WHEN: Saturday, September 20, 2014. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. CT
WHERE: Ford Stadium, Dallas, Texas
TV/RADIO: ABC, KTCK 1310 AM/96.7 FM The Ticket
SERIES: Texas A&M leads 44-29-7 (19-16-4 in Dallas)
LAST MEETING: Texas A&M won 42-13 on September 21, 2013 at Kyle Field
PONY TRENDS: A lot has changed for SMU since its last game, a 43-6 romp at the hands of the University of North Texas. June Jones resigned from his position as head coach two days after the loss. Defensive Coordinator Tom Mason was named the interim head coach. Quarterbacks coach Dan Morrison will take over play-calling duties.
Mason also added two coaches. He hired former Florida offensive line coach Tim Davis, who has 31 years of coaching experience, to work with current offensive line coach Wes Suan. Tom Rossley, the Mustangs head coach from 1991-1996, returns as an offensive consultant.
Quarterback Neal Burcham, who started SMU’s first two games, suffered an elbow injury against UNT that will force him to miss the season. Redshirt freshman Kolney Cassel will make his first career start in Burcham’s place. Cassel appeared in each of SMU’s first two games, throwing for 154 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Most of his snaps came against the other team’s backups.
The Mustangs suffered a couple defensive injuries as well. Cornerback J.R. Richardson injured his leg in Thursday’s practice, and his status for Saturday is unknown. Mason said at Wednesday’s practice that cornerback Horace Richardson will not play against A&M due to injury.
SMU followed its poor offensive showing at Baylor with another subpar performance in Denton. The Mustangs rushed for just eight yards and committed five turnovers. The offensive line play was better against the Mean Green, but the unit still allowed four sacks and failed to get any push in the running game. SMU’s lone touchdown came on a Hail Mary pass from Cassel to Nate Halverson on the game’s last play.
OPPONENT STRENGHTS: Texas A&M had to replace quarterback Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft pick last May. But new quarterback Kenny Hill’s electric play has made Johnny Football seem like a distant memory. Hill, a sophomore from Southlake, Texas, was named the starter late in training camp. His first career start came on the road at South Carolina on August 28. He led A&M to a 52-28 rout, throwing for 511 yards and completing 44 passes. Both figures are single-game school records. This season Hill has completed 69.5 percent of his throws for 1,094 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has not been intercepted.
Hill has a deep corps of receivers at his disposal. Senior Malcome Kennedy is the team’s leading receiver with 258 yards, but redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones is a defense’s worst nightmare. Scout’s No. 1 receiver in the 2013 class, he has Calvin Johnson-like size at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds and runs a 4.5 second 40-yard dash. True freshman Speedy Noil lives up to his name, but he will not suit up against the Ponies due to injury.
A&M’s perennially strong offensive line boasts senior left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, who is arguably college football’s top offensive lineman. Junior guard Joseph Cheek and junior center Mike Matthews solidify the middle of the line.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: LT Chauncey Briggs vs. RE Myles Garrett. Garrett, a true freshman, has already become one of the SEC’s best pass rushers. He has 5.5 sacks through three games and has reportedly given Ogbuehi fits in practice. Briggs must help keep Cassel upright and give him time, or he will not be able to get into a rhythm and get comfortable. Garrett will challenge him in every way.
KEYS TO THE GAME: First and foremost, SMU must give Cassel time to go through his progressions and get comfortable in game situations. Young quarterbacks are doomed by lack of protection. Simply giving Cassel time is a success.
For SMU to think about making this a close game, it must sustain drives, control the clock and protect the ball to keep the defense rested. The Mustangs are last in the FBS in points per game and rushing yards per game, so moving the ball against the Aggies’ talented and fast defense will be difficult.
Special teams play must also improve. The Mustangs gave themselves poor field position against UNT by making bad decisions in the return game. Mason wants the team to be smart on returns and “play percentages.”
Billy: 62-10 Texas A&M
Scott: 52-17 Texas A&M
Patrick: 45-10 Texas A&M
Andrew: 49-10 Texas A&M
Demetrio: 52-7 Texas A&M