SMU Flips The Script On No. 17 Houston

by Dan M | Posted on Monday, November 5th, 2018

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By Andy Lohman

After battling injuries to start the season, junior running back Ke’Mon Freeman had just 48 total rushing yards on the year coming into SMU’s game against No. 17 Houston. On Saturday night, Freeman exploded for 107 yards and two touchdowns as the Mustangs flipped the script on the Cougars in a 45-31 win, SMU’s first win over a ranked opponent since it beat then-No. 11 Houston in 2016.

The Cougars have one of the highest-powered offenses in the country, averaging 49.8 points and 571.1 yards per game in 2018. But it was SMU that put on an offensive showcase on Saturday, scoring 45 points on 514 yards of total offense, both season-high marks against FBS opponents.

Crucially, the SMU defense executed their game plan to perfection and limited the Cougars to a season-low 31 points and 365 yards. Senior linebacker Kyran Mitchell flew around the field, recording seven total tackles, including three tackles for loss and two sacks, and recovered two fumbles.

“The coaches came up with the game plan, so we just had to execute every play,” Mitchell said. “We know they’re a big fourth quarter team, so we had to play a fourth quarter game and that’s it.”

The Mustangs utilized three down linemen and added an extra safety to their defensive set against the potent Houston passing attack. Houston quarterback D’Eriq King, who averages 300.4 passing yards per game, completed just 11 passes for 175 yards.

“It put a lot of pressure on our guys to make plays in the open field,” Head Coach Sonny Dykes said of the defensive game plan. “I thought we tackled extremely well. I thought this was the best game we’ve tackled by far, and they’ve got fast, explosive guys. We didn’t give up a lot of big plays.”

SMU’s marquee defensive players led the way in the exemplary tackling. Junior linebacker Richard Moore had a career-high 11 tackles and a sack, sophomore Elijah McQueen tallied eight tackles, and junior safety Patrick Nelson recorded seven stops.

With the Houston offense stifled, the SMU offense flourished. Freeman swung momentum back towards the Mustangs late in the second quarter with a six-yard touchdown rush that capped a methodical 13-play, 91-yard drive. It was his first score of the season after spending most of the year sidelined due to injury.

“He kind of had a banged up shoulder and he’s a physical runner. If you’re not completely healthy and that’s your game, it’s not a great combination,” Dykes said. “We felt like he was finally healthy. He showed some punish and some finish today. We needed him to play physical and that’s what he did the whole game.”

With senior Braeden West and junior Xavier Jones contributing as well, the Mustangs finally had their full corps of running backs healthy. The group gained 196 yards on the ground, a season-high for SMU against FBS opponents.

“It’s huge. It opens so many things in the offensive playbook if you can run the ball,” junior quarterback Ben Hickssaid. “It was great to see Free get going…He was punishing those guys at the end, they wanted no part of tackling him. And I don’t blame them.”

With a balanced offense, Hicks threw four touchdowns to four different receivers. Ryan Becker caught a seven-yard TD, Tyler Page sprinted to a 17-yard TD reception and James Proche capped the first half with a one-yard touchdown on a corner route. Sophomore Reggie Roberson, Jr. had the exclamation point on the night, using a double move to get open for a 59-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

After the Cougars rallied to bring the game within one score, it was only appropriate that Freeman was the one to seal the game for SMU. On a drive that took almost seven minutes off the game clock, but after a lightning delay took about two hours of real time, Freeman carried the ball 11 times. He finally punched in an eight-yard touchdown that gave SMU its 45-31 lead that proved to be the final score.

“You’ve got to give our guys a lot of credit to lose like we did last week, kind of a heartbreaking loss, and come in on Sunday the way our players did with their jaw set and go to work. They had a great week of practice and prepared well,” Dykes said. “I think the bar has been set for our guys from a performance standpoint and I think we know what we’re capable of. I’m excited to see how th

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