Nov 19, 2022; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Memphis Tigers running back Jevyon Ducker (8) runs the ball during the second half against the North Alabama Lions at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis visits SMU in battle of bowl-bound teams

Memphis and SMU, a pair of 6-5 American Athletic Conference teams, meet Saturday in Dallas hoping to finish the regular season strong heading into what have become annual bowl trips.

Looking to win its third straight game to cap the campaign, Memphis (6-5, 3-4) is coming off a 59-0 win over North Alabama to become bowl eligible for the ninth consecutive season.

SMU (6-5, 4-3), meantime, clinched a fourth consecutive bowl trip back on Nov. 12 before stumbling through a 59-24 shellacking at No. 19 Tulane last Thursday.

Coach Rhett Lashlee’s Mustangs didn’t do much right against the Green Wave, committing five turnovers and allowing 310 yards rushing.

“It’s embarrassing, yes, when you’re getting your butt kicked by a team that’s good, but you feel like if you played well, you can play with,” Lashlee said. “Anybody who watched the game could tell we got our butts handed to us.

“How do you respond in the moment when it’s not fun? When the whole world is watching and you don’t finish?” wondered Lashlee. “How do you pick yourself up after? That’s our job now.”

In hosting the Tigers, the Ponies will challenge a team hitting on all cylinders lately.

After losing their season-opening contest against Southeastern Conference member Mississippi State, the Tigers (6-5, 3-4) ran off four consecutive wins. Following a winless four-game stretch from Oct. 7 to Nov. 5, they have rebounded with a pair of victories and sit on the cusp of a seven-win season.

The nine-bowl streak is a testament to heightened expectations at Memphis.

“It means everything,” said running back Asa Martin. “It’s nine in a row. We didn’t want to be the team to end that streak. The program is growing, and there’s a lot of progression over the last couple of years.

“Of course, you always want to get to the AAC championship or the Cotton Bowl game and games like that. Just get to a bowl game and keep that thing going.”

Memphis has 77 wins since 2014, the most among AAC schools. It has also won seven of the past eight meetings with SMU.

–Field Level Media

SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai (8) lets go of a pass during Saturday's game against ACU at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas on Sept. 4, 2021. Mordecai threw an SMU-record seven touchdowns as the Mustangs won 56-9.

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SMU looks for offensive encore against struggling USF

SMU, off a record-setting offensive performance, looks to guarantee a spot in the postseason when it travels to struggling South Florida on Saturday afternoon in an American Athletic Conference game in Tampa.

The Mustangs (5-4, 3-2 AAC) roll into Saturday’s game on the strength of an eye-popping 77-63 win at home over Houston on Nov. 5. SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai racked up nine touchdown passes, including seven in the first half, along with 379 passing yards and a rushing TD in the victory.

Mordecai now has an SMU-record 13 games with 300 passing yards or more in his career. SMU has won two straight games and is still in the thick of the race for the conference championship game berth and a bowl game.

“I’ll say this about this team,” said Mordecai, who transferred from Oklahoma before the 2021 season. “I’ve been on different teams, different coaches, this team. But this team, no matter what, we play hard. One thing you can’t say is that we don’t lay it all out, so that’s what I’m really proud of.”

Five SMU receivers had at least one touchdown catch in the win, led by Ben Redding’s three scoring receptions. The Mustangs scored touchdowns on their first nine drives of the game.

The 140 combined points set the FBS single-season scoring record for two teams in regulation. The Mustangs established program records for points in a game, total touchdowns (11), passing touchdowns (nine) and 433 total yards in the first half.

USF (1-8, 0-5) is at the bottom of the league standings and heads home after a 54-28 loss at Temple on Nov. 5. Coach Jeff Scott was fired on Sunday a day after the Bulls dropped their seventh consecutive game. USF’s only win this season came against Howard, an FCS team, on Sept. 10.

Scott’s 4-26 record over two-plus seasons is the worst in state history among major-college coaches who lasted more than one year. The Bulls also fired defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. USF elevated special teams coordinator Daniel Da Prato to interim coach while former co-coordinator Ernie Sims will head the defense for the final three games.

