Game Preview: SMU vs. James Madison

Scott previews SMU's game at Ford Stadium on Saturday against James Madison.


WHEN: Saturday, September 26, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. CT
WHERE: Gerald J. Ford Stadium- Dallas, Texas
TV: ESPN3
SERIES: 0-0
LAST MEETING: This is the first meeting between SMU and JMU

PONY TRENDS

Coming off of their first win of the season, SMU headed into the Battle for the Iron Skillet looking to prove something, and they did just that. Despite being done for nearly the entire game, and falling behind by as many as 25 points, SMU kept battling and fought until the very end. Even though they lost, the Mustangs played one of the best teams in the nation close, and proved to not only the fans, but also themselves, that this SMU team is capable of winning any given Saturday.

Now while the Mustangs did a lot of things correctly in Fort Worth last week, they by no means played a perfect game. Offensively, the offensive line brought a nasty streak that was non-existent against North Texas, and despite a few holding penalties, played an overall good game. Wide receivers not named Courtland Sutton finally got going, with Ryheem Malone, Kevin Thomas and Shelby Walker all hauling in multiple catches. SMU did however struggle to convert on third down, moving the markers just 5-15 times on 3rd. Aside from a few negatives, the Mustangs’ offense looked the most complete it has all season.

Defensively, despite, giving up 56 points and 720 total yards, SMU came up with stops at critical points in the game. Not only did SMU pick off Trevone Boykin once, but they also came away with an important fourth down stop and a forced punt in the fourth quarter. The negatives outweighed the positives unfortunately, and the Mustangs’ secondary shouldered a lot of the blame in this one. In the grand scheme of things, the Mustangs took a step in the right direction.


OPPONENT STRENGTHS

The Dukes are one of the better teams in FCS, so it’s no surprise they do a few things well. Senior quarterback Vad Lee makes the offense go, and does it both with his arm and his legs. Despite the seven interceptions, James Madison does a nice job of moving the ball down the field quickly. JMU also has two very good running backs in Khalid Abdullah and Cardon Johnson who can find the end zone. Abdullah and Johnson both have over 300 yards on the season, so if defense start to key on them, Lee has the opportunity to find Ishmael Hyman in the secondary.

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Cornell Urquhart vs. SMU offensive line: If James Madison wants to have any chance of winning this game they’re going to have to get after Matt Davis, and that starts with Cornell Urquhart. Urquhart is the Dukes’ best pass rusher, so it will be up to him to create any kind of disruption in the SMU backfield. If Taylor Lasecki, Braylon Hyder, Nick Natour and Evan Brown can keep Urquhart from disrupting the middle of the line, SMU should have no problem running and passing on this James Madison defense. If the Dukes get to Davis and start forcing punts and turnovers, this homecoming matchup could be closer than people think.

KEYS TO THE GAME

SMU should feel good going into this matchup considering how they have improved consistently for three weeks. The Mustangs are favored at home, but beating this FCS team isn’t a given. SMU has done a great job of winning the time of possession, so while facing another up tempo team, keeping the ball out of their hands on offense is important. On the defensive side of the ball, SMU has to limit any big plays from Lee and company. Long plays down field killed the Mustangs against TCU and Baylor, so that has to be one area of focus for this game. SMU also cannot play down to their opponents level. Expect James Madison to bring their all on Saturday, so SMU cannot be caught off guard.

WATCH TO WATCH FOR

When JMU is on Offense— The Dukes have an electric offense, but they haven’t faced an opponent like SMU all season. James Madison has run the ball very well all season, so expect them to try and control the pace of the game with the run, and try and take some shots down the field against a weaker SMU secondary.

When JMU is on Defense— The Dukes have lost three key contributors due to suspension on the defensive side of the ball, so now it’s time to see if JMU’s freshmen and sophomores can continue to step up against the best opponent they’ll face all year. Sophomore Cornell Urquhart is off to a hot start for the Dukes, so we’ll have to wait and see which SMU offensive line shows up.

When SMU is on Offense— The Mustangs put together a solid outing on the offensive side of the ball, so now it’s time to see if they can continue to build off of that and take a step in the right direction. Can the offensive line scrap the penalties while still playing with a mean streak and giving Matt Davis the time he needs? Can Ryheem Malone, Shelby Walker and Kevin Thomas continue to build off of their solid showing against TCU?

When SMU is on Defense— This SMU defense is facing a quarterback who threw five interceptions a week ago, yet still put up 600 yards of offense. SMU has struggled to stop the deep ball their first three games, so expect the Dukes to try and take advantage of that. With James Madison trying to pass on the Mustangs’ secondary, it’s time to see if SMU can man up and force turnovers.

PONY STAMPEDE STAFF PREDICTIONS
Billy: SMU wins
Scott: SMU wins 51-30
Hatts: SMU wins 31-14
Patrick: SMU wins 49-14
Demo: SMU wins 38-17
Matt: SMU wins 48-17


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