For the second consecutive year, the SMU Mustangs faced a crossroad in its season. Coming off losses to cross-town rivals the TCU Horned Frogs, the Mustangs’ hosted games that they were expected to win — last season it was FCS foe James Madison, this year, the Arkansas St. Red Wolves. Last year it seemed as if SMU carried the lost to the Horned Frogs into the game against James Madison and because of that the game became closer than it should and the Mustangs eventually lost the game on a last-second touchdown. After being upset at home, the team never was able to recover and what was once hoped to be a promising 2016, turned into a series of uneventful moments. This year the team was able to push through a difficult loss to TCU to get a much-needed win over Arkansas St., 44-21.
A new season and a new approach
Head coach Chad Morris preaches to this team that every game is a season in itself and this past Saturday the Mustangs’ avoided being fools gold to comfortably win the “season’s matchup” against the Red Wolves 44-21. Coach Morris hinted that there was a level of focus during practice and game prep that he hadn’t seen from this team since he took the job in 2014 and it translated on the field. Even he will admit there is still room for improvement in all three phases of the game; offensively quarterback Ben Hicks needs to improve his completion percentage, defensively they have to limit the big plays down the field, and on special teams, they cant afford to miss extra points and easy field goals.
The militia is deep and dangerous
The wide receiver unit for the Mustangs have adopted the nickname of the militia and it seems like every week there is a new hero ready to go to battle. Against UNT it was Courtland Sutton, last week versus TCU it was Trey Quinn, and against Arkansas St. it was sophomore receiver James Proche. While he only had three catches, the local Dallas prep-star made the most of his opportunities and finished the game with 131 yards and two touchdowns. When defenses face this SMU offense they are now being forced to pick its poison — stop the run or the pass but not both. Arkansas St. came into the game focused on stopping the receivers — which it really didn’t do a good job of — as the offense racked up 266 passing yards, and could have had more if Hicks would have connected with open receivers.
The Red Wolves were able to limit all-American candidate Sutton to only two catches for 32 yards, but he was able to find his way into the end zone as a running back. Sutton, as with the other members of the militia understand their roles within the offense and are ok with knowing that one week you may be the focus of the offense and the next you could be a decoy.
SMU can now run over, around, and past defenses
We are still waiting to learn of the nickname for the running back unit because just like the wide receivers, there are multiple guys that line up in the backfield that can hurt opposing teams. Arkansas St. spent most of the evening in the Cover-2 defense hoping to limit the big plays through the air, the trio of Xavier Jones (19 carries, 146 yards), Ke’Mon Freeman (15 carries, 92 yards, two touchdowns) and Braeden West (13 carries, 63 yards) gashed them up front to the tune of 301 yards.
After a promising freshman season, Jones’ sophomore year was derailed by injuries and his career day against the Red Wolves leads many to believe he is back to his 2015 form. Freeman, the bigger of the three backs, showed off his power and balance on Saturday breaking multiple tackles on the way to two long scoring runs. With Jones and Freeman playing so well, West sometimes seems to be the forgotten man but he showed on multiple runs that he has the enough shake to make guys miss in the open field. With all three guys healthy and contributing it allows Coach Morris to keep the trio refreshed which pays dividends late in games when teams look to control the clock.
The team embodies the mindset of its coach
This past off-season there were rumors about Coach Morris being a strong candidate for the open Baylor job down the road in Waco and it would have been easy for him to leave for the “better” opportunity. Rather than quit on his staff and the players he remained in Dallas and now he is starting to see the fruit of his labor — even though it may be a year later than expected. On Saturday the SMU defense took on that same don’t quit mentality as safety Jordan Wyatt chased down and tripped the Arkansas St. running back causing him to fumble right before the end zone. At the time the Mustangs were clinging to a three point lead and who knows how momentum would have shifted if Arkansas St. would have scored on that play.
The last time SMU won its first three home games to start the season was 1983 when the team was playing at the old Texas Stadium. and this is a great opportunity for Coach Morris to continue to rewrite the history books while creating a winning atmosphere with his players. The Mustangs look for win number four as it hosts the UConn Huskies at 3:00pm.