“In the days ahead, I will share information about our search for a new head coach,” USF Athletic Director Michael Kelly said. “Our focus right now is on the talented young men in our football program.”

South Florida’s defense allowed 621 yards in the loss to Temple. The Bulls are 129th out of 131 teams in points allowed per game (39.9) and 130th in average total yards allowed (502.9).

–Field Level Media

Cincinnati Bearcats wide receiver Jadon Thompson (20) is tackled by Southern Methodist Mustangs safety Ahmaad Moses (16) in the second quarter of the American Athletic Conference game between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the Southern Methodist Mustangs at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022.

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No. 21 Cincinnati holds off SMU comeback attempt

Charles McClelland rushed for 129 yards on 16 carries and No. 21 Cincinnati survived a late comeback to take down SMU 29-27 on Saturday in Dallas to win its sixth straight game.

Trailing 29-14, SMU (3-4, 1-2 American Athletic Conference) made it a one-possession game when Preston Stone found RJ Maryland for a 16-yard touchdown with 5:09 left to play.

The Mustangs then forced a three-and-out and drove 82 yards in nine plays, with Tyler Lavine scoring from 1 yard out to make it 29-27. The two-point conversion attempt failed, and Cincinnati (6-1, 3-0) ran out the clock to hold on.

McClelland gained the majority of his yardage on a 76-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, which was the longest run of his career. Ryan Montgomery also scored on the ground for the Bearcats, who have now won six of their seven all-time meetings with SMU.

Cincinnati quarterback Ben Bryant completed 18 of 35 passes for 200 yards, and Jadon Thompson hauled in four passes for 69 yards. The Bearcats outgained the Mustangs 379-259.

Tanner Mordecai threw for 105 yards with a touchdown and an interception on 15-for-25 passing for SMU (3-4, 1-2). He exited with an undisclosed injury in the third quarter, and Stone took over and threw for 74 yards and a touchdown.

McClelland broke things open early in the second, slicing through the left side of the defense to the end zone for a 17-0 Bearcats lead.

After Cincinnati failed to convert a fourth-and-1, Mordecai connected with Jordan Kerley for a 43-yard gain and TJ McDaniel dashed for a 3-yard touchdown to pull the Mustangs within 17-7.

The Bearcats answered with a 25-yard field goal from Ryan Coe, but Mordecai found Kerley for a 1-yard TD to cap a 13-play, 77-yard drive to make it 20-14 heading into the break.

Coe made good on field goals of 52, 44 and 31 yards coming out of halftime to extend the lead to 15.

–Field Level Media

Sep 17, 2022; College Park, Maryland, USA;  Maryland Terrapins head coach Mike Locksley reacts during the second half against the Southern Methodist Mustangs at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Max Duggan, Kendre Miller pace TCU past SMU

Max Duggan threw for 278 yards with three touchdowns to lead TCU to a 42-34 victory over SMU on Saturday afternoon at Dallas.

The game between the Dallas-Fort Worth schools featured the return of former SMU coach Sonny Dykes, who now holds the same position at TCU.

Kendre Miller added 142 yards on 17 carries with a touchdown for TCU (3-0).

Emari Demercado rushed for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including a 63-yard run with 2:31 remaining that put TCU ahead 42-27.

SMU responded with a quick scoring possession of 1:27 that covered 75 yards, finishing with Jake Bailey’s 35-yard reception from Tanner Mordecai.

TCU successfully recovered the ensuing onside kick.

The Horned Frogs were forced to punt with 42 seconds left after SMU burned two timeouts. During the punt, an SMU defender tried to leap over a blocker, which is a violation. TCU maintained possession and ran out the clock.

Tanner Mordecai completed 27 of 49 passes for 372 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for the Mustangs.

Bailey had eight receptions for 163 yards and Tre Siggers rushed for three touchdowns and 60 yards.

SMU (2-2) came within a touchdown twice in the second half, first cutting the lead to 28-21 after successfully converting a fourth-and-10 attempt at the TCU 46 with a 45-yard completion from Mordecai to Bailey.

That play set up Siggers’ 1-yard scoring run with 3:33 remaining in the third quarter. The play completed a 98-yard possession that took 10 plays.

