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Sonny Dykes knows Mustangs must play better, but won’t apologize for SMU’s hard-fought OT win at Tulane

Chris Naggar came through again, kicking the game-winning field goal.

Chris Naggar walked off the field, looking almost angry at himself for missing a 57-yard game-winning field goal attempt in regulation. That kick nicked off the right upright, having more than enough distance, just not the accuracy.

When he game back out in overtime for a 35-yarder, also with a chance to win, it was a relative piece of cake — even with a suspect snap. The kick gave SMU a 37-34 overtime win in a game that featured six lead changes and three ties. The Mustangs scraped by again to start the season 5-0 for the second-straight year, with a 2-0 AAC record.

For Naggar, it was his second straight game-winning field goal. He also won the game for SMU against Memphis with a few ticks on the clock.

“I told them a second ago that, ‘If you ever want to have a special season, you’ve got to win some football games like this,’” said coach Sonny Dykes. “Where you don’t play your best, and you just figure out how to do it, and you do it just because you play so hard.”

The Mustangs were missing their starting wide receiver in Reggie Roberson Jr. They were missing their starting running back in TJ McDaniel. But they had a plethora of options that continually made big plays.

Danny Gray had 165 all-purpose yards, including a 32-yard touchdown run. Rashee Rice, who had been struggling the last two games, had 139 yards and a touchdown. Kylen Granson and Tyler Page combined for 162 receiving yards. And a game after a stagnant 32-yard performance against Tulane, new starting running back Ulysses Bentley IV had 94 yards and a touchdown.

QB Shane Buechele threw for 384 yards, with 240 of those yards coming on third down. SMU was 10 of 18 on third down, and faced an average of 8.4 yards to go on those third downs. It was what got the Mustangs this win.

“We’re going to have to play better than we did tonight to have a chance to have the kind of season we want have,” Dykes said. “But we’re not apologizing for going on the road and winning a hard-fought game.”

The Mustangs were down for the first time all season. They trailed 7-0 at the outset, following a muffed punt by T.Q. Jackson, who struggled mightily as the returner.

But each time, SMU kept coming back, and it was via big plays. A 42-yard toss to Granson, followed by Gray’s long rush into the pylon tied it up.

The 14-10 deficit was erased after a big 37-yard toss to Rice, before he made a 10-yard TD catch.

The 24-17 deficit was made up on a trick play throw from Page to Rice. That was for 55 yards and then 15 yards were added on a face mask.

There were four Tulane leads, and none lasted more than a few minutes. Each time the Green Wave got the lead, SMU came right back.

The Mustangs hurt themselves with penalties, including six in the first half. Jackson’s muffed punt, plus a few other bad returns, hurt SMU’s cause. As did Naggar’s first missed field goal attempt of the season in the first half. SMU even allowed Tulane to convert on a third-and-39 in the fourth quarter.

But for all of the sloppiness that SMU exhibited, long downfield throws seemed to always be an answer. In one-on-one situations, the receivers always seemed to haul it in.

Tulane, in its first two conference games, blew sizable leads to Navy and Houston. SMU never got a huge deficit in this game, but it came back nonetheless.

In overtime, it was a swift finish. Before it started, defensive back Brandon Crossley heard Dykes tell Buechele to get the team on defense first, when he went out for the coin toss.

After Crossley heard it, he just kept repeating it to Buechele, too. It’s the conventional choice for overtime, but Crossley used it as a personal challenge to come through.

And he did, getting the interception three plays into Tulane’s possession.

“The interceptions come during the week, honestly,” said Crossley, who has three interceptions in his last three games. “If I’m around the ball 20 times in practice, I can get one in the game.”

Then SMU played conservatively on its own offensive possession. It ran three times to set up Naggar. Even with a shaky snap, the senior booted it home.

SMU might not be dominating teams, especially without its two key starters. By the end of the night, Rice was on the sideline, battling through cramps.

Gray was grimacing on every play he made, saying later he was injured. But they both came through because they were needed.

And because of it, SMU is eking out wins, and staying perfect in the process.

“We knew we had to step up, we knew we had to come in and make plays because everyone knows Reggie was our No. 1 receiver,” Gray said. “We came out, we fought hard.”

Find more SMU coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.

Sam Blum, Staff Writer. Sam covers SMU athletics and the Texas Rangers for The Dallas Morning News, and previously covered Auburn University athletics for AL.com. He's also covered University of Virginia athletics for The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. He graduated from Syracuse University.

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