SMU fends off UConn 38-21BY LARY BUMP , Associated Press
Nov. 16, 2013 8:02 PM ET
DALLAS (AP) — For SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert, Saturday's 38-21 victory over Connecticut was just another game in a record-breaking season.
He threw four touchdown passes to help SMU hold off the Huskies.
The national leader in total offense at 409.4 yards per game before Saturday, Gilbert passed for 353 yards and ran for 23 against UConn.
His eighth 300-plus-yard passing game this season set a Mustangs record.
Gilbert said of the record, "It's a huge product of how much work as an offensive unit that we've put in. We continue to get better. The success yardage-wise is attributable to those guys. We keep working to get better."
He also set an SMU season record with 316 completions, through just nine games.
SMU (4-5, 3-2 American Athletic Conference) improved its chance of becoming bowl eligible for a fifth consecutive year. The Mustangs must win two of their final three games.
UConn (0-9, 0-5) stayed within a touchdown of SMU until 3:50 remained in the game.
At that point, SMU's Chase Hover kicked a 27-yard field goal, set up by Connecticut's 14-yard punt.
Three plays after that, UConn committed its first turnover. Under pressure, quarterback Casey Cochran threw an interception that SMU's Stephon Sanders returned 35 yards for a touchdown.
"They blitzed," Cochran said. "I was trying to get it our early, I got hit and I either need to throw it out of bounds or go down."
Sanders said, "I was just playing the defense like we're supposed to. It was a fire zone there, and when that happens, the ball comes out quick.
"I just took one step at a time. The first was having to catch it. I just saw the end zone and kept running."
Gilbert completed 33 of 52 passes, including two touchdowns each to Jeremy Johnson and Keenan Holman. Johnson finished with 12 catches for 71 yards. Holman had 8 for 88 yards, and teammate Der'rikk Thompson caught 5 for 113.
The Mustangs came in with a minus-7 turnover differential, but did not turn the ball over for the second consecutive game. UConn gave up two interceptions, to Sanders and Darrion Richardson.
"This week, that was the difference in the game," Jones said.
He also praised the Mustangs' offensive line.
"(AAC teams) are more physical than what we have been playing against. When you're throwing the ball 52 times, you're going to have some seepage. With the size of their front four, a bigger line, (SMU's linemen) competed pretty hard.
"We have to do everything right, and I am proud of Garrett."
Gilbert said of his pass protectors, "They're doing a great job. They've really come together to play as a unit. It all starts with them."
For UConn, Cochran passed for 227 yards and two scores, and Max DeLorenzo ran for a touchdown. Lyle McCombs led the Huskies with 103 rushing yards in 17 carries.
SMU scored first with 3:35 remaining in the first quarter on Gilbert's 1-yard pass to Holman. He made a leaping catch at the back of the end zone and came down with one foot in bounds.
On the previous play, Gilbert had appeared to score on a run from 24 yards out. A review showed that he stepped out of bounds a yard short.
The first quarter ended with the Mustangs leading 7-0.
They extended the lead to 14-0 on Gilbert's 4-yard pass to Johnson. It capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive.
The Huskies answered with a 75-yard drive that ended with DeLorenzo's 2-yard touchdown run. Penalties on SMU for a horse-collar tackle and pass interference in the end zone helped UConn move into position to score.
In hurry-up mode, Gilbert drove the Mustangs 70 yards in 10 plays and 2:10. A 5-yard TD pass to Johnson produced a 21-7 lead 18 seconds before halftime.
UConn stopped the Mustangs on their first possession of the second half. Redshirt freshman Cochran, making his first start, then led a 62-yard drive. He threw a 1-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to tight end Sean McQuillan.
The Huskies had another chance to score in the quarter, but a fourth-down pass was tipped and fell incomplete.
That gave SMU the ball on its 26 yard line. Two short passes, with two missed tackles turning the plays into long gains, increased the Mustangs' lead to 28-14.
Thompson slipped a tackle for a 54-yard gain to Connecticut's 20. On the next play, Holman broke a tackle for his second touchdown of the game.
Johnson said, "They were playing a lot of Cover-4 that wouldn't let us out behind them. They did a good job not letting us get deep."
The Mustangs were disadvantaged after Darius Joseph, the team leader with 76 catches entering the game, left in the second quarter because of an injury.
Gilbert said, "We have so much depth at receiver. When a guy like (Joseph) goes down, we know that the next guy stepping up has got to be ready and I've got full confidence in those guys."
Jones said he didn't know the extent of Joseph's injury.
UConn's offense wasn't bothered by the two-TD deficit. The Huskies scored on a 26-yard pass from Cochran to team receiving leader Geremy Davis. It was his first touchdown this season. He led UConn with six catches for 77 yards, bringing his season totals to 47 for 697.