TCU took a 35-21 lead on Demercado’s 1-yard scoring run with 8:14 remaining.

Siggers again scored on SMU’s next possession on a 2-yard run.

TCU set the tone early, scoring a touchdown in four of its first five possessions, starting with the game’s opening drive going 74 yards in only five plays.

–Field Level Media

Nov 20, 2021; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Southern Methodist Mustangs quarterback Tanner Mordecai (8) throws a pass against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the first half at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

SMU tabs Tanner Mordecai as starting QB

Tanner Mordecai was named as SMU’s starting quarterback ahead of its season opener, head coach Rhett Lashlee announced Friday.

The incumbent Mordecai got the nod over freshman Preston Stone for the Mustangs, who open the season at North Texas on Sept. 3.

Mordecai set a school record for passing touchdowns (39) and total scores (41) in his first season with SMU in 2021. He also completed 67.8 percent of his passes for 3,628 yards.

He transferred from Oklahoma after playing 12 games with the Sooners, including a stint in place of starter Spencer Rattler in the 2020 Cotton Bowl.

Mordecai spent three seasons behind Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts and Rattler on the Oklahoma depth chart.

–Field Level Media

Nov 12, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) runs with the ball in the 3rd quarter against the South Florida Bulls at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

No. 5 Cincinnati needs impressive win over SMU in CFP chase

No. 5 Cincinnati can clinch a spot in the American Athletic Conference championship game with a victory against visiting SMU on Saturday.

Of course, as far as the Bearcats (10-0, 6-0 AAC) are concerned, the Mustangs (8-2, 4-2) represent the next obstacle in a bigger pursuit: trying to become the first Group of Five program to earn a College Football Playoff berth since the arrangement began in 2014.

After SMU, the Bearcats end the regular season at East Carolina and could face No. 24 Houston in the conference title game on Dec. 4.

“We’ve got a really tough game this week. We’ve got a really tough game the following week,” Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said Tuesday. “If we’re fortunate enough to have a third one, we’ll have another really tough one that will give us every opportunity that we want, and I truly believe that.

“I know you’ve got to be in the realm to have any shot, and all we care about is we’re in the realm, and now we’ve got to take care of business.”

Cincinnati can’t afford a slip-up. Not being one of the Power 5 schools leaves the Bearcats needing to not only win but to do so impressively.

SMU looms as a challenge because its offense averages 41.6 points per game, sixth nationally. The Mustangs are led by quarterback Tanner Mordecai, who threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns in a 55-28 win against UCF last week to end a two-game losing streak.

Those two losses — 44-37 to Houston and 28-25 to Memphis — were on the road, and the Mustangs will face another hostile environment for the Bearcats’ Senior Day.

“If you want to win a championship, you’ve got to play well on the road. I think that’s the deal,” SMU coach Sonny Dykes said. “There’s all these things you’ve got to do, and I think playing well on the road is one of them. If we want to try to keep our championship hopes alive, then we’ve got to go play well Saturday and win the game.

“Our guys are excited,” Dykes added. “They like challenges, and this is obviously a challenge, and it’s a good barometer for us to see where we’re at.”

Cincinnati’s 32 seniors to be honored include quarterback Desmond Ridder, who has a 41-5 record as a starter.

Last week, in a 45-28 win at South Florida, Ridder threw two touchdown passes. The second was the 79th of his career to break a tie with Bearcats quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli for the most in school history.

The senior class is 41-6, and the fifth-year seniors are 45-14 with Ridder sporting a 24-0 record at Nippert Stadium.

“There’s some special people that have done some special things, and I don’t just mean win football games,” Fickell said. “I mean really kind of change the locker room and create an expectation, create a brotherhood and create a lot of amazing things.

“Now, they’ve got to be able to balance emotions. It’s a huge, huge game.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Southern Methodist Mustangs quarterback Tanner Mordecai (8) attempts a pass during the first quarter against the Houston Cougars at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

No. 23 SMU looking to rebound against Memphis

SMU will look to pick up the pieces after last week’s disheartening loss when it travels to Memphis on Saturday afternoon for an American Athletic Conference game.

