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

Reports: Sonny Dykes leaving SMU for TCU gig

SMU coach Sonny Dykes is leaving the program for a metro rival, accepting a deal to become the new coach at TCU, ESPN and Action Network reported Friday.

Dykes was offered $4 million to stay at SMU but TCU’s package was worth “significantly more,” according to ESPN.

Multiple media outlets reported that SMU is turning to former offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee to fill its impending head-coaching vacancy. Lashlee is currently the offensive coordinator at Miami.

Dykes, 52, served as the head coach at Louisiana Tech (2010-2012) and Cal (2013-16) before the Golden Bears’ program fired him after the 2016 season. Dykes spent a year as an offensive analyst for TCU before accepting the head job with SMU in December 2017.

His Mustangs are 8-3 this season entering Saturday’s regular-season finale against Tulsa. He has a 30-17 record in four seasons with SMU and a 71-62 overall record as a head coach.

TCU needed a replacement for Gary Patterson, the longtime Horned Frogs coach who left the job earlier this month.

The programs are separated by roughly 40 miles, with SMU in Dallas and TCU in Fort Worth. They were longtime rivals in the Southwest Conference and have maintained an annual rivalry game for the Iron Skillet.

–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 looks to rebound in finale vs. Tulsa

Tanner Mordecai looks for a bounce-back performance on Saturday afternoon when SMU hosts Tulsa in the teams’ regular-season finale in Dallas.

Mordecai completed 15 of 26 passes for just 66 yards and a touchdown in the Mustangs’ 48-14 setback to No. 5 Cincinnati last Saturday. The four-time American Athletic Conference Player of the Week had averaged 326.4 yards passing and 3.7 scores over his previous 10 games for SMU (8-3, 4-3).

The Mustangs’ prolific offense was held under 200 yards after averaging nearly 500 yards entering the game. SMU was 2-for-11 on third downs and was on the wrong end of the time of possession battle by nearly 11 minutes.

“We’ll go look at the film, try to make improvements, do what we can to get better,” Mustangs coach Sonny Dykes said, “but the big thing we’ve got to do is get it behind us because this is one of those losses that will jolt you a little bit if you let it. We don’t want that to happen.”

SMU has followed a 7-0 start by losing three of its last four games. The lone win in the latter sequence was a 55-28 rout of UCF, a decision that improved the Mustangs to 5-0 at home this season.

The Golden Hurricane (5-6, 4-3) have answered a two-game losing skid with a 20-13 overtime victory over Tulane on Nov. 13 and a 44-10 romp over Temple last Saturday. The total points against the Owls were the most by Tulsa this season.

“So really proud of the way our team played, these seniors, and what they’ve done,” Golden Hurricane coach Philip Montgomery said. “That’s probably our most … complete game as a team.”

Josh Johnson recorded a career-best 159 receiving yards and an 8-yard touchdown vs. the Owls. He had 20- and 35-yard touchdown receptions against SMU last season as Tulsa overcame an early 21-point deficit in a 28-24 victory.

Fellow senior Shamari Brooks sits 100 yards shy of tying Tarrion Adams (3,651, 2005-08) for second place on the school’s all-time rushing list.

Davis Brin, a redshirt junior, completed 18 of 30 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns against Temple. He also rushed for another.

–Field Level Media

Cincinnati Bearcats wide receiver Tyler Scott (21) scores a touchdown off a Cincinnati Bearcats quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) pass in the first half of the NCAA football game between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the Southern Methodist Mustangs on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati.

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No. 5 Cincinnati manhandles SMU, 48-14

Quarterback Desmond Ridder accounted for five touchdowns – including one receiving — and No. 5 Cincinnati defeated visiting SMU 48-14 on Saturday.

The Bearcats (11-0, 7-0 American Athletic Conference) will play No. 24 Houston in the conference championship game on Dec. 4. Cincinnati, as the higher seed, is in line to host if it wins at East Carolina on Friday.

Ridder threw three TDs, ran for one and caught a 5-yard pass from wide receiver Jordan Jones on a flea-flicker early in the third quarter to make it 34-0.

SMU (8-3, 4-3) was supposed to present a challenge as the AAC’s leader in total offense (498.7 yards per game) and scoring offense (41.6), but the Mustangs were blanked until 8:32 remained in the game on a 2-yard run by Tre Siggers against the Bearcats’ reserves.

Ridder was 17 of 23 for 274 yards. He had three carries for 46 yards, including a 40-yard TD run at 13:37 of the second quarter to make 20-0.

