This season, SMU managed to almost triple their points per game from a year ago, improved their yards per play by over a yard, improved their redzone scoring by 20 percent, but still were hit by the turnover bug pretty hard and struggled with consistency. That being said, SMU has a lot to look back on positively this season offensively. Let's take a look at it position-by-position.
Graduating: Garrett Krstich
Returning: Matt Davis (Sr.), Darrel Colbert (RS. Soph), Jordan Severt (RS. Soph), Ben Hicks (RS. Frosh)
Early in the year, Matt Davis' performances against the likes of Baylor, North Texas and TCU gave SMU fans big hope that the team will have a rapid turnaround on offense. Aside from two interceptions against Baylor, Davis thrived as a passer, going without an interception for five games after Baylor and establishing a great connection with redshirt freshman Courtland Sutton. Davis finished as the team's leading rusher again with over 700 yards as well. Davis had clearly improved his technique and mechanics especially early in the year, but as the season wore on, Davis' early season success did take a hit. Davis played particularly well against TCU, willing SMU back into the game and capitalizing off turnovers. Overall, Davis' success was mainly season in the first few games in the Morris era and the Tulane win, but there's plenty of positives to take away from his season. Colbert also saw time and led a touchdown drive against USF in his first extended action. That's very important for the young signal caller to earn some respect and also get experience going into the spring.
From South Florida to Navy and the Memphis game, Davis didn't complete more than 58 percent of his passes and threw an interception in every game. Davis did keep SMU around versus Tulsa and Temple, but for the most part, these were tough losses and a lot of it landed on Davis' shoulders. Colbert got more opportunities to compete. Part of that was pushing Davis to play better and part of that was to manage Davis better, who in his first year of the offense was erratic at times. Davis has to calm down and take what the defense gives him. Granted, more consistent blocking in the running game will open things up for him and allow Davis to have more room to operate. This is a run-first offense and they had to get away from that at times this season. Davis and Colbert are both solid fits in this offense without a doubt, but in most first years in offenses, there's an adjustment period. Davis needs to be better about throwing the ball away instead of running around trying to make a play. He got a little better here as the year went on, but it's still something the staff is after to correct.
Expectations for 2016
Colbert will push Davis as the starter along with Hicks, but after this season, I think it's Davis' job to lose as he enters his senior year. Adding David Moore to the picture will bring more competition, but I think the staff would like to redshirt him if possible. With another spring and summer to learn more of Morris' offense that wasn't even fully installed, there's a lot to look forward to at this position. Ben Hicks is looking for that everyday consistency at the position it takes to play for this staff, but Colbert now has experience that makes him a viable candidate to beat Davis out if there's not improvement. I fully believe that as the skills and line continues to improve, this will make Davis even more comfortable and productive. It's Davis as the starter, but the staff has two options to play if he can't build off of what he started this year.
Returning: K.C. Nlemchi (possible 6th year), Prescott Line (Sr.), Darius Durall (Jr.), Braeden West (Soph.), Xavier Jones (Soph.)
Xavier Jones was my pick to be the most productive back in the preseason based on everything I had heard and he was. Jones started slow against Baylor, but after that turned in a couple nice performances and did come on strong the three games before Memphis, averaging well over four yards a carry. Jones really helped SMU in the redzone the most where he teamed with Davis to be a tough two-headed attack to stop. Braeden West still had a good year with not nearly as many touches. West averaged over five yards a carry, but never totalled more than 61 rushing yards. West saw more snaps in passing situations and was a target down the field for SMU later in the year. Prescott Line meanwhile saw some touches this year as a third and short yardage back, but overall had a limited role. His carry totals went down with each passing quarter, but did convert multiple third downs for SMU.
Fumbles. It was more about the when than how many fumbles running backs lost this season, but Jones and West combined to fumble 10 times with five being lost. The tandem fumbled three times against Houston alone with two of West's being lost. These were usually back breakers or combined with total dysfunction on offense to make SMU's grasp on the game slip away. It'll be something that has to be watched next season, but as they get stronger and comfortable, these things usually work themselves out. Pass protection was something that was an issue this season. That will come with seeing more and more of defenses' schemes. The backs this year had a "want to" with pass blocking, but struggled with execution and assignments. That's being a young running back, but it certainly cost SMU some opportunities to have plays develop.
Expectations for 2016
SMU certainly has two explosive backs to turn to and as the team adds Aphonso Thomas next year, SMU has plenty of speed at running back. A power back is still being sought, but as of now, the offense doesn't have to have that. Speed is great and speed kills. Morris wants this team to be one of the fastest in the country. Add a power back and SMU could have more of a punishing running game, but again, expectations should be heightened for the running game next year. There's competition at every spot along the offensive line and that will only help the running game. Expect ball security to be a huge topic this offseason and as Jones and West add size, that will really help them.
Graduating Receivers: Ace Holleman, AJ Buffini and Darius Joseph. Deion Sanders, Jr. is a DB now.
