SMU Spring Game Preview

Billy previews SMU's spring game at 1 p.m. CST and talks about what Mustang fans should expect!

SMU will kick off the Chad Morris era with a full spring game at 1 p.m. CST at Ford Stadium today and SMU fans will be in for their first true spring game in several years.

Expect a game-like atmosphere, but also a lot of situational work for the offense. From watching just four spring practices, Morris and his staff love to evaluate players based on situations, not just lining up and moving the ball down the field. The staff will let the players run full series and all of that, but towards the end, I wouldn't be surprised to see 2-minute situations and 4-minute situations created.

Defensively, Van Malone brings pressure and while the quarterbacks won't be live, SMU has been able to put pressure on the offense when it has wanted to for most of the spring. The defense has been nicked up during the spring with Shakiel Randolph and Zelt Minor being out for the spring. Zach Wood and Nick Horton are two notables that have missed time as well, but are expected to be out there. Staying healthy is key for the entire SMU team.

Without further ado, here's what to expect if you haven't been able to make it out to a practice yet.

What to Watch for on Offense

SMU's offense has that up-tempo style that Morris loves and he expects the defense to keep up, "they won't ever face anyone that goes as fast as us," Morris said this spring. There are some key battles to be worked out along the offensive line, at running back and for the backup quarterback spot as of now.

Davis looking to separate himself further

I wrote about this in my key position preview so I won't harp, but Matt Davis has excelled this spring in the new offense. The reads are simpler for the entire team, even if there are more formations to work with. June Jones ran a very vanilla look with either trips or doubles out of the gun. Morris will move the entire formation around using motion and misdirection. That allows Davis to keep the defense on its heels. Morris has talked about running the same play over-and-over again if a defense won't stop it. Expect that a few times if SMU can break some runs. Morris will call this game like he would normally, but maybe not tip his cards too much. Davis will have the opportunity to make reads, hit explosive plays and get even more comfortable in this offense.

Which Offensive Line will come out?

SMU has had their share of struggles in the spring protecting the quarterback and having consistent protection on the ground. That doesn't mean Davis hasn't hit Courtland Sutton for big plays and Daniel Gresham hasn't looked like Ron Dayne on a few runs. The line has been streaky at best with Chauncey Briggs leading way as the most consistent performer. Taylor Lasecki, William Barns and Taylor Reich have all been moved around in the interior. Reich was running with the first team at one point, but was down with the third team last time out. The line is far from being finished and set in stone especially with Evan Brown and Braylon Hyder out for the spring. At the very least, Kris Weeks has an opportunity to entrench himself as right tackle and fend off Christian Chamauga and Bozida Antunovic. So far, Weeks hasn't proven he can be the guy at right tackle. With the defensive line nicked up, there's a shot SMU can gain some confidence going into the summer.

Running Backs versatile, but not sorted out

You won't see other backs besides Daniel Gresham, Darius Durall and Prescott Line in the backfield really for SMU, but all three have different positives they bring. Durall is versatile, but might not be ready to tote the rock between the tackles as often as Gresham and Line can. Line has been split out, at H-back and in the backfield, while Gresham has been mostly in the backfield and at H-back. While the two freshmen running backs, Braeden West and Xavier Jones, are just over a month away from stepping on campus, this is the trio's shot to build momentum going into the summer. Gresham is one to watch for a breakout game because of his ability to shed arm tackles and break into the second level. He might not take one to the house, but with SMU's offense's tempo, there's a chance the defense can wear down enough to have some big plays made.

What to Watch for on Defense

Malone has built a defense that plays with passion and has fun on the field so far this spring. While key players have gone down, the defense is certainly using the next man up philosophy and has won the last two practices that we saw in my book.

The Star to be a star

Many asked what is the Star position and what exactly is it. Malone has said the players who can play there have to be the stars on this defense. Shakiel Randolph is a perfect fit there with his length, cover skills and size to play in the box. Randolph won't be out there today though and in his place, Anthony Rhone and Kyran Mitchell have been getting some snaps there. Mitchell ran step-for-step in the first scrimmage down the sideline with Darius Joseph. That's telling. The offense hasn't been able to keep Rhone out of the backfield for the spring. This Malone's position to coach from what we've been able to see and he's done a great job getting them ready to play. There's bound to be a star step up at this spot today, but who is it? We'll find out.

Who steps up at defensive tackle?

With Zelt Minor (above) out for today's game, Mason Gentry, Spencer Hollie, Nick Reed and others will have the chance to step up along the interior of the defensive line. Minor has had a tremendous spring, stepping up big time since the new staff came in. Minor's quickness and strength that everyone saw coming out of Houston Lamar was being seen finally. It's someone else's turn to show off. Gentry and Hollie have been making plays during the spring, but they're two completely different players. Gentry looks like a thicker Margus Hunt while Hollie is much more of a two-gap eater and has done well disrupting plays because of it. The SMU defensive linemen are a much better fit in a four-man front and that's what's been a positive for the staff to work with. The defense is built to fit this scheme for some reason and the staff is taking advantage of it. A true pass rusher needs to come along before SMU's first game, but overall the defensive line has some nice pieces so expect running up the middle to be tough.

Who's going to stop Courtland Sutton and the receivers?

William Jeanlys has been elevated to starting corner along with Horace Richardson and with the size mismatch associated with guarding Sutton, SMU's biggest receiving threat could have a big day. James Richardson has been another player along with Ajee Montes that's been nicked up. If they can go, it'll help SMU's secondary big time. Darius Joseph has shown a willingness to do it all and Ryheem Malone has been a versatile, shifty weapon for the offense this spring. SMU's ultimate mismatch appears to be Jeremiah Gaines vs. anyone. Gaines has caught just about anything. The SMU defense is aggressive and likes to get their hands on receivers early, but with Gaines coming from the backfield, that's been tough. The lack of depth at corner has hurt that as well, but Jesse Montgomery made some plays in the latest practice to knock some passes away. There's not an incredible amount of speed out there at receiver, but SMU's corners have been a little up-and-down all spring. The staff needs to see someone show signs of being a lockdown guy and neutralize SMU's top threat at receiver.

Quick Hits to Remember

— The last practice, Nick Natour, Nate Halverson, Ajee Montes, J.R. Richardson, Elie Nabusoshi, Zach Wood, Cameron Smith, R.C. Cox, Cedric Lancaster, Dylan Dickman all were limited or out.

K.C. Nlemchi, Garrett Krstich, Shakiel Randolph, Evan Brown and Braylon Hyder are out for the game last we heard.

— There will be food trucks, inflatables, autograph signings and other activities around the game and fireworks are rumored as well.

— Chad Morris will not be available post game as he is jumping on a jet to head to his daughter's prom.

— The quarterback rotation has been 1. Davis, 2. Darrell Colbert, 3. Ben Hicks, 4. Jordan Severt. Krstich is out and Neal Burcham is out and hasn't been seen at practice.

Jackson Koonce has been handling the place kicking duties and Shelby Walker has been seeing the most time at kick and punt returner.

— Last time out, Briggs, Daniel McCarty, William Barns, Taylor Lasecki and Kris Weeks started left to right along the offensive line.


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