If Rod Taylor was at Gerald J. Ford Stadium last Saturday to watch SMU play UAB, he would have been the happiest individual in the stands. There is finally proof that time machines exist and work.
Viewing the Mustangs' 28-7 victory over the UAB Blazers, one would have the game was transported back to 1982 when Bobby Collins patrolled the sidelines, and the "Pony Express" featured Eric Dickerson and Craig James taking turns running around and through opposing defenses.
The game was an incredible event to witness. Coach June Jones actually emphasized the "run" element of the run and shoot offense. In 2008, the leading rusher for SMU had just 190 yards.
For the game, Southern Methodist rushed for 247 yards and passed for 174 yards. Saturday marked the first time that SMU gained more yardage rushing than passing since the Jones era started in 2008. In the contest against Houston last season, the Mustangs came close to achieving the feat when they ran for 197 yards and passed for 200.
Jones started Darryl Fields at running back to give SMU more speed at the position. Fields started the festivities off with a 28-yard kick return. Fields gained 27 yards on his first five carries of the game, three of which resulted in first downs.
Despite the early success of Fields, SMU still displayed the characteristics of a pass-first team. However, SMU struggled to complete passes downfield and succeed on third-down passing plays.
UAB actually took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when the Blazers converted on a nine-yard scoring drive that was created when Patrick Fleming fumbled a completed pass from quarterback Kyle Padron and Blazer defensive tackle D.J. Reese picked up the loose ball and returned it 15 yards.
The complexion of the game changed when Fields left the game with a bruised thigh late in the first quarter. Sophomore Zach Line entered the game and took it over. Weighing in at 235 lbs, Line is not known for his speed but was elusive enough to break free for large gains.
Line finished the game with 122 yards and two rushing touchdowns on 16 carries. Saturday marked the first time Line ran for at least 100 yards in a game.
UAB quarterback David Isabelle was heralded as a dangerous runner, but Padron rushed for a career-high 66 yards while Isabelle accumulated just 34 rushing yards. Despite the success of Line, the Blazers continued to respect SMU's four-receiver formations, which left lanes for Padron to run through when he could not find an open teammate.
Although the Mustangs dominated the game, the Blazers lost a scoring opportunity when they had the ball on SMU's one-yard line, but a fumbled snap was the last play of the first half. SMU kept UAB from scoring a touchdown in the third quarter when strong safety Ryan Smith forced Blazer wide receiver Frantrell Forrest to fumble the ball out of SMU's endzone for a touchback.
It was nice to see a flashback to 1982, but fans should expect to see a radical change in SMU's offensive strategy or a long winning streak. Dickerson and James accounted for 8,192 rushing yards and 70 rushing touchdowns in their careers. SMU has a solid team, but the 1982 Mustangs finished No. 2 in the country with a 10-0-1 record.
The trio of Line, Fields, and Padron will not come anywhere close to the accomplishments of the "Pony Express." However, the running game may continue to be utilized more frequently until the Mustangs can find a dependable third-down receiver.
Last season, Emmanuel Sanders was a reliable weapon in the middle of the field. Aldrick Robinson has a similar build to Sanders but would rather catches passes near the sidelines. SMU is currently struggling to find plays that will work in clutch situations.
Coming up on the schedule, SMU has a home game with the Washington State Cougars followed by a contest against the TCU Horned Frogs in the Battle for the Iron Skillet at Ford Stadium. It will be interesting to see what the ratio between running plays and passing plays will be.
What happened on Saturday was probably a once in a lifetime event, but it was wonderful to see the dreams of H. George Wells come to life.
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