ACU dropped its 100th season of football opener against SMU at Gerald J. Ford Stadium on Saturday night, 56-9.
“Obviously, we want to win every game, and we’re trying to but evaluating players tonight was very important for us,” said head coach Adam Dorrel. “I don’t think we had a guy play over 35 snaps tonight, which was a real positive. Things that are disappointing are the turnovers. When you play a good football team, you can’t turn the ball over.”
The Wildcats were only down by seven at the end of the first quarter, but a 28-3 second quarter from the Mustangs blew the game wide open.
“We gotta learn from our mistakes and put this game away,” Dorrel said. “Monday night when the guys show up to the complex, it’s just a walk-through and getting ready for Louisiana College. Obviously, if you can play well at the home opener, it makes people wanna come out for the second home game. We want to put on a good performance for our home fans, and we’re gonna have a lot of recruits at the game, so we’re excited to be home.”
The Wildcats were 0-8 for third-down conversions at the end of the first half but were 5-8 during the second half.
“Third down conversions are something we work and talk about extensively,” Dorrel said. “It’s all about situational football. We did a horrible job in the first half of converting our third downs, but I thought it was better in the second half. It’s something we’ve gotta go back and look at and see what we’re doing good and what we’re doing bad.”
ACU started a lot of newcomers tonight, including a redshirt freshman quarterback Stone Earle. Earle finished the game 13-28 with 160 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Peyton Mansell came into the game late and finished 2-8 with 53 yards and threw a pick with seven seconds left in the fourth quarter.
“It’s always fun to play football,” Earle said. “We played against a great team, and it was fun competing even though we didn’t get the outcome we wanted. We had a lot of guys get experience tonight, which will only help us later on in the season. I know we’re gonna be pretty special; we just gotta clean up a few things.”
Oklahoma transfer SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai torched the ACU defense, totaling 317 yards on 24-30 passing and a Mustang record seven passing touchdowns on his debut. His seven touchdowns also tied the American Athletic Conference record for touchdowns in a game.
“I thought Mordecai played really well tonight,” Dorrel said. “I think it’s been about two years since Mordecai started a football game. We really tried to get some early scores to keep pace with them and put some pressure on them at the half, but ultimately we weren’t able to.”
One of the game’s highlights for ACU was junior wide receiver Kobe Clark’s six receptions, 89 yards and a touchdown performance. Clark missed half of fall camp with a minor injury but showed out against the Mustangs.
“I felt great the whole game,” Clark said. “The coaches helped a lot by rotating through the depth we have at the receiver position. I was kinda worried about my touchdown play when I looked at the defense, but they ended up blitzing and a good play call. Stone threw a nice ball to me, and I was able to get into the end zone.”
Next up, the Wildcats head home for a matchup with an NAIA opponent in the Louisiana College Wildcats (0-2) at 6 p.m. Last season Div. II program Angelo State beat ACU at home 34-21.
“Getting complacent is something we’ve struggled with in my tenure here at ACU, which is very frustrating to me,” Dorrel said. “One of the things I’m gonna emphasize this year is competitive maturity regardless of the opponent. I’ve perused Louisiana College, and they’ve got some dudes. I’m hoping when the guys see that, it’s a huge motivator for them. We wanna play good football.”
The home opener at Anthony Field will begin at 6 p.m. next Saturday, with the game streaming live on ESPN+.