Rock Dennis returns an interception (SMU Athletics)
SMU’s “All Grit, No Quit” Mustangs, on the verge of playing their first bowl game in 25 years, have flourished and floundered with turnovers in 2009.
Although the defense ranks 97th allowing more than 400 yards per game, it is tied for 10th in the nation with 16 interceptions and 15th with 26 forced turnovers. Head Coach June Jones’ run-and-shoot offense is gaining 268 yards through the air and scoring 28 points per game, but has turned the ball over the same number of times.
The Mustangs (6-5, 5-2 Conference-USA) are +6 in the turnover department in their victories and -6 in their losses.
SMU held a 24-7 halftime lead at Washington State, but 52- and 67-yard interception returns for touchdowns led to a 30-27 overtime loss. That overshadowed Emmanuel Sanders’ amazing 18-reception, 178-yard game that earned him Conference-USA Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Just last week, after SMU narrowed the gap to 27-24 against Marshall, the defense forced a three-and-out. Shawnbrey McNeal, who has rushed for 975 yards this season, was stopped at the line on first down. Freshman Kyle Padron, who won his first three collegiate starts, was sacked on second down then pressured into throwing his fourth interception of the season. Never mind the fact the Mustangs were outgained 475-331; they remained in striking distance throughout the 34-31 loss. They failed to force a turnover for only the second time this season while losing a fumble and an interception.
SMU has tilted the scale in its favor by excelling on special teams. Led by 6-8 defensive end Margus Hunt, the Mustangs have blocked nine kicks, two of which Bryan McCann has returned for touchdowns. Hunt was honored with the Conference-USA Special Teams Player of the Week award after blocking two field goal attempts in SMU’s 28-21 victory over East Carolina.
Rock Dennis, who picked of two passes and recovered a fumble against Stephen F. Austin to earn the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week award, leads the team with four interceptions.
Chase Kennemer, a senior linebacker and captain, was the Conference-USA Defensive Player of the Week after recovering three fumbles in SMU’s 31-28 victory over Rice.
McNeal, who became eligible just one day before the season started, has helped immensely by almost doubling SMU’s 2008 rushing total and scoring nine touchdowns.
Sanders is the Mustangs’ career leader with 272 receptions, 3,523 receiving yards and 33 touchdown receptions. He is also the single-season leader with 85 catches and single-game with 18 receptions. Sanders is 60 yards from setting SMU’s single-season receiving record.
The Mustangs host Tulane (3-8, 1-4 Conference-USA) in their final regular-season game at 2 p.m. Saturday.