An ugly win is always better than a beautiful loss, so I can't really be too upset about the final outcome of this one: the Cougars, trailing by eight points late in the game, managed to score two touchdowns in the game's final 2:34 to fend off the SMU Mustangs in Dallas, 44-38, and extend their winning streak to three victories.
I am upset, on the other hand, with the reasons why the Cougars were trailing late in the game to begin with. First, the Coogs once again started slow out of the gate: they didn't score any points in the first quarter and, although the offense began to sputter to life in the second and third quarters, still found themselves in a twelve-point hole going into the fourth quarter. Second, although the offense finally got things going, the defense was asleep for almost the entire game. They got absolutely torched by the Pony passing offense, allowing 365 yards through the air and four touchdown passes, including one for 70 yards. Ouch. Third, the Unholy Trinity of penalties (eight for 89 yards; lucky for them that SMU committed eleven penalties of their own), turnovers and poor special teams play (the Coogs fumbled a punt in the first quarter which was recovered by SMU; it led to a Pony touchdown) made its presence known; Coach Sumlin and his staff have yet to exorcise this three-headed demon from the team.
In spite of all that, however, the Coogs found a way to do something they haven't done in awhile: snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (usually, it's been the other way around). Running back Bryce Beall, who really has been one of the season's pleasant surprises, scored on a nine-yard touchdown run to cut the Mustang advantage to 2. Then the Cougar defense that had been all but absent for the entire game finally stepped up, holding SMU to a three-and-out on the following possession. The Coogs got the ball back and the offense, led by Case Keenum (who was 28-of-36 for the day, with 404 passing yards, two touchdowns passing and one touchdown rushing), went to work, executing a flawless two-minute drill and connecting with receiver Tyron Carrier on a 26-yard touchdown pass with 24 seconds left. The Cougars subsequently intercepted a hail-mary pass by SMU quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, securing the come-from behind win.
I'll take it, but I hope Sumlin and his staff do a better job preparing the team for their showdown against Marshall in West Virginia next Tuesday. SMU is not a good team, in spite of the presence of new head coach June Jones, and this game really shouldn't have been as close as it was.
More bad news for the Coogs: offensive lineman SirVincent Rogers and defensive lineman Ell Ash are both done for the season with injuries. As both are seniors, these injuries sadly mark the end of their careers as Cougars.