’s first drive of the game, but was not sacked after. He was turnover-free for the third time in five games. His three touchdown passes tied his season-high, previously set against Houston.
Sutton had a season-high 166 yards and caught two touchdowns. He had one touchdown catch in his previous seven games. Braeden West, who left last week’s loss after the first quarter with an injury, ran for 104 yards. Ke’Mon Freeman added 111 yards on the ground.
Strangely, SMU had a season-low three tackles for loss. In last week’s loss, it tied a season-high with 10. SMU allowed only 8 fewer yards (466) Saturday than it did in the 51-7 loss to Memphis (474).