He became the third FBS quarterback to win 42 games (42-5) and moved to 25-0 at Nippert Stadium for his career.

The Bearcats got a 4-yard TD run by Jerome Ford with five minutes left in the first quarter for a 14-0 lead after Ridder opened the scoring with a 53-yard strike three minutes into the game. Ford rushed for 82 yards.

Cincinnati is the only FBS team ranked in the top 10 in scoring offense (39.2, ninth) and scoring defense (16.2, eighth), and the Bearcats exploited the Mustangs on both sides of the ball.

SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai was averaging 326.4 passing yards a game but finished 15 for 26 for 66 yards.

Cincinnati had 544 total yards (295 pass, 249 rush). SMU gained 199 yards (66, 133).

With the win, Cincinnati’s fourth-year seniors are 42-6 and the fifth-year seniors are 46-14.

SMU finishes the regular season hosting Tulsa on Nov. 27.

–Field Level Media

Oct 6, 2018; Orlando, FL, USA; UCF Knights defensive lineman Trysten Hill (top left) dives over the pile for a touchdown during the second half against the Southern Methodist Mustangs at Spectrum Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

SMU looking to rebound against red-hot UCF

Once seemingly headed for a showdown with undefeated Cincinnati for the top spot in the American Athletic Conference, SMU finds itself struggling to regain its mojo as it hosts UCF on Saturday in Dallas.

With losses to Houston and Memphis the past two weeks, the Mustangs (7-2, 3-2 AAC) remain mathematically in the race for the league’s championship game but will need breaks to get there, with Cincinnati and the Cougars undefeated in conference play.

The Bearcats would have to lose two of their last three league games remaining, including against SMU on Nov. 20, for the Mustangs to sneak into the title game. The Cougars need to win only one of their last two AAC games to clinch a spot.

The Mustangs’ late collapse comes amid reports and speculation about the future of coach Sonny Dykes, who has been tied to the recent openings at Texas Tech (since filled) and later TCU. Dykes emphatically rejects the notion that “stuff” has had any effect on the Mustangs’ play.

In a report in the Dallas Morning News, Dykes said he didn’t know where these rumors originated but discounted their impact.

“I don’t care about that stuff,” he said in the report. “I promise you there’s not one person in the locker room that’s thought one second about any of that, or it affected anybody’s performance, or my performance or anybody else’s. To insinuate that, I think that’s reflective of who insinuates that. You know what I’m saying? Not what we’re doing.”

UCF goes to Dallas sitting alone at third in the conference. The Knights (6-3, 4-2) have won their last three outings after losing three of four following the injury that sidelined starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel.

True freshman Mikey Keene has started the last six games. He is 34 of 46 for 558 yards and seven touchdowns against only one interception in his last two games, both wins (49-7 over Temple, 14-10 over Tulane).

Knights coach Gus Malzahn says Keene is playing with the knowledge that he is a starter, not just a replacement.

“You can see his leadership growing each week, his confidence growing each week,” Malzahn said. “I’d like to think the game is slowing down a little bit for him.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 21, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Southern Methodist Mustangs quarterback Tanner Mordecai (8) runs for a touchdown in the first quarter against the Tulane Green Wave at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Tanner Mordecai accounts for 4 TDs as No. 21 SMU thrashes Tulane

Tanner Mordecai passed for 427 yards and three touchdowns as the 21st-ranked SMU Mustangs remained unbeaten with a 55-26 win over the Tulane Green Wave on Thursday at Ford Stadium.

Mordecai added 34 yards and a touchdown rushing for the Mustangs (7-0, 3-0 American), unbeaten through seven games for the second time in three seasons. SMU started 8-0 in 2019 en route to a 10-3 finish.

The Mustangs amassed 612 yards and scored to cap their first four possessions. After the Green Wave (1-6, 0-3) finally held defensively and SMU kicker Blake Mazza missed a 47-yard field goal midway through the second quarter, Tulane failed to capitalize on the opportunity, committing a penalty on 4th-and-short and subsequently punting the ball back to the Mustangs.

Mordecai followed by engineering a nine-play, 91-yard drive that culminated in his 22-yard pass to Reggie Roberson Jr. That extended SMU’s lead to 31-7 with 53 seconds left in the first half.

SMU dominated the opening 30 minutes, totaling 400 yards on 51 plays while accumulating 22 first downs and possessing the ball for 19:43. Mordecai passed for 300 yards before the break.

