Programs sometimes take a step back when there is a coaching change, but SMU fans did not expect growing pains like this. The team that lost 42-12 to the TCU Horned Frogs looks more like the June Jones teams that struggled to be competitive against anyone and not the team led by Chad Morris that progressively improved each season and made it to the Frisco Bowl in 2017.
The passing game still needs work
Under the tutelage of former head coach Chad Morris, Ben Hicks went from a 2-star quarterback to a guy that looked like a legitimate quarterback. In 2017 he finished the year with 3569 yards and 33 touchdowns and played well even when the team lost, but against TCU on Friday Hicks struggled to get anything going as he only completed 18-of-38 passes for 111 yards. Two of his top receivers, Reggie Roberson Jr. and CJ Sanders, left the game due to injuries and James Proche’ (six catches, 50 yards) was limited, so maybe things will get better once everyone is comfortable with their roles in the new offense.
The running backs will have to lead the offense
With Hicks still looking to build chemistry with new receivers it may be smart for head coach Sonny Dykes to lean on the three-headed rushing monster of Braeden West, Ke’Mon Freeman and Xavier Jones. West scored the Mustangs’ only touchdown on a nifty 51-yard run and throughout his career has shown the balance and speed to be the teams game-breaking back. Freeman may not have the burst like West, but he has enough speed to break longer runs when he is being called on in short-yardage situations. Jones only got seven carries against TCU and is dealing with an unknown injury but when healthy has a nice combination of power and speed.
The defense will be better as the season progresses
Looking at the final score one may find it difficult finding anything to say positively about the defense, but it is very misleading as the team only trailed 14-12 at the half, and two of those touchdowns were not scored on the defense — one being a punt return and the other a fumble return. Led by Patrick Nelson’s nine tackles and sophomore linebacker Shaine Hailey’s first career interception, the Mustangs did a good job in limiting TCU quarterback Shawn Robinson to only 146 yards passing. What will also go a long way to the defense playing better in the second half is an offense that can stay on the field. Of the eight drives, only three were longer than three plays; a defense full of All-Americans couldn’t sustain with that level of offensive ineptitude.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Mustangs as they must now leave Texas for the first time this season to face a Michigan Wolverines team that is looking to build upon the momentum of defeating Western Michigan 49-3 on Saturday. If the SMU fans thought facing Gary Patterson’s defense was tough, going against Don Brown and Michigan’s uber-aggressive defense will provide an entirely different set of challenges. It will be important for Hicks to find an early rhythm as a passer to keep the Wolverine safties from stopping the run.