SMU bowl eligible after close win over Tulsa

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Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks scrambles for a first down. Photo credit: Shelby Stanfield

On a cold night in Dallas, SMU became bowl eligible for the first time since 2012 after defeating Tulsa 38-34 in a nail-biter.

“This is the kind of game you build your team around,” said Chad Morris in the post-game press conference.

“This is why we came here,” James Proche said about achieving bowl eligibility.

It was a tale of two halves Friday night, especially for the Mustangs’ defense. Tulsa scored 28 points in the first half, but SMU held the Golden Hurricane to two field goals in the second. Morris attributed the bad defensive first half to his players playing “tight.”

“I felt like our guys were playing so tight,” Morris said of his defense’s first half. “We missed some tackles; we missed some calls. Our communication wasn’t on point.”

The Mustangs saw a heavy dose of Tulsa running back D’Angelo Brewer. Brewer gashed SMU for 138 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries in the first two quarters but was slowed down in the second half. The Golden Hurricane ran the ball 32 times in the half, producing three touchdowns. At one point, the Mustangs trailed 21-7.

Tulsa also kept Courtland Sutton relatively quiet in the first half. The projected first-round draft pick only hauled in three catches for 37 yards. Sutton bounced back to gain 99 yards in the second half.

Tulsa committed to keeping the ball on the ground. The Golden Hurricane nearly doubled SMU’s possession time in the first half and ran the ball 53 times in the game. Quarterback Luke Skipper completed only nine of his 23 pass attempts and threw a lackadaisical interception in the red zone.

Morris elected to go for it on fourth down in Tulsa territory on the first drive in the second half. The gamble did not pay off; Hicks was sacked.

On the next play, Tulsa scored on a 72-yard catch by Justin Hobbs that was called back for unsportsmanlike conduct. Hobbs high-stepped before he reached the end zone, and the Golden Hurricane settled for a field goal on that drive. The play was a turning point in the game.

“We showed a video on plays that get you beat… and one of those clips was the exact play that happened,” Coach Morris said of Hobbs’ unsportsmanlike penalty. “It was unfortunate, but that’s the rule.”

SMU tightened its defense after making adjustments at halftime. The Mustangs only allowed three points after the unsportsmanlike conduct call. Rodney Clemons had a timely interception in the end zone.

Clemons commented on his turnover in the end zone. “I saw the quarterback scrambling out. I knew he was running all game and there was going to be a chance that he threw it at one point… Great job by the defensive line putting pressure on him,” Clemons said.

Hicks threw for 338 yards, and Trey Quinn reeled in two scores. Quinn, Sutton and Proche each had over 100 yards receiving. Morris post-game that Hicks is tough and that he is very proud of his effort.

MikIal Onu was all over the field for the Mustangs’ defense. Onu recorded 14 tackles and broke up a pass. Morris complimented one of Onu’s biggest plays of the night, during which Onu tackled Skipper while scrambling. R.C. Cox also recorded double digit tackles.

Morris said Jordan Wyatt gave the defense one of the most inspiring pep talks that he had ever heard before the game. Wyatt made bowl eligibility the target of the team’s mindset, as he wanted the seniors to reach a bowl game before graduating. Clemons called Wyatt a great leader and a great man.

SMU’s three-headed monster at running back showed up in a big way. Xavier Jones got the largest share of the touches with 13 carries for 77 yards, but Braeden West capitalized on one of his two carries with a 75-yard explosive run. Ke’Mon Freeman was a beast in the red zone, punching in a touchdown and helping SMU run out the game clock late in the fourth quarter.

The Mustangs will face undefeated No. 18 UCF next Saturday for homecoming. The game kicks off at 6:15 p.m.

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