DALLAS – Midway through celebrating a thrilling triple overtime victory, Rutgers captain Jamil Merrell pulled his defense aside and sounded off. Enraged by his and his team’s near choke against SMU, Merrell brought everyone down to Earth.
Play like they did Saturday and Rutgers has no chance against Louisville in the game of the year.
“To me, that just OK,” Merrell said. “Nobody should be comfortable with what we just did. I wasn’t trying to see anybody smiling after that and the way we just played out there. Nobody should be comfortable that we almost lost this.”
Late-game heroics led by true freshman running back Justin Goodwin sent Rutgers home with a 55-52 victory. Merrell has no plans of celebrating the win and will spread the word to his teammates all week.
If Rutgers wants any chance against Louisville, it cannot play like that, Merrell said.
“I’m going to make sure I do my part as a leader of this team to see that guys understand we can do a lot better than that,” Merrell said. “Emotions are going to be high this week.”
In a game filled with decisive plays, Goodwin’s 17-yard run in triple overtime stole the show. Cutting to the outside, Goodwin broke multiple tackles and stretched the ball into the endzone for the win.
The Madison (N.J.) product finished with 222 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. As a true freshman, it is the biggest statistical performance for a Rutgers back since Ray Rice in 2005.
“My coaches prepared me well for this,” said Goodwin, who began the year as a third-team back. “I knew I was well prepared and all I had to do was execute.”
SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert showed why he was a five-star recruit in high school. The Texas transfer put on a show at Gerald J. Ford Stadium, finishing with a stunning 484 yards, five touchdowns and 70 pass attempts.
“I think it’s a team game and we can help out our defense if we capitalize on good field position,” said head coach Kyle Flood. “We did not capitalize on some of the opportunities we had and doing that put our defense in some tough situations. That’s part of what led to the comeback, that and the talented players on the other side of the field.”
While Rutgers (4-1, 1-0) scratched through three overtimes against SMU (1-4, 0-1), Louisville was likely relaxing on the way home after a 30-7 blowout at Temple.
After allowing career games for Fresno State’s Derek Carr and Gilbert, Heisman Trophy candidate Teddy Bridgewater is only five days away.
“We have a lot to study and a lot to work on right now,” said true freshman cornerback Nadir Barnwell, who scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery. “We’re already focused on Louisville and getting ready.”