For the first time since 2009, the SMU Mustangs’ are 2-0 to start the season — ironically the team’s first victory in that season came against Stephen F. Austin– so maybe this is a sign of good things to come for the program as it looks for its first winning season under head coach Chad Morris. There still are some things that need to be worked out on both sides of the ball but here are some things that stood out after the 54-32 win over the North Texas Mean Green.
Cortland Sutton is a beast
After being limited to only two catches for 22 yards against SFA, I began to wonder if Sutton had read too many of his own press clippings and wasn’t ready to step into that role as the best receiver in the nation.
Boy did he prove me wrong!
Against North Texas, Sutton put on a show. He finished the game with eight catches for 163 yards and a career-high four touchdown and could have done more if quarterback Ben Davis hadn’t done such a great job spreading the ball to other receivers (which we will get to later.) It didn’t matter if he was single covered, double teamed, or left wide open — which happened on the 35-yard touchdown to make the score 31-10 — Sutton found ways to make plays. He is the perfect combination of size, strength, and speed that NFL teams drool over and team scouts flooded the SMU press box on Saturday to get a glimpse of the future first rounder. The scary thing about his performance on Saturday is that he still has room to grow as a player and as a young man. He had a couple of drops that would be seen as inexcusable on the next level and he also drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty that he later admitted was unnecessary.
Teams will continue to game plan for him, which will make it hard for him to duplicate these video game numbers, but if he does find a way to come close statistically there is no reason why he shouldn’t be recognized nationally once the season ends.
Ben Davis is finding his way at quarterback
Quarterback play is the key to success in college football and the NFL and for too long the Mustangs struggled to find success because of poor quarterback play. In his first year as a starter, Davis struggled with making the right decision as a passer and often times found himself forcing a pass that led to an interception or he took a bad sack that halted a drive. This year he seems to have a better understanding of when to force the issue and make the safe play. Having a go-to player like Sutton sometimes put you in a false sense of security because you think he can make all the plays and the few plays where UNT successfully covered Sutton, rather than force the ball to him, Davis connected with seven other players on his way to 314 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. He still needs to work on his accuracy — he’s only completing 50% of his passes on the season — but the fact that he only has one interception shows that he may finally be understanding his role as a quarterback in the Chad Morris offense, which is scary.
The team finally has a defense it can rely on
After allowing 10 quick points to start the game, the defense buckled down and held the high-powered UNT offense scoreless for almost two quarters. The unit forced two interceptions, sacked UNT quarterback Mason Fine five times and constantly harassed the young signal caller all evening.
Is it coaching or an infuse of talent?
I think it is a mixture of both. Defensive coordinator Van Malone had never been in the position of leading a defense — he only had experience as a defensive backs coach — and it took some time to get used to his expanded job responsibilities. In the three years under Malone, the defense has gotten better statistically. From year one to year two there was a 49-yard decrease in total yards allowed and this season that number has gone down even further as the defense only is allowing 356 yards per game. 2017 is only two games young but the Mustangs’ did a great job of limiting a UNT team that ran for 436 yards in the season opener against Lamar University to only 69 total yards.
Having a senior like defensive end Justin Lawler (seven tackles, two sacks) helps but as you look through the stat sheet, many of the contributors (Mikial Onu, Rodney Clemons, Kyran Mitchell) from Saturday’s victory were guys that Morris recruited to the program. This means that not only is Morris bringing in players that fit his scheme, but they are talented as well.
There still are some unanswered questions about the team; how will it react to going on the road against a quality opponent is the next big one and we will find that out this week as the team makes the quick trip down to Fort Worth, TX to face TCU.
One thing you can’t deny is this team will be a lot more exciting and fun to watch this season!