CFB: SMU’s bowl hopes remain on hold after crunching loss
By Kate Hairopoulos
The Dallas Morning News
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The lasting image from Saturday for SMU won’t be celebrating a long-awaited bowl milestone. Instead, it will be freshman quarterback Kyle Padron scrambling and dodging — unsuccessfully for the most part — Marshall defenders.
The Mustangs offensive line couldn’t buy him time to make enough plays, and the defense couldn’t stop the Thundering Herd’s rushing game in a 34-31 loss at chilly Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
The thud halted SMU’s three-game winning streak and means SMU no longer controls its destiny in the West division of Conference USA — Houston is back in charge. Most significantly, the loss places a load of pressure on the Mustangs in their regular-season finale next week at home against Tulane (3-8, 1-6 C-USA).
SMU (6-5, 5-2) is bowl-eligible, but could need a seventh victory to ensure its first bowl berth since 1984 — which would almost certainly be to the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
“We need to win seven games, we know that, so it puts a lot of pressure on us,” said senior center Mitch Enright. “The O-line didn’t do our job. If we would’ve blocked better, we would have won, there’s no doubt. . . . I told the quarterback after the game I’m sorry he got his butt kicked, because it’s our fault.”
Coach June Jones, not surprisingly, downplayed the weight the loss puts on next week: “It’s no different; we would’ve had to win anyway,” he said.
Martin Ward and Terrell Edwards-Maye rushed for a combined 249 yards and two touchdowns for Marshall (6-5, 4-3), which reached bowl eligibility and whose crowd of 19,646 roared as the Herd surged on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, Padron was limited to 225 yards and two touchdowns while being sacked five times.
Shawnbrey McNeal rushed for 82 yards for SMU, but only 11 of them came after halftime.
Marshall dictated the game in the second half, breaking a 10-10 halftime tie to eventually build a 10-point lead with 8:55 left and force SMU to scrape for come-from-behind magic.
The Mustangs found a little, with Padron finding Aldrick Robinson for a 12-yard TD pass with 5:33 left to cut the deficit to 27-24.
The SMU defense did all it could, forcing a three-and-out and handing the ball back to the offense.
But then came the game’s most telling drive.
Marshall stuffed McNeal for no gain, sacked Padron for a loss of four yards and then forced Padron to get rid of the ball — which Omar Brown intercepted.
That’s where Marshall locked up the win, even though each team had another score, SMU’s final touchdown coming with 40 seconds left. When Marshall wrapped up SMU’s onside kick attempt in the final seconds, it was official.
“There’s certain points of the game where you have to step up,” Jones said. “And we just didn’t do it. . . . We knew they were going to be a physical team up front, but I wasn’t expecting that Kyle would have that much pressure. They turned it up.”
What it means
SMU needs one more win to ensure it earns a bowl berth for the first time since 1984.
SMU hosts a 3-8 Tulane team that has lost six of its last seven, including a 49-0 loss Saturday at Central Florida.
Now SMU could only play in the C-USA championship if it beats Tulane and Houston loses next week to Rice.
East Carolina, UCF and Houston have seven wins or more. SMU, Southern Miss and Marshall are all bowl-eligible with six wins. UAB has five wins.
Conference USA has five guaranteed bowl tie-ins, with a sixth available if Army loses to Navy on Dec. 12.