I've said it before: a good running game covers a multitude of sins. Both the SMU Mustangs and the TCU Horned Frogs proved the truth of that sentiment again in Dallas on Friday.
Mustang sophomore Zach Line was SMU's mistake-covering medicine, rushing out of a very cleverly executed draw passed the Horned Frogs' overpursuing linebacker twice in a row for 15 and then 21 yards to open the Mustangs' second drive of the game. Line broke free out of the same play early in the fourth for 29 yards and a touchdown, capping a 139 yard day. Fourteen of SMU's points came on drives extended largely due to Line's remarkable running.
The mistakes that Zach Line's running covered were many. Kyle Padron completed only 40 percent of his passes, and was pressured, hurried, hit, and sacked early and often. The Mustang offensive line just didn't have the moxie to hang the Frogs' defensive onslaught.
On the Frogs' side of the ledger, the multi-headed rush attack of Wesley, Tucker, and after Wesley's concussion, Waymon James, with late and effective runs from Andy Dalton, proved enough to make up for Dalton's two interceptions—both of which led to points for SMU. The foursome tallied 182 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. In the Frogs' opening drive, Mustang end Margus Hunt got around Marcus Cannon early, and tallied pressure, and then a hit, on Andy Dalton. But after that the Frogs kept their signal caller upright, and almost untouched, as he fed the rush relentlessly. TCU's first possession in the second quarter was a 15 play, 70-yard drive that consumed 6:40 minutes, and featuring 10 rushes and 5 passes that culminated in 7 points and TCU's first lead of the game. The Frogs trailed for only 93 seconds after that second quarter drive.
Eventually the Frogs' offensive line simply overpowered the Mustangs' defense. By midway through the third, when the Frogs drove the Mustangs 58 yards down the field in 5:46, rushing 9 of 12 plays, for seven, it was clear TCU had tamed the Mustangs in the trenches. When safety Tejay Johnson snagged a Kyle Padron pass and returned it for six (the game's final points) in the fourth quarter, SMU was out of gas.
Dalton spread the ball around very well (too well—included in his receiver's list are two Mustangs!). His deep ball wasn't deep enough for Skye Dawson to make a play. Matthew Tucker did not carry the pile like he had done earlier this season. Waymon James looks every bit as good as we'd heard from practice. Alex Ibiloye left the game hurt; so did Stansly Maponga, but Maponga's may only have been cramping.
Much like in 2009, SMU looked like a team that expects to win. Against decades of evidence to the contrary, it appears good football is reborn on the Hilltop, and the SMU-TCU rivalry, which lay dormant for generations, is reviving. Pencil in the 2011 rematch for a terrific battle.