First Look: SMU

With the 2015 ECU football season around the corner, here is a first look at ECU’s conference matchup with SMU on Oct. 3.

After a series of toss up games against the likes of Virginia Tech, Florida and Navy to start the season, the Pirates get a seemingly favorable matchup against Southern Methodist on Oct. 3.

If not for a last-game win against Connecticut, the Mustangs would be fresh off of a winless campaign in their first in the American Athletic Conference that saw head coach June Jones resign midway through the season. The disastrous 2014 season included an October 45-24 loss to East Carolina in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

To the Mustang’s credit, they put up 24 points in the game, including three touchdowns, which was a far better performance than the combined four games leading up to the matchup with the Pirates where they scored just 12 combined points.

Given the anemic offensive struggles and the porous defense, combined with the return of most of their players from last season, it doesn’t seem likely that an immediate turnaround will come this season for a program that is still trying to recover from the death penalty years ago and breakout of its streak of mediocrity.

However, the Mustangs are under new leadership with the hiring of first-year head coach Chad Morris who joins SMU after leading Clemson’s offense for the previous four seasons.

He brings consistency to an offense that has had many different offensive looks and has shown an ability to groom passers into quarterbacks. Tahj Boyd was the prized jewel of Morris’ time at Clemson. Boyd was named the 2012 Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and helped lead a Clemson offense that set school records across the board.

That being said, the Pirates should ultimately handle the Mustangs in a similar, if not better fashion than last year when they let them get on the board early.

Last season, the SMU offense hinged on the quarterback pairing of Matt Davis and Garrett Krstich. Both players are upperclassmen, a junior and senior respectively, and both bring a unique skill set that gives opposing defenses different looks.

Davis, the run-oriented signal caller, had a good year on the ground last year, leading all Mustang players in rushing with 613 yards and four touchdowns.

On the surface those numbers don’t tell the entire story. While decent to Davis’ standards, he had more attempts than any other Mustang and led a rushing pack that had just 1,204 combined yards and nine touchdowns. An offense that relies that heavily on a quarterback to gain yards on the ground (outside of triple-option teams) rarely will find success against a team with a decent front seven.

That reason alone, considering the effectiveness of ECU’s front seven from last season, probably factored into why Davis didn’t take a single snap against the Pirates last season. Rather it was the passing quarterback Krstich that led the offense and albeit he preformed well.

If not for Shane Carden’s four-touchdown performance, Krstich could very well have been the MVP of the game. His 41 completions, 339 yards and two touchdowns were enough to make the ECU secondary shaking its head but thanks to SMU’s inability to run or stop the Pirates offense, Krstich couldn’t complete the upset.

Which player takes the field on the first Saturday of October is a decision that will be made by SMU Morris but it likely hinge on the performances leading up to the Pirates matchup that features games against Baylor, North Texas, Texas Christian and James Madison.

As far as pieces lost, the already-weak SMU defense will lineup this season without the benefit of its two leading tacklers from a season ago. Defensive back Hayden Greenbauer and linebacker Stephen Sanders had 79 and 70 tackles respectively.

Their production will be missed and leaves SMU in the unenviable position of losing its two best defensive players and senior leaders.

Nothing jumps off the page about the Mustangs and the coach Morris will hope to make some waves in his first season behind his offensive pedigree. It probably won’t be an immediate turnaround for Morris and SMU and the Pirates will hope to simply avoid an upset on the road considering they will more than likely be heavily favored.

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