August 23, 2007

Mustangs to emphasize getting it done on short yardage

SMU coach Phil Bennett called it one of the most frustrating moments of his career, staring at two series of first-and-goal plays at the Rice 1-yard line - six chances to score - only to come away with two field goals.

Some teams can get away with a slip or two like that. Not teams scratching for every yard, and certainly not teams playing for a rare winning record and their first bowl bid in a generation.

Short yardage situations such as that one became a glaring focal point in three critical losses for SMU in 2006. In a 24-21 loss at UTEP, SMU was 0-11 on third down conversions. SMU and Houston were tied, 24-24, with 12 minutes left when the Mustangs had a first-and-goal at the Cougars' 10. Justin Willis was sacked on third down, leading to a field goal. Houston came back to win, 37-27.

The two series at Rice may forever haunt SMU coaches and fans. The missed opportunities overshadowed the rest of a 31-27 loss that cost the Mustangs a bowl bid, and maybe even the whole season. Even more frustrating for SMU is that three of those six plays resulted in losses, including two third-down sacks against Willis. SMU converted only 14 percent of its third down plays against Rice, its second-lowest mark of the season behind the UTEP game.

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