The Green Wave showed signs of life in the third quarter, covering 75 yards on seven plays on the opening drive and closing to within 18 points when Michael Pratt connected with Shae Wyatt for an 11-yard score.

Tulane followed with a stop of SMU running back Tre Siggers on fourth down at the Mustangs’ 39, but momentum pivoted when Tulane later attempted a fake field goal. Linebacker Shaine Hailey broke up the pass intended for tight end Will Wallace in the end zone.

SMU responded with an 11-play, 91-yard drive capped by Siggers’ 9-yard scoring run that extended the lead to 38-13. Siggers rushed for 81 yards and two touchdowns.

Pratt passed for 234 yards and three touchdowns before departing in the fourth quarter after taking a crushing blow. Mordecai added a 44-yard scoring pass to Tyler Lavine with 6:01 left.

Danny Gray had eight receptions and 140 yards for the Mustangs.

–Field Level Media

Oct 9, 2021; Annapolis, Maryland, USA;  Southern Methodist Mustangs quarterback Tanner Mordecai (8) signals after a play in the first half against the Navy Midshipmen at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Undefeated No. 21 SMU ‘halfway there,’ ready for Tulane

Every undefeated run through a 12-game, regular-season schedule comes with distinct challenges, and the ability to overcome those obstacles can result in achieving perfection.

On Oct. 9, No. 21 SMU had to push through a historic stretch of futility on the road against Navy plus an early 14-point deficit to keep its unblemished record intact. The Mustangs (6-0, 2-0 American) defeated the Midshipmen 31-24 for their first victory in Annapolis since 1998.

And following a much-needed week off, the Mustangs will resume their season by hosting Tulane (1-5, 0-2) on Thursday in Dallas. SMU has claimed six consecutive series wins, but four of the last five have come by four points or fewer. The Mustangs are unbeaten through six games for the second time in three seasons and are bowl-eligible for a third straight season.

“Halfway there,” SMU coach Sonny Dykes said.

While a sterling defensive effort enabled the Mustangs to rally past Navy — the Midshipmen scored their final touchdown via a fumble return and were limited to a 50-yard field goal in the second half — their high-octane offense remains central to their success thus far this season.

Junior quarterback Tanner Mordecai was a midseason addition to the Maxwell Award Watch List, and his 26 touchdown passes are tied for first in the country and are eight shy of the school single-season mark set by Shane Buechele in 2019. Five different Mustangs have at least three touchdown receptions this season while Danny Gray, Rashee Rice and Reggie Roberson Jr. have all eclipsed 350 receiving yards while combining for 17 touchdown receptions.

Where SMU must continue to make inroads is running the football. Ulysses Bentley IV and Tre Siggers have combined for nearly 800 yards and four touchdowns, but after Navy flooded the secondary with defenders, the Mustangs will surely see more opponents angle to stop the pass.

“We’re going to see a lot of that drop eight (coverage),” Dykes said. “Sometimes it’s hard to try and throw the ball. We’ve got to be able to run it more consistently than we did.”

The Green Wave have dropped all five of their games against FBS programs in 2021, allowing 44.2 points per game in those contests. Like SMU, Tulane hasn’t played in two weeks, suffering a 40-22 setback to Houston on Oct. 7, a loss that continued their string of sluggish starts.

The short week after the off week might provide a pathway to recovery. At least, that’s the hope.

“We did get a little bit of time off and got the guys to recharge their batteries, and I think that’s important on the off-week,” Tulane coach Willie Fritz said. “When we came in on Saturday to prep, I talked about working on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday on what we are going to do on Thursday.

“A lot of times guys try to start experimenting early in the week and then all of a sudden by the time Thursday rolls around they’ve got it kind of locked in on what they want to do. Hopefully, that allows us to start better because we have not started very well the last couple of weeks.”

–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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No. 24 SMU visits Navy, hopes to remain unbeaten

Among 17 unbeaten teams in FBS this season lurks No. 24 SMU, which quietly made its season debut in the Associated Press poll this week.

After going 33 years without cracking the Top 25, the Mustangs (5-0, 1-0 AAC) have earned a ranking in three consecutive seasons under coach Sonny Dykes.

SMU’s next test comes Saturday in Annapolis, Md., against Navy (1-3, 1-1), which is coming off an upset victory for its first win of the year.

“It’s just hard to win. There’s a lot of parity,” Dykes said after the Mustangs’ 41-17 win over South Florida, per the Dallas Morning News. “Everybody plays hard and everybody is well-coached. It’s just a smaller margin for error now than there ever has been in college football.”

