Undefeated No. 21 SMU ‘halfway there,’ ready for Tulane

NCAA Football

Every undefeated run through a 12-game, regular-season schedule comes with distinct challenges, and the ability to overcome those obstacles can result in achieving perfection.

On Oct. 9, No. 21 SMU had to push through a historic stretch of futility on the road against Navy plus an early 14-point deficit to keep its unblemished record intact. The Mustangs (6-0, 2-0 American) defeated the Midshipmen 31-24 for their first victory in Annapolis since 1998.

And following a much-needed week off, the Mustangs will resume their season by hosting Tulane (1-5, 0-2) on Thursday in Dallas. SMU has claimed six consecutive series wins, but four of the last five have come by four points or fewer. The Mustangs are unbeaten through six games for the second time in three seasons and are bowl-eligible for a third straight season.

“Halfway there,” SMU coach Sonny Dykes said.

While a sterling defensive effort enabled the Mustangs to rally past Navy — the Midshipmen scored their final touchdown via a fumble return and were limited to a 50-yard field goal in the second half — their high-octane offense remains central to their success thus far this season.

Junior quarterback Tanner Mordecai was a midseason addition to the Maxwell Award Watch List, and his 26 touchdown passes are tied for first in the country and are eight shy of the school single-season mark set by Shane Buechele in 2019. Five different Mustangs have at least three touchdown receptions this season while Danny Gray, Rashee Rice and Reggie Roberson Jr. have all eclipsed 350 receiving yards while combining for 17 touchdown receptions.

Where SMU must continue to make inroads is running the football. Ulysses Bentley IV and Tre Siggers have combined for nearly 800 yards and four touchdowns, but after Navy flooded the secondary with defenders, the Mustangs will surely see more opponents angle to stop the pass.

“We’re going to see a lot of that drop eight (coverage),” Dykes said. “Sometimes it’s hard to try and throw the ball. We’ve got to be able to run it more consistently than we did.”

The Green Wave have dropped all five of their games against FBS programs in 2021, allowing 44.2 points per game in those contests. Like SMU, Tulane hasn’t played in two weeks, suffering a 40-22 setback to Houston on Oct. 7, a loss that continued their string of sluggish starts.

The short week after the off week might provide a pathway to recovery. At least, that’s the hope.

“We did get a little bit of time off and got the guys to recharge their batteries, and I think that’s important on the off-week,” Tulane coach Willie Fritz said. “When we came in on Saturday to prep, I talked about working on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday on what we are going to do on Thursday.

“A lot of times guys try to start experimenting early in the week and then all of a sudden by the time Thursday rolls around they’ve got it kind of locked in on what they want to do. Hopefully, that allows us to start better because we have not started very well the last couple of weeks.”

–Field Level Media

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