What should have been a triumphant Saturday for the SMU Mustangs ended up in gut-wrenching fashion.
SMU clinched its first-ever AAC Championship Game on Saturday, finishing conference play 8-0 after eviscerating Navy, 59-14. But during the second quarter while boasting a 42-7 lead, Mustangs starting quarterback Preston Stone was carted off the field after taking a sack.
An emotional Stone was assisted by two trainers off the field and exited Gerald J. Ford Stadium riding the injury cart, embraced by head coach Rhett Lashlee and safety Jonathan McGill on his way out. Lashlee confirmed Monday in his AAC Championship Game press conference that Stone is out for the remainder of the season with a broken fibula.
“He broke his lower leg and he’ll be out for the remainder of the season,” Lashlee said. “Really unfortunate for him. He had a fantastic season. He may have played his best two halves of football the second half vs. Memphis and the first half last week.”
Although Stone will miss SMU’s first-ever AAC Championship Game and upcoming bowl, Lashlee has no long term fears pertaining to the injury.
“At least from everything we’ve been told, it’s really clean,” Lashlee said. “It’s something that he should make a 100 percent recovery for. I don’t know exactly yet if he’ll be ready by the beginning of spring ball, but I would think by middle of March he should be almost back up throwing and doing everything. He should have a full summer and offseason and be just fine for the future. Unfortunately, his season will come to an end, but he’s gonna be okay long term.”
Prior to exiting in the second quarter against Navy, Stone was 14-of-19 for 322 yards and three touchdowns. His 275 passing yards in the first quarter were the most in a single quarter by any FBS quarterback since 2019.
Stone started all 12 regular season games for the Mustangs, totaling 3,197 yards on a 59.9 completion percentage in his first full season as a starter. The highest-rated recruit in SMU history delivered 28 touchdown passes to only six interceptions, additionally providing four rushing touchdowns and 198 yards on the ground. He hit the 300-yard mark threshold in four games this year, maxing out with a career-best 371 yards in a 69-10 victory over Tulsa. Stone ranks 20th in the FBS in passing yards and 11th in touchdowns. He showed week-to-week improvement, throwing 17 combined touchdowns and one interception in his last seven starts.
“He was just really clicking,” Lashlee said. “I think his growth and development all year has been exceptional. We were really proud of how he performed this year. We’ve got some great quarterbacks in this league, but I think you could argue he’s just as good as any of them. Fortunately for us, there’s probably not a lot of teams that if they lost their starting quarterback could feel as could as we do.”
Backup quarterback Kevin Jennings will start Saturday’s AAC Championship Game vs. Tulane for the Mustangs. SMU recorded eight wins of 18 points or greater this year, and the blowout nature of many contests allowed Jennings substantial fourth quarter playing time. Jennings completed 16-of-20 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season, adding 22 rushing yards and a touchdown in the mobility department.
The only non-blowout Jennings participated in this year was the 36-31 win over Rice where Stone exited in the early fourth quarter due to concussion-like symptoms. Jennings led a field goal drive in his one full series, completing 4-of-6 passes for 37 yards. The redshirt freshman won a state championship with South Oak Cliff in 2021 and was a three-star recruit, ranked the No. 88 quarterback by 247Sports in the class of 2022.
“You can’t replace the experience and production with how Preston was playing, but that’s not what we’re asking Kevin to do,” Lashlee said. “We feel like we have a good team. We feel like if Kevin will just show up and be Kevin, he’s more than enough and we’re excited about it.”