SMU has scored at least 35 points in each of its five victories, thanks largely to quarterback Tanner Mordecai. The junior has thrown for 24 touchdowns, tops in the country, and leads the conference with 1,569 passing yards.

Mordecai is in his first season at SMU after transferring from Oklahoma, where he had backed up the likes of Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts and Spencer Rattler.

“He’s done an unbelievable job,” Dykes said of Mordecai. “I think that’s the thing I’ve been most impressed with is just how well he’s handled being the guy. I think he enjoys it. He’s really good at it.”

SMU is 22-6 since the start of the 2019 season. Given how the conference standings are shaking out, the Mustangs could end up being the final ranked opponent that No. 5 Cincinnati must overcome in its quest to be the first Group of Five team to make the College Football Playoff. The two teams will meet Nov. 20.

Navy was a home underdog by up to 16 1/2 points going into last week’s game against UCF, but the Midshipmen scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to pull off a 34-30 upset.

Eight players combined to gain 348 rushing yards for Navy, with new starting quarterback Tai Lavatai running for 57 yards and two touchdowns.

Navy went with Lavatai over former starter Xavier Arline against UCF. Lavatai had returned to full health after missing the start of the season with a lower-body injury.

“The way he ran is kind of how we expected,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said of Lavatai. “We’ve seen that, the third-and-shorts, the fourth-and-shorts where he’s able to get the first down. Those are huge for us just to keep the sticks moving. … It fits into kind of our power running option game, to keep the sticks moving.”

Famous for its triple-option offense, the Midshipmen had 76 total rushing attempts against Central Florida and just four pass attempts.

Navy leads the all-time series 13-9, but SMU has won two of the past three meetings. The Mustangs dropped 51 points on Navy in last year’s victory in Dallas.

–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’s explosive offense takes aim at USF in AAC opener

SMU junior quarterback Tanner Mordecai leads the nation this season with 20 passing touchdowns, a statistic in line with the pass-happy offensive philosophy of Mustangs coach Sonny Dykes.

But what SMU did last weekend against rival TCU should make defensive coordinators across the American Athletic Conference shudder. The Mustangs pounded out 350 rushing yards on 52 attempts in their 42-34 victory, passing the ball just eight times in the second half.

Ulysses Bentley IV (20 carries, 153 yards, one TD) and Tre Siggers (18 carries, 110 yards) surpassed 100 yards rushing for the Mustangs (4-0), who will host South Florida (1-3) on Saturday in the teams’ AAC opener.

“I think everybody was excited and had a lot of confidence about what we were able to do running the football,” Dykes said. “There’s nothing that’s more demoralizing to a football team than when someone can line up and just run right at them.

“We’ve talked about this since I got here, about running the football when everybody in the stadium knows you’re going to do it, and that’s hard to do. To me, that was what was pretty special about it.”

That SMU has developed a balanced offensive attack certainly has made others take notice.

“I think this will be the most talented offense that we’ve played to this point after watching them on video,” Bulls coach Jeff Scott said. “It’ll be a big-time challenge for us.”

The Bulls have grown accustomed to stiff challenges through an unforgiving non-conference schedule. USF rallied from a 21-point, first-quarter deficit last weekend against No. 15 BYU before falling 35-27, but might have discovered a quarterback.

Freshman Timmy McClain engineered five scoring drives over the final six possessions to lift the Bulls back into contention, with an unsuccessful onside kick in the fourth quarter finally stalling momentum.

South Florida incrementally has improved its results against quality competition, rebounding from a 45-point, season-opening loss to North Carolina State to a 22-point setback against Florida before making the Cougars sweat out the final minutes of their hard-earned win.

“I told the players that obviously we’re not happy with our record, but we also need to keep some perspective,” Scott said. “We’re the only team that’s played three teams that are currently ranked in the Top 25. We’ve played the most difficult four-game schedule of any team in the country coming off a season where we won one game. That’s as much adversity as you can have.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 11, 2021; Fort Worth, Texas, USA; TCU Horned Frogs head coach Gary Patterson yells to his team during the first half against the California Golden Bears of the game at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

SMU takes charge in second half, holds off TCU

Tanner Mordecai tossed four touchdown passes while Ulysses Bentley IV rushed for 153 yards and a touchdown as visiting SMU defeated TCU 42-34 on Saturday at Fort Worth, Texas, in the 100th meeting between the teams.

Mordecai, entered leading FBS with 16 touchdown passes, bolstered his total with scoring strikes to four different receivers: Danny Gray, Reggie Roberson Jr., Rashee Rice and Jordan Kerley. Mordecai added his first rushing TD this season and passed for 245 yards.

