By: Nicholas Gilanfar
Coming into SMU’s first taste of their final season of American Conference football they start the 2023 campaign at 2-2 losing to both TCU and Oklahoma.
This week SMU took on the 1-3 Charlotte 49ers in their first American game of the season and had their number by defeating Charlotte with a score of 34-16. SMU dominated the matchup throughout the entirety of the game but still needed to clean up miscues such as costly penalties and turnovers.
SMU was without two running backs this week Camar Wheaton and again LJ Johnson Jr. Who were both ruled out with injuries. Throughout the game, Jaylan Knighton and Velton Gardner were able to fill the void of the run game as SMU forced a total of 220 rushing yards.
The opening quarter of the game was all SMU. The SMU offense went high tempo throughout the quarter as they were overworking the 49er defense coming out the gates in their first two drives with touchdowns from QB Preston Stone to WR Broderick Daniels Jr. on a jet sweep along with a rushing touchdown up the middle from RB Jaylan Knighton.
With SMU taking advantage from the get-go, all Charlotte had to show for were mistakes by the special team’s unit, muffing a punt as well as a missed field goal opportunity. SMU HC Rhett Lashlee has been able to stump both Louisiana Tech and Prairie View A&M in high-tempo situations, they added the Charlotte defense to the list as they were unable to find any answers to the high-heat play calling.
SMU took the lead in the first quarter at 14-0, firing on all cylinders. It took the offense a little while to gain momentum featuring two long drives. As for the defense, they came out the gate, making life a tough time for Charlotte QB Jalon Jones who was later benched in the second half.
Opening the second quarter, Charlotte starts to roll on the offensive side of the ball as you start to see the versatility of Charlotte QB Jalon Jones as a dual threat. As Charlotte continues to march down the field, SMU starts to get hit with penalty calls starting with a late hit penalty on Elijah Chatman which cost the Mustangs 15 yards and put Charlotte right in the end zone. Having first and goal opportunities, the Charlotte offense failed to reach the endzone, so they decided to go for a field goal and sunk it in getting on the board trailing 14-3.
Followed by the Charlotte field goal, SMU looked to respond with a lengthy 13-play drive as they were able to trot all the way down to the 13-yard line with the help of a 23-yard rushing attempt from RB Velton Gardner. The Mustangs eventually find themselves at first and goal where they are also unable to reach the endzone having to settle with a field goal and extending their lead to 17-3.
After the two teams traded field goals, the half-ended drives resulted in a Charlotte punt and SMU interception having SMU leading 17-3 at the end of the half. At this point, Charlotte was doing their due diligence to stay in this game with their defense but had no answers for their lack of offensive production.
Charlotte started with the ball in the second half as they were blitzing out the gates in the first play and was bailed out for a fifteen-yard penalty forced by SMU for a facemask. However, with the SMU miscue, Charlotte was unable to capitalize on that opportunity and was shortly forced to punt. As SMU gets the ball back via punt, RB Jaylan Knighton and the offense wasted no time as Knighton was able to burst for a 95-yard rushing touchdown and the first play of the drive extending the lead at 24-3.
As Charlotte QB Jalon Jones takes the field for the final time, Charlotte is faced with a crucial point in the game looking for some momentum to creep into a steep lead. The returner for the kickoff was able to take Charlotte on the 40-yard line starting Charlotte in good standings. With everything starting to go in Charlotte’s favor, they then committed a 5-yard penalty for delay of game and eventually forced a turnover on downs.
For the final two drives of the third quarter, SMU was able to march down the field to kick a field goal and extended their lead to 27-3 as Charlotte’s chances started to dwindle. To ignite the energy, Charlotte decided to pull their starting QB Jalon Jones, and see what they have in backup Trexler Ivey.
The drive starts with some dynamic running by Charlotte Running Back Kellman as he rushes for 20 yards in the first two plays of the drive. Charlotte ended up finding themselves at fourth and 2 and did not convert it. Although they were unable to get the first down conversion, they were bailed out by another SMU penalty which was a face mask and an automatic first down. This drive was highlighted by four SMU penalties as they were starting to lose discipline which evidently forced a Charlotte touchdown by Trexler Ivey on fourth and goal. SMU was still leading the game 27-9 to close the quarter.
Starting the quarter, SMU had the ball and was forced to punt after another drive as Charlotte started to creep into the lead and start to get QB Preston Stone off his game. Charlotte will get the ball back following another lengthy scoring drive as Charlotte was able to roll down the field and score another touchdown by a QB sneak from Trexler Ivey while the 49ers were still trailing 27-16.
As Charlotte had a legitimate chance to win the ballgame, they decided to execute an onside kick which was shortly recovered by SMU. SMU started with good field position with about five minutes to go looking to put a seal on things. The offense finds themselves at the 25-yard line with fourth and two where they go for it. Stone will drop back and lob to TE RJ Maryland for a 23-yard touchdown as SMU extended their lead 34-16.
With three minutes left in the ballgame, Charlotte had one more chance to put points on the board but then forced a turnover which ended the game. SMU defeated Charlotte 34-16 to secure a winning record at 3-2 as well as their first win in American Conference play.
QB Preston Stone: 14/23, 135 yards, two touchdowns, one interception
RB Jaylan Knighton: 11 Carries, 150 yards, two touchdowns
WR Jake Bailey: three receptions, 34 yards
TE RJ Maryland: three receptions, 33 yards, one touchdown
LB Kobe Wilson: ten tackles
DE Nelson Paul: five tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss
Featured Image via Chitose Suzuki/Dallas Morning News