SMU did better than expected in 2016 and yet somehow there's a feeling that SMU underachieved by missing a bowl game. 5-7 is nothing to sneeze at compared to where SMU was when Chad Morris inherited the program.
We harp on this because it's critical, what's the identity of a program? In other words, beyond the "core values" and marketing, what does a program do well? What do they do that makes them special, potent, or hard to deal with? If a program isn't intentional about what it wants to do, it's just hoping things go right and hope ain't a strategy.
From his time in the high school ranks in Texas Chad Morris has been an offensive visionary. It was offense that got him his first collegiate gig jumping straight from high school to Tulsa as an offensive coordinator. At SMU his offense is rounding into form. Last year it was predicated on Matt Davis running for his life and making a play. This season we saw a more balanced attack. The young core of skill players that Morris has amassed makes them a threat for a huge jump. They have Power 5 edge players and they are all young.
Defensively the Mustangs improved a bit in year two under Van Malone. SMU went from 119th to 102nd in total defense. The Mustangs still struggle to stop people. Ask Navy, the Midshipmen dropped 75 on SMU on the Hilltop to finish the season. That was a few weeks after Memphis came calling and put a 51-7 drubbing on the Mustangs.
Because of SMU's offensive tempo and philosophy their defense will be asked to face more plays per game and will be put in tougher situations than non pace and space teams. SMU gave up 36 points a game. That number rose to 41 against conference competition.
Here's the catch, for all the young talent on offense, the defense was made up of mostly veteran hands, the most productive of which are graduating. If SMU is going to take a step on defense, Malone and Co. will do it with young players. It may get worse before it gets better.
The biggest coup without a doubt was that SMU kept Morris on the payroll for 2017. In November it seemed inevitable he'd be coaching in Waco. Perhaps it was the way SMU crawled in to finish 2016, but Morris is back and that does nothing but help the Mustangs moving forward. Year three should continue the upward trajectory of the program. Morris has turned over the roster, he's made headway recruiting, and this season his work translated into a three win improvement.
Whether Houston was beat up or disinterested SMU beat an 11th ranked Cougar team on National TV. Heck a passel of SMU frat boys even saw fit to rush the field. SMU boat raced the Cougars that night, putting a final nail in the playoff hopes of Herman's crew. SMU became an overnight success story, the win proved that the Mustangs were moving in the right direction, so did the other four victories in 2016.
We're going to go with Navy here over Memphis for the mere fact that Navy was at home and a win vs. the Mids would have meant a bowl bid for SMU. The Mustangs had everything to play for in their final game of the season and allowed 3/4 of a hundred to Navy. Navy didn't punt, rushed for 10.3 yards a carry, put up 600 yards, and generally killed SMU's buzz.
We've gone back and forth on Ben Hicks in 2016. Hicks, a RS freshman from Waco Midway, was pressed into duty when Matt Davis went down with a knee injury in week one. He struggled early, but late in the season he came on. He looked more and more comfortable in the offense and the results were pretty good. His completion percentage in his last three games was above 60%, including a 70% outing vs. Navy. Hicks finished 2016 in the top 35 in passing yards. His 19 touchdowns were good enough for 48th nationally. He still throws too many interceptions but again, as a redshirt freshman, he improved from his first start against Baylor to his last against Navy.
The question for SMU will be where do they go in 2017? They'll have Arkansas transfer Rafe Peavey, former Wisconsin quarterback D.J. Gillins available as well as incredibly productive prep quarterback Charlie Brewer. The quarterback position fell to Hicks this season by default due to injuries, next season should be open for competition at the position.
What Answers Do we have...
We mentioned SMU's young skill stable. Chief among that group is Courtland Sutton the rising junior finished 15th in the FBS in receiving yards, 21st in receptions per game and 11th in yards per game. Sutton has NFL size and ball skills and should be in for a huge 2017.
