Success is more difficult to handle than failure.” -Ravi Zacharias
This is a quote that not many SMU players have a big understanding of, but they learned it pretty quickly on the way to the 49-28 victory over the UConn Huskies on Saturday. For three quarters, the Mustangs looked more like the 2016 team that struggled to win five games and not the team that is on a three-game home win streak.
The culture carried the team to victory
Winning and losing is on partly based on talent and a lot of times teams find success because it has created an environment where winning can foster. When hired, head coach Chad Morris had to know establishing a winning culture was going to be a process, but he probably didn’t think it would take this long. For every turnover, missed assignment and close loss the Mustangs were figuring out what it took to be a successful program and in 2017 the culture — a winning one — is finally taking shape. The Mustangs jumped out to a 21-10 lead midway through the second quarter but the team never seemed comfortable with the lead and punted on its next four possessions. Instead of trying to force the issue, the SMU players trusted Coach Morris and his process and it worked. Running back Ke’Mon Freeman rushed for 42 yards on three carries to set up the momentum changing touchdown from Ben Hicks 15-yard touchdown to wide receiver Trey Quinn. The score was the first of four consecutive touchdown drives for an SMU offense seemed to be going through the motions.
Running against a brick wall hurts
-8 yards rushing… That is not a misprint but the total rushing yards allowed by the SMU defense. Keep in mind that takes into account of yards lost from quarterback sacks — SMU had eight on the afternoon — but the Mustangs still only allowed Huskies running backs to run for 61 yards n 23 carries. When asked what was more important — sacks or having a stout run defense — senior defensive end Justin Lawler quickly answered for the rush defense. Sacks are generally an individual accomplishment and it usually takes a full defensive effort to limit a team to negative total rushing yards. This doesn’t appear to be a one-time thing for the SMU defense either. This is the third opponent that it has held below 100-yards rushing and it appears to be the calling card of a defense that was looking for an identity.
Depth is key
Its one thing to have one or two guys that can make big plays for you but its starting to seem like each week, or even series, that it’s a different player stepping up big when the team needs it the most. Last week it was wide receiver James Proche with the big game against UConn it was the LSU transfer in Quinn (15 catches, 116 yards, and two touchdowns) who decided to lead the militia. Last week it was Freeman, this week each running back that saw action — Xavier Jones (13 carries, 77 yards) and Braeden West (eight carries,75 yards)– scored one touchdown and had a run that helped keep momentum on the Mustangs’ side when it needed it the most. Even though he tried to downplay it, Lawler tied a school record with four sacks and the team also got two more sacks from defensive lineman Mason Gentry. This is all without even mentioning quarterback Hicks who had perhaps his most efficient game of this season completing 73% of his passes for 280 yards and four touchdowns — not bad for a player that was benched midway through the game. Having this much talent is essential to becoming a very good program because injuries happen and sometimes players have off games so it helps that their replacements are just as talented.
Each game is a season in itself according to Coach Morris and he was more than elated to see the team finish 1-0 in this season. If the team continues on the path of winning individual seasons, the season as a whole will be far more successful than anyone could have imagined and the culture of winning that SMU has been longing for since the 80’s might finally be back at Gerald J Ford.
The Mustangs look to carry that winning mojo on the road as it heads to face a Houston Cougars team that is 3-1 on the year and is coming off a 20-13 win over the Temple Owls.