SMU shuts down Pittsburgh
Mustangs get up early, hold off Panthers in Compass Bowl
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- SMU has not lost this season when it scores first or puts up at least 21 points.
The Mustangs were quick to check off both benchmarks to give coach June Jones his 100th collegiate win.
SMU put up three first-quarter touchdowns, including scoring runs and passes by J.J. McDermott, to beat Pittsburgh 28-6 Saturday in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
“I’m really proud of the defense,” Jones said. “Really the defense has been that way all year. They’ve been the reason we’ve won eight games. We haven’t been as sharp on offense as we’ve been in years past.”
Rishaad Wimbley ran for two scores for SMU (8-5), which tied a school record by playing in its third consecutive bowl under Jones. Before Jones’ arrival in in 2008, SMU had played in the postseason since beating Notre Dame in the 1984 Aloha Bowl.
Jones said he didn’t talk to his players about his approaching milestone, but he said his 100th win as a college coach “means a lot to me.”
“I’ll never forget these guys for that win,” he said.
McDermott completed 16 of 26 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown, to Darius Johnson early in the first.
Pittsburgh (6-7) was held without a first down and fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter. Kevin Harper kicked field goals of 32 and 34 yards.
The Panthers were coached by defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, who took over after Todd Graham left to coach at Arizona State. It was Patterson last game before he starts his new job as the defensive coordinator at Arkansas State.
“The one thing I kept challenging everybody on the team to do is to finish,” Patterson said, adding there were many distractions for players and coaches.
“But I felt really good about the effort that they gave,” he said. “They represented as well as they possibly could.”
Pittsburgh’s newly hired coach, former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, flew into Birmingham on Saturday and watched the game from the press box level.
Chryst visited with Pitt alumni and fans before the game. He said he wanted to maintain a respectful distance from the team until the game ended, signaling the start of his era.
“This is the culmination of their season,” Chryst said. “This wasn’t me.”
Chryst said he has “a lot of appreciation for how they’re finishing things out” after Graham’s unexpected exit.
McDermott beat Pitt’s blitz when lobbed a 50-yard touchdown pass to Johnson for the Mustangs’ first touchdown.
Johnson had seven catches for 120 yards and was named the game’s MVP. The 50-yard catch was the longest in the six-year history of the bowl.
“We talked about it on the sideline and we knew it was going to be open, Johnson said. “I just had to make the catch.”
After McDermott’s 1-yard run capped an eight-play drive to push the lead to 14-0, Ja’Gared Davis hit Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Taylor Reed at the Panthers’ 27.
McDermott’s 19-yard pass to Cole Beasley set up Wimbley’s 2-yard touchdown run.
Wimbley added a 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Pitt was making its second consecutive appearance in the bowl after beating Kentucky in last year’s game.
A series of key plays went against Pitt in the second quarter. Following the field goal, Pitt recovered an onside kick, but the officials said there was an inadvertent whistle before the ball was recovered. Pitt fans booed as the officials said another kickoff was necessary.
“Both officials came over and apologized to me and said they made a bad call,” Patterson said. “They were very apologetic. There’s nothing you can do about that. But that was a big momentum-changer. It kind of got us into the game a little bit. We were fired up from that point on.”
With SMU still leading 21-3 later in the quarter, Pitt drove from its 16 to a first and goal at the Mustangs’ 10. On third down from the 5, Sunseri’s pass bounced off tailback Isaac Bennett. The deflection was caught by SMU linebacker Stephon Sanders for an interception.
The half ended with Pitt again coming away with no points at the end of a long drive. Harper’s 47-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright to end a 14-play drive.
Jones said SMU running back Jared Williams suffered a probable broken left leg in the fourth quarter. Williams’ left leg was placed in a brace before he was placed on a stretcher.
“That’s probably a better injury to have than tearing up a knee,” Jones said.
Williams led the Mustangs with 11 carries for 40 yards before the injury.
Sunseri was 19 of 28 passing for 183 yards with an interception.