DALLAS - The beer-bellied Southern Methodist fan, his bald head perspiring in temperatures that would soon top 90 degrees, announced to everyone within earshot that a blowout victory over Washington State was all but certain.
“We’re favored by 25 points!” the man shouted as he waited to enter Ford Stadium. “This must be like a junior high team!”
Much to the SMU fan’s chagrin, Washington State proved to be a high-quality college opponent despite being listed as a 231/2-point underdog. The game was tied at the end of the first and second quarters, but the Mustangs responded with 21 unanswered points to down the Cougars, 35-21, Saturday afternoon.
“A lot of good things happened today … (but) we still don’t know how to finish games,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said. “We don’t know how to play four quarters yet – execute four quarters.”
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SMU (2-1) was led by quarterback Kyle Padron, who passed for 280 yards and four touchdowns and scored on a 13-yard run. Aldrick Robinson caught three TD passes for the Mustangs.
Arguably, the performance was one of the best by a WSU team in Wulff’s three years at the helm. The Cougars racked up 350 total yards, had no fumbles or turnovers and held SMU’s dangerous run-and-shoot offense to 420 yards before 18,184 sweltering spectators.
The Cougars scored a touchdown in the first quarter for the first time since Nov. 8, 2008, against Arizona. The 14-14 halftime tie marked the first time WSU had not trailed at the half since Sept. 20, 2008, against Portland State.
The 14-point margin of defeat was the closest since a 27-14 loss to Arizona State last Oct. 10. The 21 points scored were the most in a road game since a 42-35 victory at Washington on Nov. 24, 2007.
Kyle McCartney scored on a recovered fumble in the end zone, a first for WSU since 2004. Marquess Wilson became the second freshman in school history to record two 100-yard receiving games.
In the end, however, the Cougars lost for the 11th time in 12 games a week after rallying to beat Montana State. WSU’s school-record road losing streak was extended to 16 games – including two “home” games in Seattle.
“We played better football, there’s no question,” Wulff said. “We just need to make a few more plays.”
Wulff said the Cougars also need to draw fewer penalties. Unnecessary roughness calls – neither of which the Cougars thought were legitimate – figured prominently in two SMU scoring drives. A holding call wiped out a 44-yard catch by Wilson.
“We came out in the second half and lost our composure,” Wulff said. “I think that was obvious.”
“In the second half, we didn’t have as much anger,” said safety Deone Bucannon, a true freshman who started when senior Chima Nwachukwu sat out with a neck strain. “Not anger, confidence going. We settled for less.”
The Cougars were shut out in the second half until Wilson hauled in a 68-yard touchdown pass from Jeff Tuel with 1:50 to play. Tuel finished 18-for-33 for 284 yards and two TDs. Wilson caught six passes for 134 yards and had a potential second touchdown catch batted away in the end zone.
Both teams recorded four quarterback sacks. Tuel’s quick feet prevented several others.