SMU’s final game against Tulsa was a reflection of its season: a slow start, then a comeback that got the team within striking distance, only to fall short in the game’s final minutes. Self-inflicted wounds and missed opportunities denied SMU its sixth win and a chance at a bowl, as Tulsa beat the Mustangs 27-24 Saturday night at Chapman Stadium.
In a do-or-die game, SMU just came out flat. Tulsa, at 2-9, presented a good opportunity for SMU to earn its way into a bowl game, but the Mustangs seemed as if they weren’t ready to play. Early mistakes proved to be critical; they led to an early deficit that SMU had to spend the entire second half trying to make up.
First, it was Ben Hicks. SMU moved the ball inside the Tulsa 50-yard line on its first drive, but on third down, Hicks decided to scramble instead of throwing the ball away and was dropped for a 26-yard loss. On the next drive, Hicks threw an interception inside Tulsa territory and the Golden Hurricane capitalized on it, taking a 7-0 lead.
Then, it was penalties. The Mustangs committed four in the first half, all of them false start penalties. Twice, center Hayden Howerton was called for an illegal snap. That put an anemic offense, which was already struggling to pick up first downs, behind the sticks.
The offense continued to struggle, punting on three straight possessions and the defense was not able to pick up the slack. Tulsa scored touchdowns on two straight drives thanks to missed tackles and blown coverages, leading 21-0 midway through the second quarter. The Golden Hurricane should have had more points too, but kicker John Parker Romo clunked a 42-yard field goal off of the upright in the first quarter.
The Mustang offense finally showed signs of life on its sixth drive of the game. Hicks and James Proche connected twice for 54 yards, and then Ke’Mon Freeman punched it in from two yards out, cutting the Tulsa lead to 21-7.
Things were looking up right before the half too, as SMU marched the ball down into Tulsa territory. On second down and three, Hicks faked the handoff and then ran toward the line of scrimmage, faking out the defense. Then, he lofted a pass up to Tyler Page, who was wide open down the sideline, but overthrew him. Had it been an accurate pass, Page would have surely scored.
Instead, SMU was forced to settle for a field goal attempt, which was blocked, making the score 21-7 going into the half.
SMU’s defense struggled defending the pass in the first half. Tulsa quarterback Seth Boomer was completing just 47 percent of his passes coming into the game, but could do no wrong in the first half, as he completed 10 of his first 11 passes. But the unit provided a spark on their first opportunity of the second half, as Rodney Clemons blocked a field goal and then scooped up the loose ball, running 47 yards for a touchdown that cut Tulsa’s lead to seven.
WOW. Momentum swinging towards the Mustangs.
What a block by SMU's Rodney Clemons. pic.twitter.com/Tye7pj1jve
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) November 24, 2018
On the ensuing Tulsa possession, defensive end Turner Coxe dropped back into coverage and intercepted Boomer, giving the Mustangs the ball near midfield. But once again, SMU’s offense just couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity. After a penalty brought the ball down to the Tulsa 27, Hicks was intercepted once again.
That was the theme of the night: promising drives that came up with nothing. SMU had eight drives cross midfield but could only score on three of those drives. Like last week, when SMU had nine such drives, the Mustangs seemingly found a new way for a drive to end each time they crossed midfield.
After Tulsa kicked a field goal to take a 10-point lead, SMU was able to match it, as Robledo hit a 32-yard field goal just 13 seconds into the final quarter. But this drive was marred by another missed opportunity off of Hicks’ arm, as he overthrew a wide-open Proche in the end zone.
While SMU’s defense held for the majority of the second half, it’s offense just couldn’t come up with the tying score that it so desperately needed. After SMU took over at its own six, the Mustangs found their way down the Tulsa 33, where they faced fourth down. Hicks dropped back and threw to Proche, open on the seam route, and Proche couldn’t find the ball, reaching out and dropping the pass at the last second, squandering another chance at points.
After a Tulsa punt pinned them inside of their own 15-yard line, Hicks and the Mustangs offense needed to mount a drive and come up with a touchdown. But they couldn’t as Hicks tried to escape a three-man rush by bailing out of the pocket and was sacked at the SMU four-yard line.
The SMU defense needed just one more stop, and at first, it looked like they would get it. On third and eleven, Seth Boomer lofted up a prayer of a pass to Justin Hobbs, who caught the football with one hand and fell out of bounds at the SMU six-yard line. Replay review confirmed the call that the officials on the field made: catch. Tulsa kicked a field goal, making it a two-possession game.
SMU would score to cut it to 27-24, but Robledo’s onside kick went harmlessly out of bounds, guaranteeing a Tulsa victory.
Ben Hicks had one of his worst performances of the year, completing just 26 of 46 passes for 319 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He was held to negative 33 yards on the ground.
James Proche, SMU’s leading receiver, caught 11 passes for 183 yards and a score. He finishes the season with 93 catches for 1,199 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Sonny Dykes is now 5-8 at SMU.