Braeden West ran for over 1,000 yards last season at a five yard clip. The sophomore from Katy was complimented by Ke'Mon Freeman who was very productive as a true freshman. Freeman is a bit of a thumper at 212 pounds and a nice change of pace from West.
James Proche was a huge find as a redshirt freshman in 2016. Proche caught 57 balls and added value in the run game.
Defensively DE Justin Lawler continues to be one of the most productive under the radar players in the country. Lawler was second on the team in tackles, tough to do from a defensive end position, first in tackles for loss with 15 including 6 sacks.
Rising Sophomore Jordan Wyatt burst onto the scene at corner with four picks in 2016 along with four forced fumbles and seven break ups. He and Rodney Clemons will return, helping mitigate the loss of ultra productive graduates Darrion Millines and Horace Richardson. Clemons had 56 tackles, a pick, a sack, and four pass breakups.
What answers do we need?
SMU still struggles to stop people, especially on the run. Developing effective defensive fronts is a tough task. SMU will need to replace three starters on the defensive front in 2017, here's hoping they're better than the 2016 product.
As we mentioned above, the Mustangs have a ton of skill talent, but the question will be who gets them he ball. Does Ben Hicks make the jump to effective full time starter or does Morris go in a different direction?
Conversely the offensive line struggled at time run blocking, finishing below national average in both yards per rush and tackles for loss allowed. The offensive line however should return four starters from 2016 and three other rotation players who saw significant action.
As it stands now the secondary will be one of the youngest units on the team next year. With Millines and Richardson gone, two unknowns will come into the starting lineup.
Next year the Mustangs have a pretty favorable non-conference draw. They open FCS and Southland squad Stephen F. Austin. They then get North Texas at home before an iron skillet game at TCU. SMU closes out its non-conference slate with Arkansas State at home.
09/02 - Stephen F. Austin
09/09 - North Texas
09/16 - @ TCU
09/23 - Arkansas State
*Disclaimer: It's recruiting, this will all change. 17 year olds are fickle, odd, often times dumb, humanoids. This list is accurate as off the date of posting. We apologize that we lack a crystal ball or a sorting hat to deal with the changes or make them permanent. Regardless, everyone loves your team, and your recruits are so much better than everyone else's. Never forget that.
Once again Chad Morris has focused his recruiting efforts on Texas. All but one of his recruits are Texas prep athletes. Only JC quarterback D.J. Gillins comes from outside the friendly borders. The early focus has clearly been on defensive side with four defensive ends and three outside linebackers of their 16 early commits.
|Scout Rank||Scout Rank / Name||Pos||Pos Rank||Ht||Wt||40 Time||School|
|NR||Hayden Howerton||OT||6'4"||260||Katy HSKaty, TX|
|NR||D.J. Gillins||QB||6'3"||205||Pearl River CC|
|NR||Tyler Page||QB||6'0"||175||Friendswood, TX|
|NR||Kayce Medlock||ATH||5'9"||186||4.4||Arp, TX|
|NR||Noah Jones||DE||75||6'3.5"||260||5.21||Lancaster, TX|
|NR||Charlie Brewer||QB||42||6'1"||192||Austin, TX|
|NR||Shaine Hailey||OLB||6'0"||205||Dallas, TX|
|NR||Jordan Gipson||DE||6'2"||240||Bay City, TX|
|NR||Delano Robinson||OLB||5'11"||190||Denton, TX|
|NR||Elijah McQueen||OLB||5'11"||180||Terrell, TX|
|NR||Justin Guy-Robinson||CB||5'10.5"||159||4.45||Pearland, TX|
|NR||Ar'mani Johnson||CB||6'0"||160||Missouri City, TX|
|NR||Harrison Loveless||DE||6'3"||255||4.96||Cypress, TX|
|NR||Toby Ndukwe||DE||66||6'3"||220||Richmond, TX|
|NR||Cade Brewer||TE||73||6'3"||215||Austin, TX|
|NR||Alan AliA||OT||73||6'5"||275||Fort Worth, TX|