Billy: Who takes steps to winning starting jobs for next year?
Like in the spring, SMU was an open competition for jobs and I think that now needs to be the mindset going forward. I’m not talking about burning redshirts and playing every single body, but there needs to be a concerted effort to find out who should be here and who shouldn’t. Playing experience will be a huge help to the team in the coming years from this year. Anyone not redshirting, should be getting a look. The staff most importantly needs to see how they respond under pressure, can they play, what’s their attitude, etc. to get a feeling on how important they’ll be to future teams. If and right now looking like when, SMU falls to not have a chance for a bowl, playing time needs to really be looked at. The end of the season should be viewed as a second spring in a way. It should be a time to see who can really thrive as the team prepares for the first full recruiting class to come in and possibly step in over a lot of current players. It’d be nice to end with a couple wins, but finding out who can contribute in my mind is much more important. I’d like to see rotating along the offensive line to see if players can play other positions that might help the line more than where they currently are.
Scott: SMU’s Achilles heel has been their defense so, naturally, my question for this team is: can the defense make the necessary adjustments to see some kind of improvement in the second half of this season?
You’d have to think things couldn’t get much worse on the defensive side of the ball. The Mustangs managed one win the first half of the season, and it was against a North Texas team that just fired their head coach and has yet to win a game. This unit might not have the exact personnel they want for their 4-2-5 defensive scheme, but this team can still make a few minor adjustments that could go a long way. In my eyes, this team needs to do a better job of wrapping up on initial contact, as well as stop giving up big chunks of yards. They also just need to get meaner. Too many times against Houston, and earlier this year, they were pushed around. That’s part of the reason they give up so many yards on the ground. If the Mustangs want to avoid another one-win season, they’re going to have to improve immensely because this team has not shown they can get stops when they need them the most. While this team faces good opponents in Navy, Temple and Memphis, they’ve already gone up against three outstanding offenses in TCU, Baylor and Houston, so you can’t say they aren’t already battle tested. My guess is that this bye-week gives the defense time to recharge and make a few much-needed adjustments.
Hatts: Can SMU show they’re learning to win?
SMU is going to be a lot more talented next year as the staffs second recruiting class steps on campus, but they’re going to have a lot to learn as well in their first year at the next level. Thus, they will look to the guys on this team who already have a year or more of experience to lead the way. SMU has got off to a couple of fast starts in most games this season except for a couple slow starts. However, in just about every game, there has been a mistake or two that has cost this team dearly when they’ve been in a position to build momentum in a game. Against Baylor it was Davis taking a sack heading into half, against UNT and James Madison it was coming out flat in the first half and against Houston it was a couple costly fumbles at the end of the half when SMU had the opportunity to take a commanding lead. These mistakes are ok; it’s a part of the process for this staff and this team learning what it takes to win. These errors have cost SMU in the second half, however, where they have been outscored by 61 points, as opposed to just 25 in the first half. In the second half, I want to see some of the team learn from these mistakes and put together at a least a couple of games with four solid quarters where they aren’t making that one mistake that is going to cost them. They need to show they can play sound games and ball the ball more than they have in some situations in the beginning of the year.
Patrick: Is the defense going to find an identity?
The defense hasn't shown much this year, but it has shifted through a bunch of alignments and personnel changes. We saw a lot of Cover 1, Cover 2 and press quarters against Baylor, but it's been mostly a Cover 2 zone defense since. We've also seen Kyran Mitchell supplant Shakiel Randolph as the star linebacker (Randolph moved to safety) to play in a more conventional linebacker spot and Anthony Rhone, Jackson Mitchell and Matt McNew push Jonathan Yenga and Nick Horton for snaps. Will any of these changes finally lead to some improved results? Will Van Malone keep experimenting with different alignments? Chad Morris has said that McNew may not be the last freshman to burn his redshirt. I think Mitchell's move into the starting lineup has helped a little bit, but I'm still waiting to see if the defense can find a strength or find somewhere it can win. That will require Malone and the defensive staff to use their imagination and dig deep into the tape. I'm not trying to suggest that the defense will turn a corner and become great this year, but I'd just like to see it find something it can do that at least makes opponents think harder, whether it's a certain package, alignment or skill. That would give the returning players and coaches confidence and a building block heading into the spring and 2016.
Demo: Can SMU figure out ways to counteract or take advantage of double-coverage on Courtland Sutton?
It doesn’t seem that defenses are willing to risk letting Sutton run around with just one defender on him. He is being double covered on most plays and it’s been forcing Davis to go to second and third options. This has been problematic as he’s been holding on to the ball longer and longer, trying to make those reads. Theoretically, double-coverage on Sutton means someone else is open. Either Davis needs to be able to make those reads quicker or the staff needs to become more imaginative in play calling to get their best receiver more touches. After starting off the season with 17 catches for 399 yards and five touchdowns in four games, Sutton has been limited to 10 catches and 99 yards with one score in the last two. And while he was averaging 23.5 yards a catch during those first four games, over the last two that average has dropped to 9.9. Obviously defenses have adjusted to Sutton and SMU hasn’t figured out their response yet. If they want to start winning games, they need to.
Matt: Can the defense step it up in the second half?
It is obvious that the offense is absent in the second half, but the defense needs to be looked at as well. The score is usually close at halftime, so the defense needs to come out thinking that a couple of big plays can keep the Mustangs in the game and can hopefully spark the offense. If the defense continues to give up 45 points a game, there is no way this team can win because the offense simply can't put up huge numbers yet. The defense improving can, and will, cause a chain reaction of events, which should end up with SMU winning a couple of more games this year, and keeping this season from being a disappointment.