Conference USA Week 7 Recap
Marshall 24, Rice 20
SMU 38, Central Florida 17
UTEP 44, Tulane 7
East Carolina 35, Memphis 17
Tulsa 37, UAB 20
The big story of week seven in Conference USA was, without question, the emphatic statement made by the Southern Methodist University football team. The Mustangs played before a very sparse crowd in University Park, Texas, a shocking thing to contemplate since the defending Conference USA champions from Central Florida were paying a visit, but the SMU crew blocked out that distraction and put the hammer to the Golden Knights in this rematch of the 2010 Conference USA Championship Game. That contest – played last December – unfolded on Central Florida’s home field in Orlando, Florida. This rematch took place in Texas, and SMU – while not supported by many souls or voices – still made a very loud declaration with its quality of play between the painted white lines.
SMU took the fight to UCF from the opening bell, racing to a 17-0 lead in the first 22 minutes of play. SMU’s defense didn’t allow its first touchdown until the opening minute of the fourth quarter, and just 14 seconds after that UCF score, a 72-yard touchdown pass from the right arm of SMU quarterback J.J. McDermott (to receiver Der’rikk Thompson) immediately restored a 21-point advantage for the Ponies, 31-10. The Mustangs frustrated the Golden Knights from start to finish, creating a game in which statistics demanded closer inspection.
In some respects, the final stat line accurately portrayed the way this game unfolded. SMU constrained UCF’s offense, taking away big plays from the Knights at every turn. Central Florida quarterback Jeff Godfrey and teammate Blake Bortles combined to complete 32 passes, but those passes covered 349 yards in an incrementalist attack that did not stretch the field. SMU, on the other hand, gained 358 yards in the course of just 20 completions. By averaging roughly 18 yards per completion compared to just 11 (rounded to the nearest whole number) for Central Florida, SMU affirmed its prowess in the passing game under head coach June Jones. The Ponies gave UCF the short stuff and did not allow a big play. Moreover, when UCF added its second touchdown of the day with 3:52 left in regulation, SMU had already established a massive lead. This is where the final stat sheet is misleading.
Most of UCF’s 459 yards came in the second half, with the Golden Knights playing a desperate and futile game of catch-up. Almost everything the defending C-USA champs did was window dressing; before this game became a non-competitive affair midway through the fourth quarter (as SMU took a 38-10 stranglehold on the proceedings), UCF couldn’t do anything offensively. The Golden Knights were limited to just 110 rushing yards on the afternoon, and 46 of those yards were gained by Godfrey on quarterback scrambles. What’s also worth noting – in the realm of deceptive statistics – is that Central Florida possessed the ball for just over 37 minutes, a full 14 minutes more than SMU. That disparity in time of possession was the result of nothing other than the fact that SMU struck quickly on offense. The Ponies amassed their considerable advantage, forced UCF to throw, made the Golden Knights work the ball patiently down the field, and allowed the clock to work against the visitors from the Sunshine State. UCF coach George O’Leary had to cringe when he realized just how little production he received from his running backs in the first half; with SMU leading by three possessions for most of the day, Central Florida lost the ability to dictate with its ground game. That’s why this contest spiraled out of control for UCF.
Southern Methodist has established itself not only as the favorite in C-USA’s West Division; the Ponies have marked themselves as the favorites in Conference USA at large. It’s entirely possible that Central Florida will get another shot at SMU before the season is over; however, this win by the Ponies means that if the C-USA title game is a rematch, it will almost certainly be staged in the heart of Texas.