Game Preview: SMU vs. Baylor

Scott previews SMU's season opener at Ford Stadium on Friday night vs. the Baylor Bears.

Coming off a 1-11 season, and entering their first season under new head coach Chad Morris, SMU looks to rebound from last year’s mess and prove the doubters wrong against a very well-rounded Baylor team.

WHEN: Friday, September 4, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. CT
WHERE: Gerald J. Ford Stadium- Dallas, Texas
TV: ESPN
SERIES: 36-37-7 (18-19-3 in Waco)
LAST MEETING: Baylor won 45-0 on August 31, 2014 at McLane Stadium


PONY TRENDS

In 2014 the Mustangs’ season was anything but ideal. After just two games, long-time head coach June Jones stepped down, leaving defensive coordinator Tom Mason to take over on a interim bases. The Mustangs struggled across the board, but finally came away with their first win of the season on the last day of the season.

In December, former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris took over the head coaching job at SMU, bringing with him a new energy to help rebuild football on the Hilltop. Nine months later, Morris and company are ready to unveil a new brand of SMU football.

Even with the new coaching staff, there are few new faces in starting roles. The Mustangs are lead by former Aggie quarterback Matt Davis on offense, who could very well thrive in Morris’ offense. Redshirt freshman Courtland Sutton burst onto the scene during spring ball after an offseason of training, and he will lead an inexperienced receiving core SMU. Prescott Line, brother of former SMU running back Zach Line, will look provide a nice punch from the backfield, and freshman running back Xavier Jones will be a key contributor in the backfield.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Mustangs are led by senior defensive tackle Zach Wood (above) who has since moved inside and, thanks to a revamped offseason workout program, added size and strength. Upperclassmen Nick Horton and Jonathan Yenga should provides a nice one-two punch from the linebacker position, and senior Shakiel Randolph will have the opportunity to finally live up to the hype after moving to the Star position.


OPPONENT STRENGTHS

Being the No. 4 team in the country, the Bears have quite a few strengths. While Baylor’s offense will be introducing a new quarterback on Friday, one thing they wont have to worry about is Seth Russell getting the time he needs to go through his reads. Baylor’s offensive line returns all five starters, and senior Spencer Drango, who was project to be a 2nd or 3rd round pick in this year’s draft, unexpectedly decided to return for his final year. Drango is a big and physical lineman very capable of protecting Russell. Russell will be trying to find Corey Coleman (above) and KD Cannon, the Bears’ two explosive, 1000-yard receivers. Coleman and Cannon will make things tough for the SMU secondary.

On the defensive side, Shawn Oakman and Andrew Billings lead a strong and physical defensive front. Oakman at 6-foot-9, and Billings, a high school powerlifting star, will be a handful for the SMU offensive line. The Mustangs will have to match their tenacity, and hope that double teams can slow those two down enough to give Matt Davis the time he needs.


MATCHUP TO WATCH

Taylor Lasecki vs. Andrew Billings: Billings has the ability to affect both the run and pass games of the Mustangs. While Lasecki (above) won’t be the only player tasked to slow down Billings, he will face him the most. It’s easier said than done, but Lasecki will have to slow Billings down somehow if SMU’s offense is going to move the chains on Friday.

KEYS TO THE GAME

No one expects SMU to keep this game close. To prove people wrong, the Mustangs will have to do a couple of things. Getting after Russell is the first key. Putting an inexperienced quarterback under pressure will higher his chance of forcing throws and give the SMU defense more opportunities for turnovers. Limiting Russell’s shots down field to Coleman and Cannon would help slow down a Bears’ offense that put up 45 points on SMU last year. For SMU, they’re going to have to score and score often in they want to stay in this ball game. That starts with the offensive line. Matt Davis (above) needs time to make his reads and find open targets, and he can’t do that if he’s being forced out of the pocket right after the ball is snapped.

WATCH TO WATCH FOR

When Baylor is on Offense: It will be interesting to see how Russell (above) deals with the pressure of finally being the starting quarterback. Will be fold under pressure and force throws, or will he play smart and find the many weapons that he has? My guess, since Coach Briles has done this with all of his quarterbacks, is that Russell takes a quarter to settle down and finally lets the playmakers around him help him out.

When Baylor is on Defense: We know that Baylor’s front seven is aggressive, but with it being the first game, will they be too aggressive. I expect their to be a fair amount of penalties for both teams, but I also think if the Bears get too aggressive, they could be susceptible to play action.

When SMU is on Offense: The big question mark for this group is how will the offensive line play? Depending on this unit’s play, it could either be a very long night for SMU fans, or the offense could be a pleasant surprise. Look for Matt Davis to step up as the leader of the offense and try to make plays with his legs and arm.

When SMU is on Defense: Can SMU’s defensive front create any kind of pass rush against a very talented Baylor offensive line? Putting pressure on Russell is a big key to the game for the Mustangs, so I’d expect this group to get aggressive. I’d also like to see the secondary match the physicality of Baylor’s receivers. Coleman and Cannon do a great job of creating separation, so guys like Darrion Richardson and Horace Richardson will need to be glued to their hips.

PONY STAMPEDE STAFF PREDICTIONS
Billy: Baylor wins, 48-17
Scott: Baylor wins, 45-24
Hatts: Baylor wins, 48-21
Demo: Baylor wins, 49-14
Patrick: Baylor wins, 41-17
Matt: Baylor wins, 38-14


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