June Jones has SMU 2-0 in Conference USA
By Kate Hairopoulos
The Dallas Morning News
UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas — SMU cornerback Bryan McCann used to hate those tedious special teams drills in practice.
"What's the point of doing this?" he'd grumble to himself.
The senior found out Saturday night.
With the Mustangs needing a boost against defending Conference USA champion East Carolina, 6-8 Margus Hunt, an Estonian native and newcomer to football, blocked his second field-goal attempt of the night.
McCann — a former Oklahoma high school 100-meter state champion — scooped up the ball and raced 63 yards for a touchdown to tie the score, 7-7, before halftime.
"It was in slow motion," McCann said. "I just picked it up, like in practice, and went to the house."
SMU opened the second half by piling on two more touchdowns, then held on in a game of big plays, winning 28-21 in front of 13,626 at Ford Stadium.
The Mustangs (3-2) are 2-0 in conference play for the first time since 1986 and snapped a two-game losing streak. Winning at home is a hefty part of SMU coach June Jones' formula to get the Mustangs to a bowl — he's not shy about specifying the Hawaii Bowl — for the first time since 1984.
"I feel like we're learning how to stay together as a group," Jones said. "We're still not playing the way we need to on offense to be a division leader, but don't tell the kids that. We're 2-0."
The Mustangs won with game-changing plays on special teams — which had been awful the week before at TCU — and defense. Though the offense struggled again, tallying only 294 yards and converting 2-of-10 third downs, it made enough big plays when SMU needed them.
The biggest came on SMU's first offensive play of the second half, when the Mustangs, backed up on their own 4, took a shot.
Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell (17-of-29 for 266 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions) found Aldrick Robinson for a 96-yard pass and run for a touchdown.
SMU built its lead to 21-7 when safety Rock Dennis intercepted ECU quarterback Patrick Pinkney's deep pass and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown. It was Dennis' fourth interception of the season and SMU's 13th interception and 19th gained turnover this year.
ECU cut SMU's lead to 21-14 with 1:39 left in the third quarter on Giavanni Ruffin's 2-yard run.
But SMU answered with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell to Terrance Wilkerson with 5:02 to play.
SMU seemed in control until the Mustangs allowed Dwayne Harris to return the kickoff 77 yards for a touchdown — darkening a great night for SMU's special teams.
Then, running back Zach Line fumbled with SMU trying to run out the clock, and ECU recovered with three minutes to play. But the Mustangs' defense held.
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