Game Preview: SMU vs Baylor

Patrick previews SMU's season opener against Baylor at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow!

After failing to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2008, SMU starts its quest for the postseason with a challenging opener against Baylor.

WHEN: Sunday, August 31, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. CT

WHERE: McLane Stadium- Waco, Texas

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1, KTCK 1310 AM/96.7 FM, The Ticket

SERIES: 36-36-7 (18-18-3 in Waco)

LAST MEETING: Baylor won 59-24 on September 2, 2012 at Floyd Casey Stadium

PONY TRENDS: In 2013 the Mustangs narrowly missed qualifying for a bowl for the fifth consecutive season. They were 5-5 through their first 10 games, but fell to Houston and American Athletic Conference champion Central Florida to end the season at 5-7.

SMU is a talented team despite losing several key starters from last season, but the roster lacks experience. Many of the starters for Sunday’s game have started few, if any games.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Neal Burcham will replace Garrett Gilbert. Burcham beat out transfer Matt Davis for the job with strong play in training camp. Kevin Pope was granted another year of eligibility and will be the primary running back. He runs with authority and is a solid pass protector as well.

The secondary gave up 271.8 passing yards per game in 2013, which ranked 116th out of 124 FBS teams. But the unit has looked solid in practice. Sophomore safety Darrion Richardson may have had the best camp of any Mustang. Cornerback J.R. Richardson, who is dealing with sickle cell anemia, will suit up versus Baylor. SMU head coach June Jones said he is not sure how much Richardson will play, but Ajee Montes will draw the start at Richardson’s right cornerback spot.

OPPONENT STRENGHTS: Baylor won the Big 12 last season and posted 11-1 record, which earned them a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. The Bears had the nation’s best offense in 2013, averaging 619 yards per game and 52.4 points per game. Every play the Bears run is designed to put the ball in the end zone. Establishing the running game sets up their potent aerial attack.

Senior quarterback Bryce Petty is the Bears’ unquestioned leader. He gained some Heisman attention in 2013 while posting a stellar 32:3 TD-to-INT ratio and averaged a ridiculous 10.4 yards per pass. He enters his senior season as a bona fide Heisman candidate.

Baylor is talented at other offensive positions as well. Strong offensive line and wide receiver play was crucial to Petty’s success. Senior wide receiver Antwan Goodley is one of the most explosive players in the country, and sophomore running back Shock Linwood is ready to break out after showing flashes as a reserve. Petty, Goodley and Linwood have NFL futures.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Baylor DE Shawn Oakman vs SMU LT Chauncey Briggs – Oakman is a 6-foot-9, 275-pound manchild who is nearly unblockable in the running game. Briggs will really be tested by Oakman and will need one of his best games to keep Oakman from having a party in SMU’s backfield all night long. Oakman is just one piece of a talented Baylor defensive line that SMU must neutralize, or they will have a tough time putting up points.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Baylor can score, and they can score in a hurry. SMU’s offense must play mistake-free and control the clock to keep Petty and Co. on the sideline as long as possible. To control the clock, Burcham will need to make smart decisions and clean throws, but more importantly, SMU’s must establish its running game. Pope has looked good in practice, but the offensive line must play well and win at the line of scrimmage to give Pope some holes.

On defense, the Mustangs need to force turnovers and make Petty uncomfortable. If the front seven can put pressure on Petty and the secondary can stick on Baylor’s receivers, then Petty will be forced to progress through all his reads and throw the ball into tighter windows, something which he rarely had to do last season, and when he did, he struggled. Forcing Petty out of his comfort zone is the best way for SMU to force turnovers, and if the Mustangs win the turnover battle, this will be a close game.

Staff Predictions:
Billy: Baylor wins 56-24
Scott: Baylor wins 50-24
Patrick: Baylor wins 55-21
Andrew: Baylor wins 49-21
Demetrio: Baylor wins 52-24

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