SMU

SMU Mustangs Football Preview 2016


SMU football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Mustangs, best players and season prediction.


Top 10 SMU Players You Need To Know

It’s Year 2 for Chad Morris on the Hilltop, and a chance to guide the Mustangs one step closer to respectability.

In his first year after leaving Clemson for SMU, Morris and his kids took their lumps in 2015, getting outclassed on a weekly basis. The final tally, two wins and 10 losses, was fully expected, yet still represented the foundation on which a future is being built.

Morris wasn’t brought aboard to engineer an overnight turnaround. He was lured away from Dabo Swinney’s staff to gradually build a winner in Dallas and clean up the mess that was left behind at the tail end of the June Jones. Morris wants more than just wins. He’s crafting a sustainable model for success, with its basis rooted in landing more of the state’s second-tier high school recruits.

But it’s going to take time, which is exactly what the administration plans to afford this staff.

Morris has opened up every position for competition, because that’s what a coach does after his team allows at least 40 points in nine of 12 games. The defense will again be well behind the offense in 2016, though some sort of progress is expected now that coordinator Van Malone has had a full season to implement his system. DE Justin Lawler is a budding star, but the team will need a handful more like him to avoid ranking near the bottom of the AAC for a third straight year.

It’s on offense, Morris’ specialty, that SMU will have its best chance to compete at a higher level in 2016. The Mustangs’ starting quarterback, Matt Davis, top two backs, Xavier Jones and Braeden West, and ace receiver, Courtland Sutton, are all back from last year. And Morris won’t be timid about making a change behind center if he feels rookie Ben Hicks can outplay Davis. It’s in the trenches where the team’s greatest offensive worry dwells.

SMU used a slew of underclassmen in 2015, with an eye toward being more formidable this fall. Continued growth is anticipated, especially if a couple of capable linemen, like Texas transfer C Jake Raulerson, emerge on both sides of the ball. Morris is going to reach his destination with the Mustangs, even if it takes a few seasons for him to get there. The bigger uncertainty is whether the program at that point can hold on to its coach, who’s still widely considered one of the sharpest offensive minds in the game.

Biggest Key To The SMU Offense
/> A pony race at quarterback. Chad Morris has made it clear that starting jobs in Dallas aren’t lifetime appointments. And that includes incumbent Matt Davis, who has yet to officially lock down the gig, despite sparking the offense last year. Sophomore Darrel Colbert and especially redshirt freshman Ben Hicks are making Davis work to keep his job. Hicks was one of Morris’ first big recruits with the program, and he has the arm talent to ignite the Mustang passing attack with a huge fall camp in August.

Biggest Key To The SMU Offense
/> A pony race at quarterback. Chad Morris has made it clear that starting jobs in Dallas aren’t lifetime appointments. And that includes incumbent Matt Davis, who has yet to officially lock down the gig, despite sparking the offense last year. Sophomore Darrel Colbert and especially redshirt freshman Ben Hicks are making Davis work to keep his job. Hicks was one of Morris’ first big recruits with the program, and he has the arm talent to ignite the Mustang passing attack with a huge fall camp in August.

Biggest Key To The Defense
The Mustang D has gotten progressively worse in each of the last four years, culminating in last season’s abomination. SMU ranked near the bottom of the country in many statistical categories, including yielding more than 45 points per game and seven yards a play.

It’s from those depths of despair that coordinator Van Malone and his staff of assistants will attempt to approach mediocrity in 2016. As spring drills came to an end, the team had one certainty, do-everything DE Justin Lawler, and a laundry list of concerns.

The Mustangs literally had problems everywhere last season, so there’s an APB out for players who can defend the run, jump passing lanes and create turnovers. CB Justin Wyatt and NT Mason Gentry flash upside, and there’s hope that promising LB Kyran Mitchell can return from last November’s injury. But it’s unrealistic to expect appreciably better results from a defense deficient in surefire stoppers.

What to Watch For on the SMU Defense

Mason fix’n line? The Mustangs have one star, DE Justin Lawler, and plenty of question marks up front. There’s cautious optimism that junior Mason Gentry can begin providing answers at nose tackle. While he’s underachieved to this point, he’s got terrific size for the position, 6-6, 305 pounds, and more than enough motivation to begin turning the corner. SMU desperately needs an inside-outside presence along the D-line to have any shot of controlling the point of attack.

SMU Will Be Far Better If …

the run defense makes strides. An overnight turnaround is not happening. Not after the Mustangs yielded 5.8 yards a carry to rank 125th in the country. But even small steps in the right direction will profoundly impact both sides of the ball. There’s a physical and psychological toll to getting bullied at the line of scrimmage. And neither defensive—nor offensive—progress will be possible if SMU can’t do a better job of filling running lanes and preventing yards after contact.

Best Offensive Player

Sophomore WR Courtland Sutton. It took just one season for Sutton to show that he’s a Big 12-caliber weapon playing against AAC competition. He has terrific size and athleticism, even playing for the Mustang hoops team once football ended. Once raw, Sutton continues to work hard at refining his fundamentals and ball skills, the hallmarks of a receiver who’s going to be even more dangerous in his second year.

Best Defensive Player

Junior DE Justin Lawler. Lawler is SMU’s premier defender … and it’s not even close. He’ll do it all for the Mustangs, leading last year’s team in both tackles and sacks. Lawler possesses the quickness to make plays behind the line and the toughness to hold up against the run. And he’ll play the game with the intensity and focus that will have a positive effect on the rest of the teammates in the huddle.

Key Player to a Successful Season

Sophomore CB Jordan Wyatt. No, Wyatt won’t singlehandedly transform the disheveled Mustang D. No individual has that kind of talent. But he can be an agent of change in a secondary that was carved up for more than nine yards an attempt last season. Wyatt laid a decent foundation as a rookie safety in 2015, making 31 tackles, two picks and four pass breakups. And now that he’s moved to cornerback, the staff is counting on him to take the next step in his development as a pass defender.

The Season Will Be a Success If …

SMU is noticeably more competitive in November than in September. It’s still a little early to use wins and losses as the primary barometer of progress in Chad Morris’ second season on the Hilltop, though four victories certainly doesn’t seem unrealistic. However, considering the amount of work that needs to be done, especially on defense and the O-line, 2016 is more about leaning forward and building a head of steam toward 2017.

Key Game

Sept. 3 at North Texas. It’s imperative that SMU hit the ground running in 2016, especially after closing last year by allowing at least 55 points to three of the final four opponents. The Mean Green is an ideal team against which to build momentum and confidence. North Texas was even worse than the Mustangs last fall, and it’s rebuilding around Seth Littrell’s new staff. SMU needs to roll when it can, particularly since the opening month also includes games with the Big 12’s Baylor and SMU.

2015 Fun Stats

– Points per game: SMU 27.8 – Opponents 45.7
– Fumbles: SMU 31 – Opponents 15
– Sacks: SMU 16 – Opponents 41