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AAC Championship Recap: SMU Mustangs Hold off the #22 Green Wave of Tulane 26-14

The Southern Methodist Mustangs and Tulane Green Wave meet in the AAC championship for the first time in New Orleans. Tulane would have their top NFL prospect quarterback Michael Pratt for the contest, while SMU would be missing their starting quarterback Preston Stone. It seemed like the Mustangs would be coming in with an automatic disadvantage, however, the result says otherwise. Let's break it down.

Game Summary

Tulane would start strong by capitalizing off an SMU turnover, going up 7-0. SMU's offense looked shaky and unconfident on their first drive out, which could have spelled trouble. They would then miss a field goal to give the ball back to Tulane, where the Green Wave could have capitalized and went up 14, spelling real trouble. Luckily, SMU's defense is one of the best if not the best in the Group of 5, and they proved it by holding the normally explosive Green Wave offense to just 14 points. Their run of dominance this game began with a 3 and out on this ensuing drive, where Charles Woods would block a punt setting up the SMU offense with fantastic field position. SMU would then tie the game and never look back. They would score again off another stop by their defense making it 14-7 going into the half, and would never give up the lead. Tulane would tie it just once off a Michael Pratt pass to Yulkeith Brown, potentially signaling Tulane getting back into the game with 8:46 left in the 3rd tied 14-14, but it was not to be. The SMU offense found their rhythm and did just enough to guarantee the win, scoring just field goals for the rest of the game, yes, but the SMU defense showed their dominance in making sure that 42-yard score to tie it would be the last point the Green Wave would get. SMU would win the AAC championship for the first time, even without their star QB Preston Stone. A statement win.

Turning Point of the GAme

The turning point happened fairly early in the game. Given that SMU held the momentum for the large majority of the game, there wasn't any other point where they 'turned the tide' other than this moment. That moment was the blocked punt by Charles Woods. It looked like the SMU defense would have their work cut out for them for the rest of this game. They have a defense that has been arguably the best in the Group of 5, however, would they be able to do enough to hold off this Green Wave offense, and would the SMU offense be able to put up enough scores to make those stops worthwhile? Lots of questions were in the air, but then, it happened. On 4th down, Charles Woods would block the Tulane punt and give his Mustangs excellent field position. The Mustangs would score the touchdown to tie it and have new life injected into them. They would put up another touchdown to go up 7 and their defense would hold Tulane to just 7 more points. SMU's offense would just have to put up field goals to keep the lead alive. That spark that Woods provided was the difference maker because if it didn't happen, SMU would perhaps not have the energy and motivation to withstand the Tulane attack.

Tulane Player of the Game: Yulkeith Brown

Michael Pratt had a solid game, but certainly not his best. He could have done more to win this game, but the SMU defense simply shut him down and forced him into costly mistakes. Yulkeith Brown gets team player of the game honors for making 5 receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown. Brown has been climbing the ladder of leading receivers for Tulane since the injuries sustained to the receiving corps, racking up 238 yards off 23 receptions throughout the season. He showed his worth here in this game even though the Green Wave lost, and will hopefully see more playing time in his upcoming senior year.

SMU Player of the Game: Jaylan Knighton

With the injury to Preston Stone and backup QB Kevin Jennings struggling, someone had to step up on the SMU offense. Considering the player of the game cannot be an entire unit (like the SMU defense, which would win this honor if it worked like that) Jaylan Knighton serves as the next man up. Knighton rushed for 15 carries and 75 yards for a 5.0 average yards/carry. He would also score the touchdown to tie it in the first quarter. Knighton allowed this offense to keep its head above water and keep ahead throughout the game. The effort of the senior needs to be recognized, as it wasn't just the defense that kept the Mustangs ahead throughout.

Conclusion - AAC Championship

The Mustangs and Green Wave will both have to wait to see where they end up regarding a bowl. With the championship, the Mustangs do have a shot at getting a New Year's Six bid, stealing it right out from under the Green Wave, who would have had their second straight NY6 appearance. The Mustangs capped off their resilient, surprising season with an AAC championship, while the Green Wave ended what was a great but injury-riddled season in disappointment.


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