How can a losing season be seen as a success? Pretty easily when your team was marred in a depressing swirl of one or two-win seasons. The SMU Mustangs went 1-11 in 2014 and then just 2-10 in their first year under Chad Morris. In 2016, they turned things around and threatened to compete for a bowl game before falling just short at 5-7. That record was better than what the Cincinnati Bearcats put forth and was the team’s best mark since 2013, which was the beginning of the end of the June Jones era.
The high point of the year was when the Mustangs blasted 11th-ranked and main rival for the throne of best Texas team in the American Athletic Conference Houston, 38-16. There were still some bad losses mixed in, namely against Navy, Memphis and TCU, but the Mustangs hung tough with more than a few teams and showed that Morris and his dedication to offense is working in Dallas.
What They Do Well
Some times, the Mustangs scored a lot of points. They put up 38 and 35 against Houston and Tulane, respectively, and also hung 55 on East Carolina and a 40 burger on Tulsa. However, some inconsistencies and strong opposing defenses made SMU finish eighth in the AAC in scoring offense (27 PPG). But do not be fooled, when this team hits on all cylinders, the points will be aflowing.
The Mustangs, like the Bearcats, also excelled at causing miscues in the passing game. They finished ninth in the country in interceptions with 18. Horace Richardson (six), Darrion Millines (five) and Jordan Wyatt (four) led the way, with Richardson and Wyatt also scoring two touchdowns off of picks. Unfortunately, as we all know, turnovers are difficult to project, so there’s no guarantee that this type of production will last, but it at least shows that the defense was ready when mistakes were made.
What They Don’t Do Well
SMU wasn’t a bad defensive team, but it wasn’t great either. A big reason for that was a lack of effective work in stopping the run. The Mustangs allowed 210.5 rushing yards per game, buoyed by an incredible 496 yards on the ground from Navy in the season finale. However, the struggles against the rushing game weren’t just because they went up against a team like Navy that runs all the time. They also gave up at least 200 yards to five other opponents.
Part of the defensive issues also boiled down to giving up too many big plays. No team in the conference allowed more plays of more than 30 yards, with 37 instances being recorded against SMU. The Mustangs were also one of three teams in the conference to give up double digit plays of more than 50 yards.
Players to Watch
Courtland Sutton, WR
Honestly, when Sutton is in a game, there’s nobody I’d rather watch. With Zay Jones gone from East Carolina, Sutton, who turned 76 receptions into 1,246 yards and 10 scores last year, is now the best wide receiver in the conference. Full stop.
Braeden West and Ke’Mon Freeman, RB
Sutton is clearly the offensive star on this team but West is a nice alternative. He rushed for 1,036 yards and six touchdowns last season, while getting a nice boost from Freeman (810 yards from scrimmage, five total touchdowns). Both will be back to add another dynamic element to the offense.
Evan Brown, OL
Brown was named to the Rimington and Outland Trophy watch lists and is a senior leader for a somewhat experienced offensive line.
Jordan Wyatt, DB
Wyatt is the only one of the interception trio back. He had 50 tackles and those four interceptions, but he also forced a team-high four fumbles.
Justin Lawler, DE
His six sacks weren’t enough to raise eyebrows throughout the conference, but he also recorded 15.0 tackles for loss and 65 stops in total. He’s a solid defender.
Do They Play Cincinnati
They do and its a home game! On Oct. 21 the Mustangs will visit Nippert Stadium. It’s been a little while since these two teams squared off, with the last meeting coming in 2014 when the Bearcats dumptrucked the Mustangs, 41-3.
Seeing Sutton in a bowl game would be excellent. There is an argument to be made that the Mustangs can make that happen. They have a fun offense and some decent players on defense. In addition, they may not have been elite in many categories last season, but they were competitive in most. If quarterback Ben Hicks can take a step forward and they find some other players to steal some turnovers like they did last year, the Mustangs could be respectable even. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, which comes with six wins and a bowl appearance.