The 23rd-ranked Mustangs (7-1, 3-1 AAC) allowed a 100-yard kickoff return with 17 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of a 44-37 setback at Houston last Saturday.

“Yeah, we’ll see where we go from here,” SMU coach Sonny Dykes said. “… It’s just hard to win every game, especially when you’re not one of the elite teams in football from a talent standpoint, know what I mean? Where you can just line up and it doesn’t matter who you play, you’re just going to be better than they are.

“We’re a good football team. We’ve got good players. We’re not going to have 15 first-round draft picks.”

Dykes, however, expressed concern that the dark cloud which followed last week’s loss could carry to Saturday’s game against Memphis (4-4, 1-3).

“It’s like I told our guys, we haven’t been very good after we lose a game, know what I mean?” Dykes said.

“We lost a couple years ago. Didn’t play well at the end of the season in 2019. We lost the Memphis game, and then we lost to Navy a couple weeks later and didn’t play well in the bowl game. Last year, we just didn’t play well at all down the stretch.”

SMU’s Tanner Mordecai has played well this season, ranking second in the nation with 32 touchdown passes. That total is just two shy of Shane Buechele’s school record, set in 2019.

Mordecai on Monday was named one of 15 semifinalists for the 85th Maxwell Award for the Collegiate Player of the Year.

The Mustangs snapped a six-game losing streak in the series with a 30-27 win over the Tigers last season. They haven’t won in Memphis since 2013, however.

While Mordecai will be set to go on Saturday, the same might not be true for Memphis quarterback Seth Henigan as he nurses a right-shoulder injury.

Peter Parrish started for Memphis on Oct. 22 in a 24-7 loss to UCF and threw for 215 yards, with three interceptions, while being sacked six times.

Despite the uneven performance and a conservative offensive game plan, Tigers coach Ryan Silverfield said the extra time afforded by the team’s bye week should do wonders for Parrish.

“I do think you’re not feeling like you’re drinking out of a fire hose,” Silverfield said. “I think maybe less anxiety for Peter as he feels more comfortable with the offense. As he continues to study the game plan, if he’s the guy, then he’ll be ready to roll.”

For all of the hiccups, Parrish showed a comfort level in rushing the ball. He led the team with 60 yards on the ground against the Knights.

Calvin Austin III, who leads Memphis in catches (57), receiving yards (901) and TD receptions (eight), had six grabs for 78 yards and one score in last season’s loss to SMU.

The Tigers have committed 12 turnovers in losing four of their past five games. They will try to avoid falling under .500 for the first time since the 2013 season.

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars quarterback Clayton Tune (3) looks for an open receiver during the first quarter against the Southern Methodist Mustangs at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Houston stuns No. 19 SMU on 100-yard KO return in final minute

Marcus Jones produced a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 17 seconds remaining and the Houston Cougars knocked the 19th-ranked SMU Mustangs from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 44-37 victory on Saturday at TDECU Stadium.

Jones recorded his ninth career special-teams touchdown, and fourth this season, to answer a 45-yard field goal from SMU kicker Blake Mazza that pulled the Mustangs (7-1, 3-1 American) even 13 seconds earlier.

Jones’ kickoff return was the second of the game, as Bryan Massey opened the second half with a 100-yard return that gave the Mustangs their first lead at 27-23.

Houston (7-1, 5-0) extended its winning streak to seven consecutive games despite blowing a 17-point lead, the largest deficit of the season for the Mustangs.

Cougars quarterback Clayton Tune passed for a career-high 412 yards and four touchdowns, with Houston receiver Nathaniel Dell producing career highs in receptions (nine), receiving yards (165) and touchdowns (three).

Tune and Dell connected for the third time with 9:22 left in the third quarter to answer the Massey kick return and push the Cougars back ahead 30-27. Tune answered another SMU touchdown with a 4-yard pass to KeSean Carter for a 37-34 lead that held until the Mazza kick.

Tanner Mordecai passed for 305 yards and three touchdowns for SMU, but the Cougars held off the Mustangs by controlling the time of possession (35:25) with three scoring drives of 10-plus plays from the end of the second quarter into the third.

