Preview 2017: SMU Mustangs
In Year Three in the Chad Morris era, this is when the whole plan is supposed to create wins.
What You Need To Know About The SMU Offense
Head coach Chad Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock are supposed to get the offense rolling. It’s starting to work through the air, but it’s been a wildly inconsistent O that had a few strange power outages.
The quarterback situation is the biggest question mark. Ben Hicks spent the year bombing away, and he’s the odds-on favorite to retain the gig, but there are other options battling for the right to throw to one of the nation’s top receivers, Courtland Sutton. The receiving corps is loaded, a good quarterback will emerge, and the passing game will hit for well over 3,000 yards.
With Xavier Jones back from injury, he joins Braeden West in a deep and talented backfield, but the veteran offensive line needs to put all the puzzle pieces together. Now there needs to be more balance to the attack.
Biggest Key To The SMU Offense
Score whenever there’s a chance. The offense could move the ball a bit, but it struggled to close out drives with points. The Mustangs had one of the nation’s worst red zone offenses, even with a good year from PK Josh Williams, scoring just 73% of the time. It only really mattered in the loss to South Florida, but two empty trips proved costly in the loss. By comparison, SMU scored 84% of the time inside the 20 in 2015.
What You Need To Know About The SMU Defense
Defensive coordinator Van Malone has the experience to work with, and he has the depth. Now he needs the production.
The line wasn’t consistent at getting behind the line, but Justin Lawler is one of the league’s better pass rushers, and there were bursts when the D stepped it up – like with seven sacks against Houston. Malone – a defensive back’s guy – has a good, attacking secondary that should be okay despite the loss of 11 interceptions from Horace Richardson and Darrion Millines. Be shocked if Jordan Wyatt isn’t one of the AAC’s top corners.
The linebacking corps has to be better, having problems throughout last year against the better running teams and not coming up with enough stops at the point of attack. Kyran Mitchell isn’t all that big, but he’s a good-hitting playmaker on the strongside for a group that should be tougher and more productive overall.
Biggest Key To The SMU Defense
The linebacking corps has to be stronger against the run. Throw out the almost 500 rushing yards and nine touchdowns allowed in the 75-31 season finale against Navy, the run defense didn’t work against just about anyone else who could move the ball, either. The Mustangs were 1-5 when allowing 200 rushing yards or more – only beating Tulane. Outside of games against the Green Wave, SMU is 0-13 over the last two years when allowing more than than two bills.
SMU Will Be Far Better If …
The special teams aren’t awful. To be fair, PK Josh Williams was excellent, hitting 17-of-22 field goals, but that was about it for the SMU special teams. P Jamie Sackville averaged under 40 yards per kick in his freshman season, the kickoff return game was among the nation’s worst, the punt return game was equally as sad, and the coverage teams were occasionally non-existent. SMU isn’t good enough to not be great in the third phase – there’s your difference between going bowling and sitting at home.
Best SMU Offensive Player
WR Courtland Sutton, Jr. – It was hard to receive too much recognition in a league with East Carolina’s record-setting Zay Jones, but Sutton was still one of the league’s top deep threats, catching 74 passes for 1,246 yards and ten scores averaging over 16 yards per grab. At 6-4 and 215 pounds, he’s got the size, and he’s got the dominant ability, grabbing 13 passes for 252 yards and two scores against USF, and hitting the 100-yard mark five times on the season.
2. RB Braeden West, Jr.
3. WR James Proche, Soph.
4. RB Xavier Jones, Jr.
5. C Evan Brown, Sr.
Best SMU Defensive Player
DE Justin Lawler, Sr. – One of the American Athletic Conferences best pass rushers over the last few seasons, the 6-4, 266-pound veteran followed up a five-sack sophomore season with 65 tackles, six sacks, and 15 tackles for loss on the way to an All-AAC season. While 3.5 of his sacks came in the opener against North Texas – and he didn’t crank up a sack in any of his last five games – he was fantastic against Houston and a steady run-stopper throughout the year.
2. LB Kyran Mitchell, Jr.
3. S Rodney Clemons, Jr.
4. CB Jordan Wyatt, Jr.
5. DE Demerick Gary, Soph.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Ben Hicks, Soph. Or Darrel Colbert. Or Rafe Peavey. Or D.J. Gillens. The quarterback situation has to be settled as soon as possible this offseason, with several decent options battling it out, and with no clarity this spring.
Hicks was thrown to the wolves last year as a freshman, and he was fine throwing close to 3,000 yards with 19 scores and two rushing touchdowns. However, the 15 interceptions were a killer. Peavey – an Arkansas transfer – stepped up this spring, finishing with a great spring game performance, and others will get their shot, but if Hicks is solid, the gig might be his again.
The SMU Season Will Be A Success If …
The Mustangs are at least in the mix for the West title. Going to a bowl game is a given for a goal, but this year is when the team is supposed to be more than just competitive. The schedule isn’t easy in conference play, but getting to seven wins and being alive for the division title in November – even if the team isn’t quite good enough to win it – would be a great step forward.
Key Game To The SMU Season
Oct. 7 at Houston Is this the year the Mustangs turn the corner and become a player in the American Athletic Conference? This is the game to prove it one way or another – maybe. The Mustangs pulled off the shocker over the Cougars in last year’s 38-16 win, but it still didn’t lead the way to a bowl season. This year, if the team is good enough to win this game, it should be good enough to do a lot more.
2016 SMU Fun Stats
– 3rd Quarter Scoring: Opponents 120 – SMU 50
– Penalties: Opponents 92 for 866 yards – SMU 69 for 624 yards
– Punt Return Average: Opponents 9.3 – SMU 3.7