Returning Receivers: Nate Halverson (Sr.), Cedric Lancaster (Jr.), Ryheem Malone (Jr.), Shelby Walker (Jr.), Courtland Sutton (RS. Soph.), Xavier Castille (Soph.), Myron Gailliard (RS. Frosh), Alex Honey (RS. Frosh), James Proche (RS. Frosh), Kevin Thomas (Soph.).
Graduating Three-Backs: N/A
Returning Three-Backs:Jeremiah Gaines (Sr.), Christian Holloway (Sr.), Dylan Dickman (Jr.), Mitchell Kaufman (Soph.), Keyfer Roberts (RS. Soph.), Tony Richards (RS. Soph.), Hunter Herndon (RS. Frosh).
Let's start with Courtland Sutton, who starred in the first eight games, catching at least a touchdown in seven of them. The hot start and highlight reel catches landed Sutton on the Biletnikoff Award watch and a lot of praise. Sutton averaged nearly 20 yards per catch and took a lot of attention in the secondary since SMU had trouble developing true No. 2 targets. The bright spots were Xavier Castille finding his role after a quiet start to his career. Kevin Thomas showed flashes as well, but struggled with consistency. The way SMU rotated receivers and the way the staff is recruiting receivers, it will certainly be a position of strength as the depth and talent is built there. This year though, Sutton was the only major plus to the unit along with Ryheem Malone and Castille leading as the second receivers.
At the three-back, aside from Gaines, the position didn't have much depth to begin the season, but did get a boost of competition adding Roberts, Richards and Kaufman to the mix with Herndon out for the year. Gaines started to see more targets as the year went on after not being featured or bottled up during the first few games. Gaines is a natural fit here, but needs to improve on his blocking. He made some nice grabs and big catches during the middle of the season with Kaufman chipping in the occasional catch.
Sutton has held to 45 yards or less in the last four games. That's not exactly what SMU was looking for as he was limited in the big play game, but he got a few touches, which helps keeps the defense's attention on him. The tough part for SMU this season though is that no one else really stepped up consistently. High compete levels, missed blocking assignments and wrong routes plagued some of the group early this season especially. At three-back, blocking struggled at times and the ability to create open looks for Davis also was something that wasn't consistent enough. Drops weren't a huge issue, but the group just didn't get enough time to get open this year too.
Expectations for 2016
There's now talent oozing out of this position. Adding Brandon Benson and Joshua Shelmire without Audie Omotosho will be enough to really increase the competition for time. I'd expect to see 1-3 receivers be allowed to move on, but that's just me, not based on anything I've heard outside of Buffini graduating. Getting Honey, Proche and Gailliard (who got rave reviews on Scout team), will boost the competition level. Proche will immediately compete with Malone, Walker, Gailliard, Castille and Benson for more looks at the 2 and 5 man spots. He got rave reviews as the most natural receiver on the team. This group will see a big jump due to again, competition.
Graduating: Taylor Lasecki, Bo Antunovic and Kris Weeks
Returning: Chauncey Briggs (Sr.), Christian Chamagua (Sr.), Daniel McCarty (Sr.), William Barns (RS. Soph.), Evan Brown (Jr.), Travis Fister (RS. Soph.), Braylon Hyder (RS. Soph.), Jerry Saena (RS. Soph.), Chad Pursley (RS. Soph.), Nick Natour (RS. Soph.), Keaton Bates (RS. Frosh.), Marcus McNeil (RS. Frosh.), Bryce Wilds (RS. Frosh.)
Everything improved on the offensive line with Dustin Fry at the helm. That's not to say it wasn't perfect at all, but Davis had time to actually take drops and go down the field with balls this year and the running game saw some holes opened. The technique was improved and it showed, especially when SMU really managed to almost dominate Baylor at least in pass protection for the first half. Eventually, depth and talent took over, but Davis was kept relatively clean and just in the first half, people were talking about the miracles being worked by Fry. Taylor Lasecki took almost every snap this year if not all of them and played well for the most part. Outside of Lasecki, Weeks held down his spot outside of being injured and Pursley settled in at left tackle for most of the year.
While the line and team completely fell apart against Memphis, that was not indicative of how it played all season. That being said, I thought there were too many breakdowns when SMU was blitzed this season. That also can be on running backs and Davis getting the ball out in pressure situations, but that was a glaring weakness. There's certainly some talent issues up front at guard as it was a revolving door, but Briggs settled in nicely at left guard I thought towards the end of the year. The nastiness against Baylor was replaced by a game against UNT that saw the line regress and they flat-lined most of the year I thought. There wasn't much improvement except against Tulane.
Expectations for 2016
I expect this group to have that nasty streak it had earlier in the year for most of next year. With Wilds and Bates coming off redshirt years along with the 2016 class incoming, there's going to be players that have experience coupled with ones with some talent along the line. Fry and the offensive staff will likely be able to put together a more productive unit next year. There was just too much shuffling in my mind. As much as the staff can say this sack or that sack was on Davis (and plenty were), there was too much pressure and not enough consistency in the running game. With some more athletic and talented linemen coming into the fold, I like SMU to show even more improvement next year.