Houston scored on each of its first four possessions yet, after the Cougars turned over the football on downs when SMU defensive end Elijah Chatman forced a fumble at midfield, the Mustangs closed to within 20-14 when Mordecai hit Tre Siggers on a wheel route for a 50-yard touchdown with 7:28 remaining in the first half. Less than five minutes later, SMU pulled even.

After SMU safety Chace Cromartie forced a fumble that linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia recovered at the Houston 35, Mordecai found Rashee Rice for a 6-yard touchdown on fourth down.

But Gleson Sprewell blocked the ensuing PAT to prevent the Mustangs from grabbing their first lead and the Cougars followed by covering 62 yards in 12 plays before Dalton Witherspoon booted a 30-yard field goal as the first half expired to give Houston a 23-20 lead.

–Field Level Media

Oct 9, 2021; Annapolis, Maryland, USA;  Navy Midshipmen fullback Kai Puailoa-Rojas (21) catches a pass for a touch down as Southern Methodist Mustangs safety Isaiah Nwokobia (12) defends during the first half at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Tanner Mordecai heroics push No. 24 SMU past feisty Navy

Jordan Kerley hauled in a diving, go-ahead touchdown pass from Tanner Mordecai to help the No. 24 SMU Mustangs escape Annapolis, Md., Saturday with a 31-24 win over the Navy Midshipmen.

The 22-yard strike came with 8:19 remaining, and the Mustangs’ defense forced two turnovers on downs to keep Navy at bay the rest of the game.

SMU (6-0, 2-0 AAC) remained undefeated as Mordecai went 30-for-40 passing for 324 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The nation’s leader in passing touchdowns now has 26 on the year.

In his second straight start, QB Tai Lavatai went 4-for-7 for 64 yards and a touchdown and led Navy (1-4, 1-2 AAC) with 53 rushing yards.

SMU opened the scoring just 92 seconds into the game when Mordecai found Roderick Roberson Jr. over the top for a 66-yard TD connection on a fourth-and-1. Navy tied it on its second possession when Chance Warren broke free on an option pitch for a 23-yard score.

The run-heavy Navy offense surprised the Mustangs in the second quarter with a flea-flicker, and Lavatai hit Kai Puailoa-Rojas for a quick 37-yard touchdown to push Navy ahead.

Mordecai guided SMU down the field on the next drive until he was intercepted in the end zone by Navy’s Johnny Hodges. Mordecai turned the ball over once again on his next possession; Mids nose guard Clay Cromwell stripped him and defensive captain Diego Fagot returned the fumble 20 yards to make it 21-7.

Navy’s growing momentum went out the window on the following kickoff, returned by Bryan Massey 95 yards down the right sideline for a Mustang touchdown. SMU leveled the score 21-21 before halftime when Tre Siggers punched it in from 2 yards.

The two sides traded field goals in the third quarter, including Navy’s Bijan Nichols converting from 50 yards out.

The result marked SMU’s first road win over Navy since 1998. The Mustangs and No. 5 Cincinnati remain the American Athletic Conference’s only remaining unbeaten teams.

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2020; Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA;  Southern Methodist Mustangs head coach Sonny Dykes on the sidelines during the game against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Skelly Field at H.A. Chapman Stadium. Tulsa won 28-24. Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

SMU set for second try at Frisco Bowl victory

Southern Methodist University won’t be traveling too far to compete in a bowl game this month.

The Mustangs on Wednesday accepted an invitation to the Frisco Bowl, which will be played Dec. 19 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, less than 30 miles from SMU.

SMU, which went 7-3 with a 4-3 record in the American Athletic Conference, will be making its 18th bowl appearance and second trip to the Frisco Bowl. The Mustangs lost the inaugural Frisco Bowl to Louisiana Tech in 2017.

SMU’s opponent, which will likely be a team from Conference USA, will be determined at a later date.

“We are excited to extend an invitation to SMU to play in the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl,” the game’s executive director Sean Johnson said in a statement. “We are happy to have a local team with a great fan base and look forward to an exciting game next week at Toyota Stadium.”

The Mustangs haven’t won a bowl game since their 2012 win over Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl.

The Frisco Bowl noted in its statement that there would be “very limited” attendance for its game because of COVID-19 concerns.

–Field Level Media