By: Nicholas Gilanfar
In SMU’s final season in the American Conference, they had a chance to renew the rivalry against Rice with aspirations of clinching the Mayor’s Cup in the two teams’ last scheduled conference game. Throughout the season, SMU has been able to take advantage of their opponents, but the instance changed against Rice as the Owls held their own injuries, and penalties for Rice resulted in a 36-31 SMU victory as they added to their win total at 7-2 and 5-0 in conference play.
If you are a college football fan, you saw a familiar face at QB for Rice as JT Daniels has served as the starter over the course of the season for the Rice Owls. Daniels went to Rice through the transfer as a graduate senior with previous stops at USC, Georgia, and West Virginia. Daniels is in his sixth year in college football and is a true veteran as he was able to keep Rice in the game before he was forced to exit the game after the first half due to a head-to-head collision.
After not playing each other since 2012, it was evident that there was no love lost through the two programs as it was a chippy game on all facets of the game. Both sides of the ball were aggressive and maintained their craft with both teams having their eyes set on the Mayor’s Cup.
SMU was stunned from the get-go as they were looking to be aggressive out of the gates which resulted in a fake punt attempt being no good as Rice set the tone being able to stop the SMU special teams. Luckily on the next drive, the dominant SMU defense was able to continue the hot hand by forcing a three-and-out on Rice’s first offensive drive which was highlighted by two sacks in three plays by Elijah Chatman and Elijah Roberts.
With a dynamic defensive sequence, the ball is in SMU’s courts with all the momentum in their corner. SMU then again had a hard time getting downfield out of the gates which resulted in a punt. Unfortunately, the SMU special teams ran into another brick wall as the punt was blocked and returned for a Rice touchdown by Safety Chike Anigbogu to start the scoring at 7-0.
A positive trend for SMU this season is that they have a memory of a goldfish and don’t let one miscue affect the overall game plan. That came into fruition once again as they were able to bounce back for the next drive highlighted by a 19-yard carry for LJ Johnson in the opening play of the new drive. From there, Preston Stone started to get going and was eventually able to find Broderick Daniels Jr. for a 34-yard touchdown reception as the score was now tied 7-7.
SMU didn’t stop there as the next three drives from the Mustangs resulted in an interception by Kobe Wilson, a 20-yard rushing touchdown by Preston Stone, and a three-and-out. After a slow start, the defense was able to overwhelm JT Daniels and was pressuring him any chance they got. Stone was also able to show his ability as a dual-threat QB by logging the rushing touchdown extending the lead at 14-7.
The second quarter began with Rice’s offensive possession as they needed to find answers in the passing game after an underwhelming first-quarter offensive performance. Rice opened the quarter with a lengthy ten-play possession as Daniels started to heat up highlighted by a 31-yard reception to Rawson MacNeill. After pressuring the SMU defense, the drive ended in success as Rice was able to score a touchdown on second and goal for a two-yard reception to Luke McCaffery to tie the game 14-14.
With SMU back on offense, they logged a merely similar drive-in length as it took them nine plays to march down the field. The Rice defense was wreaking havoc on SMU’s offensive line as SMU was not able to burst on offensive production like we’ve seen all year. Being able to march down the field, SMU was only able to settle for a field goal as they took the lead at 17-14.
The last two drives of the half ended in touchdowns from both Rice and SMU. SMU was able to strike first with another lengthy drive taking up eight plays which was highlighted by a 30-yard touchdown reception on third and ten to Jordan Hudson to give SMU a 24-14 lead.
With Rice coming back on offense, it seemed like things were about to get out of hand until Rice was able to keep the offense rolling and had the chance to cap off a 14-yard touchdown reception to RB Dean Connors to close into a 24-21 deficit coming into the half.
Coming into the second half Rice was riding the hot hand in the closing moments of the second quarter but was not able to continue the offensive production due to JT Daniels being knocked out of the game as it took a while for backup QB Chase Jenkins to get going as they were forced to punt twice. Jenkins is a true freshman and was having to deal with a threat in the American Conference as the SMU was making Jenkins’ life miserable at the start of his outing.
While Rice had a hard time gaining the momentum back, it was a different story for SMU as their two drives consisted of a three-yard rushing touchdown to Tyler Lavine and a field goal. The touchdown drive got started with yet another dynamic play on the ground from Preston Stone as he was able to rush for 34 yards. SMU, with the two scoring drives, now had a commanding 33-21 lead over Rice.
For the closing drive of the third, Rice had their backs against the wall as the game started to get away from them. The drive started with Chase Jenkins finding Rawson McNeill for a 37-yard reception as Jenkins started to be consistent and was able to take his team down the field. Rice was able to get down all the way to the one-yard line on fourth and goal and was able to score a touchdown on a one-yard rushing touchdown to Dean Connors with the score closing back into a one-score game at 33-28.
Coming into the fourth quarter, this is the closest a team in the American Conference has been able to stay with SMU as this was a dogfight with the more physical team ending with the Mayor’s Cup. SMU will start the quarter with the ball as they had a two-play drive which resulted in a fumble by SMU RB Jaylan Knighton as it was a critical moment in the game with all momentum in Rice’s favor.
After a dynamic defensive stop, the next two drives for both teams continued the trend of dominating defenses as both were able to log forced punts with Rice forcing a three and out. After the three and out, Rice will get the ball back and march down the field highlighted by a 57-yard carry for Dean Connors. It was not enough to reach the endzone as the Owls had to settle with a field goal as they continued to cut into their lead at 33-31.
In the next drive, a key development took place, and it was later found out that Preston Stone would be forced to miss the remainder of the game due to a head-to-head hit. Following the injury comes backup QB Kevin Jennings who remained poised under pressure in a 14-play drive and was able to get into field goal range. Collin Rogers lines up for a 51-yard field goal and makes it, extending the SMU lead to 36-31.
After the SMU field Goal, Rice had one more chance to get back into the game as they were able to convert a fourth down conversion via the QB sneak with third-string QB Shawqi Itraish coming in to get the extra yards. Eventually, Jenkins is under pressure as he looks for McCaffery and is picked off by SMU safety Isaiah Nwokobia as the SMU Mustangs go on to win the game 36-31.
Photo Via Jordan Hofeditz/247 Sports