By Brian Hilderbrand for www.armedforcesbowl.com
Dallas, Texas, December 30, 2010 – It doesn’t take the football mind of a Walter C. Camp or a Bill Walsh to figure out what went wrong for SMU in its 16-14 loss to Army in Thursday’s Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl at Ford Stadium.
In fact, the Mustangs’ downfall could be easily determined by looking at the stat sheet, under the heading of “turnovers.” SMU 3, Army 0. It’s as simple as that.
SMU outgained the Black Knights 413-229 in total offense, but it was three costly turnover in the first half that ultimately led to the Mustangs’ demise. Army defensive end Josh McNary scooped up an SMU fumble on the Mustangs’ opening drive of the game and scampered 55 yards for a touchdown and the Black Knights picked off SMU quarterback Kyle Padron twice in the half – one of which killed a potential scoring drive late in the first quarter.
“The turnovers obviously were the difference,” SMU head coach June Jones said. “We had three, and one for seven points, and they had none. It’s been a frustrating part this year for us.
“We went a stretch – four, five games in the middle of the year – without getting a takeaway, being in the minus column. When you’re in that, you’re not going to win.”
Especially, as Padron noted, against a disciplined team such as Army.
“Army is a great team and anytime you do that, they’re going to beat you,” said Padron, who completed 23 of 34 pass attempts for 302 yards and two touchdowns. “You can’t turn over the ball – especially the way we did.”
Mustangs defensive back Chris Banjo, however, said that the fault for the loss does not rest solely on the offense for turning the ball over three times.
“We didn’t make enough turnovers to get the ball back to the offense,” Banjo said “At the end of the game, we played well enough to win but (the blame is) not just on one side of the ball; all things have to play well to win the game. Plain and simple: If we don’t let them score once, we win the game so we still put it on (the defense’s) shoulders. It’s just something we have to come back and fix next year.”
Even though SMU trailed 16-0 at the half, running back Zach Line said the Mustangs felt they still were in a good position to win the game.
“We never thought we were going to lose that game,” said Line, who rushed for a game-high 103 yards. “At halftime, we had no doubt we were going to come back and win that game. Everybody in that locker room kind of took it upon themselves to take their game to a higher level (in the second half) and we almost had it.”
SMU pulled to within two points (16-14) of Army on a 28-yard scoring pass from Padron to Darius Johnson with 9:20 remaining in the game. The Mustangs were poised to pull ahead when Matt Szymanski lined up for a 47-yard field-goal attempt with 4:05 to play. Jones called a timeout before Szymanski’s kick to settle down his kicker. It didn’t work.
“Matty had been making them in pregame in that direction so when I asked him what his depth was going each way and he said 65 with the wind and 50 into (the wind). I took the timeout just to tell him to hit the ball, relax, don’t rush it. It looked like he rushed it, which is easy to do when you’re a young kid with a lot on the line. He had enough leg; it was just unfortunate it didn’t go in.”
The bowl loss notwithstanding, Jones said the future continues to look bright for the resurgent SMU football program, which finished the season with a 7-7 record and its second consecutive bowl appearance.
“We have the foundation built,” Jones said. “I think we have a lot of good players coming back and we have a lot of young players committed to come in. We’re making the steps in a positive direction to just keep getting better. I think we’re a year and a half away from a recruiting class to really have the depth that we need but I think we’re learning how to compete together, play together, all those things that good football teams do.
“Now we’ve got to put them together and just keep winning.”
Brian Hilderbrand (firstname.lastname@example.org) is covering the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl for www.armedforcesbowl.com for the second consecutive year. Hilderbrand is a media consultant and freelance writer in Las Vegas after spending more than 30 years as a sports writer covering high school, collegiate and professional sports in Southern California and Nevada. He began his journalism career in 1974 — while still in high school — covering local sports for his hometown Placentia (Calif.) Courier. A Cal State Fullerton alumnus, in 1979 he joined the sports staff of the Anaheim Bulletin, where his beats included the California Angels and Los Angeles Rams. After a brief stint at the Orange County edition of the Los Angeles Times, he moved to Las Vegas in 1986. He covered minor-league baseball, golf, motorsports and UNLV football during a 22-year career with the Las Vegas Sun.