Jennings, dominant defense carry No. 25 SMU to AAC title, Win 26-14 over Tulane
— SMU quarterback Kevin Jennings got hit in his throwing arm and fumbled on the first play of his first career start in a conference championship game on the road.
As Jennings came to the sideline, Mustangs coach Rhett Lashlee told him, “That wasn’t your fault.”
“I know,” Jennings answered, and proceeded to play with the poise that SMU needed against a Tulane team that had won 10 straight and was trying to repeat as American Athletic Conference champions.
Jennings threw a touchdown pass and accounted for 266 yards from scrimmage, Collin Rogers kicked four second-half field goals and No. 25 SMU beat No. 17 Tulane 26-14 on Saturday in the AAC title game.
The Mustangs (11-2) also turned in a stifling defensive performance, limiting Tulane (11-2, No. 22 CFP) to a touchdown during the final 59 minutes.
SMU sacked Michael Pratt seven times. Defensive back Isaiah Nwokobia’s interception in the fourth quarter all but sealed it, sending fans to the exits of Yulman Stadium, where the Wave had celebrated its first AAC title a year ago.
Tulane converted just two of 15 third-down plays.
The game took place amid reports that Tulane coach Willie Frtiz is Houston’s top candidate following the Cougars’ firing of Dana Holgorsen. Fritz declined to confirm his intentions after the game and said, “No,” when asked if he had an agreement in place with Houston.
Had Tulane won, it could have returned to a major New Year’s Day bowl game for a second straight year, having defeated USC in last season’s Cotton Bowl. Now either Conference USA champion Liberty or SMU — which ever team winds up higher in the final College Football Playoff rankings — will play in a New Year’s Six bowl.
SMU’s league title was its first since winning the Southwest Conference in 1984. It’ll also be the Mustangs’ last in the AAC. They move to the ACC next season.
Tulane led 7-0 just two plays after SMU received the opening kickoff.
Playing in place of injured Mustangs starter Preston Stone, Jennings was stripped by edge rusher Devean Deal, who also recovered and returned the ball to the 1. Pratt scored on a keeper on the next play.
Both teams await bowl invitations Sunday.