In uncharacteristic win over South Florida, SMU does enough to get back to 5-0 for third-straight season

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas — The drive stood out simply because it was so uncharacteristic.

SMU ran 13 plays. It went 97 yards. It didn’t record a penalty and, methodically, it meandered its way to a 10-yard, second-quarter Rashee Rice touchdown.

For an offense that is accustomed to big plays, this drive may have been startling. But it was fitting for the type of day SMU had.

Four scoring drives went over 10 plays. It wasn’t necessarily how SMU wanted to win, but SMU did what it had to do in order to grind out a 41-17 win over South Florida.

The offensive drives were a microcosm for the larger picture of SMU’s victory: Not flashy, not great at times, but enough to stay 5-0 and keep marching toward bigger games in November.

“We’ve kind of been a big play offense there weren’t a lot of big plays today,” SMU head coach Sonny Dykes said. “[But sometimes winning like that] , I mean, look, that’s college football. I don’t know how many undefeated teams there are. I guess, less than 10. And so it’s just a really hard. I mean it’s just hard to win.”

Count Saturday as a prime example.

USF, even as it missed would-be touchdowns several times, stayed within 10 points until the final nine minutes of the game. Every time SMU threatened to put the game away — like when it up 17 points in the first half — USF found a way to climb back into it.

USF freshman quarterback Timmy McClain accounted for 248 yards. He missed four throws that could have led to touchdowns, but did enough as USF gave itself a chance to win. Notably, he set up the final USF scoring drive — a Jaren Mangham one-yard rush that cut SMU’s lead to 27-17 in the final seconds of the third quarter.

“He was tough to contain,” SMU senior Jimmy Phillips Jr. said after the game.

But even as USF lingered, SMU eventually pulled away thanks to the methodical drives. After USF cut it to 10, Danny Gray responded with two fourth-quarter touchdowns to let the score arrive at its final form of 41-17.

Gray finished with 74 yards and two touchdowns. Mordecai ended with 287 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. He now has 24 touchdowns through the first five weeks of the season.

“I think that’s the thing I’ve been most impressed with, is just how well he’s handled being the guy. I think he enjoys it. He’s really good at it,” Dykes said of Mordecai.

There were other bright spots for SMU. Reggie Roberson Jr. took a bubble screen 21 yards for a touchdown. It was the type of play that Roberson would have made before tearing his ACL last year. He cut and planted for the first time, something that he wasn’t comfortable doing in the first four weeks of the year.

“I think his biggest thing is just being being confident. And as he gets more confident every week, it becomes less of an issue and so I think as the season moves on the more we’re going to need him more he’ll be there to respond,” Dykes said.

The Roberson Jr. play, though, also showed the bigger picture for SMU today. It wasn’t a big play or an explosive play. It wasn’t the best of Roberson Jr. either.

But it was a play that will build Roberson’s confidence for bigger games down the line. It was also just enough this weekend to help SMU beat a scrappy South Florida team.

“I mean it’s never easy. What we have to learn is that the more games you win, the harder it is to win because the more you have a target on your chest,” Dykes said. “It’s just the way it is and just the maturation that has to take place as a program.”

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