The disappointment was palpable for SMU following its loss at Tulsa last Saturday, a defeat that featured the Mustangs blowing a 21-point lead and cratering down the stretch.
The 28-24 setback cost the Mustangs their No. 19 national ranking and served as a stark reminder of what accompanies heightened expectations. For a nascent program like SMU, preparing to absorb the strongest blow from every opponent requires a mindset that takes time to fully cultivate.
It’s a reversal that SMU coach Sonny Dykes hopes his team can learn from. And it needs to happen quickly, heading into Saturday’s American Athletic Conference home game against Houston.
“We’ve just got to continue to understand that we’re going to have a target on our back when people play us,” Dykes said as his team tries to secure its eighth victory, which would mark back-to-back eight-win seasons for the first time since 1983-84. “When you play as a ranked team you’ve got to do a good job of getting up and playing at a high level every week. Our guys are starting to figure that out and starting to learn it.”
SMU (7-2, 4-2 AAC) will host Houston (3-3, 3-2) at Ford Field looking to rebound and keep its slim conference title hopes alive. The Mustangs’ conference losses came against No. 7 Cincinnati and No. 25 Tulsa, both of whom are undefeated in conference play.
The Mustangs can’t afford another setback, and that reality comes with a certain amount of pressure that is becoming familiar for an ascendant program seeking to reclaim a measure of respect. The manner in which SMU prepares for Houston will reflect how the players are embracing the challenge.
“Bouncing back, our guys are fine,” Dykes said. “We’re used to playing big games. Every single game is a big game for us.
“I think that’s where we’re starting to be as a program where we expect to play at a high level. That’s a good thing and that’s where we want to be as a program.”
The Cougars snapped a two-game skid with their 56-21 win over South Florida, racing to a 28-0 halftime lead and extending that advantage by two more touchdowns before the Bulls finally scored.
On the heels of their run defense surrendering 300-plus yards to UCF and Cincinnati, the Cougars needed a result that boosted their collective self-esteem. Houston got exactly that.
“That was a game that we kind of needed because we just needed to be able to have a little bit of fun with it,” Cougars coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We obviously did that, and it should give us some confidence to be able to have a little bit more fun here this Saturday.”
Central to the Cougars’ bounceback was the performance of junior quarterback Clayton Tune, who rushed for a career-high 120 yards in the victory. With their depth at receiver sapped by injuries, including that of standout senior Marquez Stevenson, the Cougars turned to the running game.
Tune delivered, and despite six dropped passes, managed to throw for 165 yards and three touchdowns.
“Him in the running game was outstanding,” Holgorsen said. “We schemed some things up and looked really good. He was very patient. His position where he needed to be was really good. His decision-making was really good. His patience running and protecting himself was really good as well.”
–Field Level Media