Despite losing senior quarterback Garrett Gilbert to injury, the SMU Mustangs (5-5 overall, 4-2 in the American Athletic Conference) dug deep to take a victory on the road against the University of South Florida Bulls (2-8 overall, 2-4 in AAC) by a score of 16-6.
The nation’s leader in offense at more than 405 yards per game left just before the first half ended with an apparent leg injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the contest. In his place, backup quarterback Neal Burcham took over and guided the Mustangs to the much needed victory.
While the first year won’t wow anyone with his stat line of 91 yards on nine of 18 passes, Burcham did lead SMU to two touchdown drives in the third quarter, including a 37-yard pass to Der’rikk Thompson just as the quarter expired. Thompson was able to get behind the Bulls’ defense and lunge into the end zone for the game-clinching points.
Even with the score by Thompson, the player of the game offensively was senior receiver Jeremy Johnson. The Tyler native hauled in 13 passes for 82 yards, enough to surpass the SMU all-time mark for receptions in a single-season at 98, held by former Mustang great and current Pittsburgh Steeler receiver Emmanuel Sanders with 98. Johnson has had an incredible season statistically, hauling in 100 passes for 1,007 yards and six scores.
SMU’s only other touchdown came earlier on a 6-yard gallop from Prescott Line, coupled with a missed extra point, to cement the Mustang score at 16. The play came at the end of SMU’s opening drive of the second half that lasted 11 plays and 75 yards before the talented first-year from Oxford, Mich. capped it off. Line totaled nine carries for 37 yards and the lone score.
Although the total was low by SMU’s standards this season, Head Coach June Jones left the rest of the game up to his defense, which held the Bulls to just 259 yards of total offense, including 42 on the ground. The Mustangs also dominated the Bulls on third downs, allowing just four of 15 to be converted, while only giving up 10 first downs total.
Another point of pride for the team was its overall discipline in the game, as SMU only received one penalty in Saturday’s game, a season low. USF on the other hand was set back constantly, gathering 13 for 107 penalty yards.
USF’s only score came as the contest was winding down with a 50-yard punt return by Chris Dunkley, but the damage had already been done, and SMU earned its fifth victory in 2013.
The Mustangs will be happy to get back to even on the season, but will face their most difficult conference test to date Friday on the road against the University of Houston Cougars. If SMU wins, it will guarantee the program another shot at a bowl win, something this team has every right to do.