Bentley paced a dominating ground attack for the Mustangs (4-0) that generated 350 yards. Tre Siggers chipped in 110 rushing yards as SMU amassed 595 total yards and averaged 7.4 yards per play. The Mustangs earned consecutive wins in the series for the first time since 1992-93.

TCU (2-1) matched the Mustangs’ offensive assault prior to halftime but failed to keep pace in the second half.

The Horned Frogs’ Max Duggan passed for 276 yards and three touchdowns while Zach Evans produced 183 total yards and a touchdown. TCU was undone by an early third-quarter turnover and its inability to convert on three Mordecai interceptions.

Explosive plays helped both SMU and TCU to score touchdowns on their first two drives. Mordecai hit Gray for a 68-yard score and SMU led 6-0 on its longest play of the season. The Mustangs pulled ahead 14-7 when Siggers’ 46-yard run led to a 4-yard Mordecai scoring run.

Duggan found Taye Barber for a 60-yard gain on a TCU drive that culminated with Derius Davis’ 13-yard touchdown catch that evened the score at 14-all. Evans’ 46-yard catch-and-run allowed the Horned Frogs to take a 21-14 lead with 13:31 left in the half but the Mustangs kept coming.

Mordecai hit Roberson for a 29-yard touchdown as SMU knotted the score at 21-all early in the second quarter.

Momentum swung on the opening kickoff of the second half when Carter Ware was flagged for holding. Turner Coxe followed with a strip-sack of Duggan that DeVere Levelston recovered at the TCU 3-yard line and Bentley followed two plays later with a 1-yard touchdown run.

When TCU managed only a field goal after a 47-yard return of a Mordecai interception to the SMU 16, Mordecai answered with a 26-yard scoring pass to Kerley.

–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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TCU, SMU ready for 100th edition of Battle for the Iron Skillet

SMU coach Sonny Dykes has done an effective job of building a chip on his team’s collective shoulders, creating an edge based on the notion that the Mustangs remain perennially overlooked as an ascending program in a state where football is forever king.

Last Saturday, following the Mustangs’ 39-37 win at Louisiana Tech courtesy of a Hail Mary pass from Tanner Mordecai to Reggie Roberson Jr., Dykes grasped a result that emphasized one of his tenets for program building. SMU did not yield in sweltering conditions in a road environment and exemplified a philosophy considered cliche: The Mustangs played through the final whistle.

“It goes back to their mentality and the promise that they make to each other to play all 60 minutes regardless of whether we’re ahead or behind,” Dykes said. “I told them afterward at the end of the day you’ll have your whole life to look back on this one. When things aren’t going your way, when there’s a little bit of trouble in your life, adversity, just focus on trying to finish and do the best you can. Don’t ever give up.

“For the rest of your life, you can look back on this and say all I did was show up and try to do my very best, do my job, and something good will happen if you do that. That’s a great lesson for our players, our coaches, everybody.”

Up next for SMU (3-0) is its rivalry game against TCU (2-0) at Amon Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas. It will mark the 100th edition of the Battle for the Iron Skillet, with TCU holding a 51-41-7 series advantage. SMU won the previous meeting 41-38 over No. 25 TCU in 2019 — last year’s meeting was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic — and is seeking back-to-back wins for the first time since 1992-93.

Behind Mordecai, who leads the nation with 16 touchdown passes, the Mustangs are rolling. But Dykes expressed concern over the potential for an emotional letdown on the heels of such a dramatic victory. According to the research of an assistant, teams that win by Hail Mary have a 13 percent success rate the following week, something Dykes believes won’t be an upcoming issue.

“We’re excited to have a chance to play TCU,” Dykes said. “We’re excited to be 3-0. We know what’s at stake. We know what this game means to everybody. We’re always searching for credibility and this is a way to get some credibility.”

Starting with SMU, the Horned Frogs are entering what might be a season-defining stretch of their schedule. TCU will delve fully into the Big 12 slate with Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma right out of the gate, with the games against the Red Raiders and Sooners coming on the road.

At 148-57, TCU has the best record in the state among the 12 FBS programs since 2005. But after winning at least 11 games 10 times from 2003-17, the Horned Frogs are 20-17 since the start of the 2018 season. The desire to climb back to the mountaintop is pressing.

“The only way to get back to winning is you have to do it one at a time,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “This game is just as important or more important than playing Texas next week.”

–Field Level Media