As a testament to SMU, Southern Miss was ranked No. 25 in the Coaches Poll the week following their win over the Mustangs. Now the Golden Eagles are holding that spot in all of the polls.
Tulsa came into last weekend's game with three losses, but look at who those were against – top 10 teams of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State. They had beaten every other opponent pretty handily and were riding a three-game winning streak (now at four).
"Credit to those teams," safety Chris Banjo said. "They were solid teams. But I honestly believe if what we said [in the gameplan and in the locker room] and what did [on the field] were the same thing, we would have come out of those games victorious. It's something you have to put behind you and respond the next week."
Coach June Jones gave credit where it was due also, praising the quarterbacks and the execution of the victor.
"When you have good quarterbacks that have been in the systems like those teams, that's why they're playing well," Jones said. "If you move those guys out of those systems, they play like anybody else."
Coming into the tough two-game road stretch, SMU was high off emotional wins over rival TCU and defending conference champion UCF. Getting blown out of the water by a combined score of 65-10 at the hands of Southern Miss and Tulsa makes it look like the Mustangs were living in the past a bit.
But players and coaches alike deny any sort of hangover.
"We've been saying, ‘This week and this week only' all season," Banjo said. "It doesn't matter who you played a few weeks ago or who we're playing down the road. It's all about this week. If everybody is going by that motto, that shouldn't be an issue at all and I don't think it is. It's unfortunate that we dropped these last two games, but we have to get over it."
Three of SMU's final four games are at home and are winnable. The only way they'll be able to prove there wasn't a hangover – or maybe they'll just admit it later – is if they go 3-1 or 4-0 over this final haul.
But in order for that to happen, heck, in order for SMU to win just one more game and become bowl eligible, both sides of the ball have to give the other a hope and a chance to win.
"When we get in these situations, teams are fragile," Jones said. "It seems like defensively, we don't play at a high level if the offense isn't clicking. That's not how a team needs to be.
"The defense needs to carry you and win and if the defense isn't having a day, the offense needs to carry you and win. We're not feeding off each other. We just seem to be a real fragile team right now."
Jones said he's had teams like this before, but they turned things around when times were gloomy because they were mentally strong.
"Two or three times in Hawaii or [in the NFL with] Atlanta, when we had these kind of teams in these situations, like we'd be down 24-0 to Michigan State [in 2004] and win the game. We were down 28-7 to the Washington Huskies at the half [in 2007] and we got a win to go to the Sugar Bowl. It's a mentality, it's a belief and we're not quite there yet," Jones said.
This team talks the talk and for awhile, they were walking the walk, too. This weekend's game at home against Tulane is huge in the mental department. And every game thereafter will be, too.
"We're trying to respond and get back on the right page," Banjo said. "Especially the older guys. We want to eliminate any sense of panic. The last sense of panic I had here was that 1-11 year [in 2008], so to the new guys who haven't been used to losing a lot, especially dropping two straight, we want to make sure they know that losing is not a part of this team."
Adversity is a word this program is quite familiar with, but it's also one that's easy to forget when things are going well. The five-game winning streak has turned into two straight losses. This team needs to execute better. The quarterback can't throw six interceptions in two games. The defense needs to be more cognizant of forcing turnovers. All aspects of the game need to be more in sync.
"On the first play of the game, I'm thinking we're scoring a touchdown, everybody's thinking we're scoring a touchdown," Jones said. "And that's how the mentality has got to be."
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