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Know Thy Foe: SMU Mustangs

The Knights kick off conference play against a team that blew them out last year

SMU QB Tanner Mordecai
Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We continue previewing all 12 opponents the UCF Knights will face in 2022 with the conference opener against a team that handled UCF easily last season, the SMU Mustangs.

Week 5: SMU Mustangs

Kickoff: Saturday, October 1st, Time TBA, FBC Mortgage Stadium


Series: UCF leads 8-2, 5-0 in Orlando

Last Meeting: Last year — SMU won 55-28 in Dallas

The Knights got off to exactly the kind of start they needed in this game, jumping out to a 14-7 lead in the first, but their hopes were quashed after SMU scored 31 unanswered points before the half. The Mustangs amassed 631 total yards and 36 first downs, and Tanner Mordecai three for 377 yards and three TDs on 37/54 passing.

About the Mustangs

This Season: Picked 4th of 11 teams in The American’s Preseason Media Poll

Last Season: 8-4, 4-4 in The American

SMU started hot, winning their first seven games and reaching as high as #19 in the AP Poll, but it all fell apart down the stretch, starting with a 44-37 loss to Houston where they inexplicably kicked the ball deep to Marcus Jones, who returned it 100 yards for a TD with just 17 seconds left:

SMU collapsed from there, losing four of their last five, and although they were invited to the first Fenway Bowl in Boston against Virginia, that game got canceled due to multiple COVID-19 diagnoses.

Cincinnati’s 2021 Team Stats and Rankings

Category Offense AAC Rank FBS Rank Defense AAC Rank FBS Rank
Category Offense AAC Rank FBS Rank Defense AAC Rank FBS Rank
Rush Yards 173.3 4th 56th 149.1 5th 62nd
Pass Yards 241.2 6th 58th 169.2 1st 2nd
Total Yards 414.5 5th 58th 318.4 2nd 10th
Points 36.4 2nd 13th 16.9 1st 5th

Key Stats: Led The American in 3rd Down Conversions (43.5%) and Fewest Sacks Allowed (1.33/game)

Head Coach: Rhett Lashlee

Rhett Lashlee as SMU’s Offensive Coordinator in 2019
Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Lashlee, a highly-touted coordinator and 39-year-old offensive genius, takes over at SMU for Sonny Dykes, who left for cross-Metroplex rival TCU. Lashlee has moved up quickly in the coaching world, thanks in no small part to his biggest mentor and former high school coach at Shiloh Christian School in Springdale, Arkansas — Gus Malzahn.

Lashlee was a record-smashing QB under Malzahn at Shiloh, going 40-3-2 as a starter and winning two state titles while throwing for 13,201 yards and a then-national record 171 TDs over his four seasons.

Note: You won’t see Gus Malzahn in the above clip because he left Shiloh for Springdale High School in 2001.

Lashlee was recruited to Arkansas but a shoulder injury ended his playing career.

Since then, Malzahn brought him along as the Offensive Coordinator and QB Coach at Arkansas State in 2012, and Auburn from 2013-2016. He left to call plays at UConn in 2017, then went to SMU initially from 2018-2019, and spend 2020 and 2021 at Miami.

2022 will be his first season as a head coach.

Key Players

#8 Tanner Mordecai — QB

Senior | 6-3, 218 lbs | 2021: 308/454 (67.8%), 3628 yards, 39 TD/12 INT, 202 rush yards, 2 rush TDs

Mordecai has found a home at SMU after sitting on the bench at Oklahoma for three years. He’s a Walter Camp, Davey O’Brien, and Maxwell Award Watch-lister coming into 2022. Last season, he was the top passer in The American, and set a new school record with 7 TD passes against Abeline Christian. He threw for 300 yards or more in eight of the Mustangs’ 12 games and was named Second Team All-AAC.

#41 Isaac Slade-Matautia — LB

Senior | 6-1, 235 lbs | 2021: 31 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 2 interceptions

SMU’s defense didn’t have that many highlights last year but the above play by Slade-Matautia was one of them. The former Oregon Duck is one of the most athletic linebackers in The American and could be a surprise all-conference defender when this season is done.

Other Stuff To Know

  • UCF has never lost to SMU at home. The closest the Mustangs ever got was in the 2010 C-USA Championship Game, which UCF won 17-7:
  • UCF has clinched two conference titles at SMU’s expense: The game in 2010, and again in 2013, when UCF beat SMU in frozen Dallas to clinch their first AAC title (there was no AAC Championship game at the time):
  • SMU claims three national titles: 1935 (12-1, won several ratings systems including Sagarin and Houlgate), 1981 (10-1, AP #5, National Championship Foundation) and 1982 (11-0-1, AP #2, won Helms Athletic Foundation title).
  • SMU famously was handed the NCAA Death Penalty in 1987 and did not play football in 1987 and 1988. No FBS team has gotten the Death Penalty since.
  • In the 20 seasons from 1989 (their first season back from the Death Penalty) to 2008 (June Jones’ first year), SMU went 59-164-3 across three different conferences (SWC, WAC and C-USA). In that span, they recorded only three seasons above .500, none with more than 6 wins, and no bowl games. They did, however, post one winless season and six one-win campaigns in that span.
  • In the 12 years since, the Mustangs have gone to seven bowl games under June Jones, Chad Morris (who is now an analyst at South Florida) and Sonny Dykes, who is now at TCU.
  • Jones was hired by A.D. Steve Orsini, who left UCF (where he initiated plans for building FBC Mortgage Stadium) for Dallas in 2006. Orsini was fired, perplexingly, in 2012.
  • SMU hasn’t won a conference title since 1984 in the Southwest Conference.

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