Matt Visinsky

2016 SMU Football Burning Questions

The Pony Stampede staff shares their burning questions for the SMU staff and how the team might be able to handle them.

Billy: How does the offensive line shake out?

The most important key for this offense will be the offensive line. Sure, the staff has said that a lot of the issues last year were on Matt Davis and I'm sure some were, but SMU needs the offensive line to step up. The group might not take over games against TCU or Baylor, but goods teams have lines that can do that every once and a while. A few fumbles aside, SMU has a solid running backs corps. The line should be able to open up holes for the backs to run through.

Davis would benefit from this as well because if SMU can get large chunks of yardage from their ground game, watch out passing game. Just got a whole lot easier. Anyway, you're looking at Chad Pursley anchoring the left side it seems like and Evan Brown (one of the strongest, if not the strongest player on the team) at center and from there, it's musical chairs.

You've got guys like Bryce Wilds and Keaton Bates that the staff is hoping will step up and really make decisions on who starts really difficult. In addition, Travis Fister, Daniel McCarty, Jerry Saena, Nick Natour, Chauncey Briggs and Braylon Hyder pushing. That's not even mentioning the talented freshmen. 

My offensive line to start against UNT (not way off into the future) from left to right: Chad Pursley, Kadarius Smith, Evan Brown, Chauncey Briggs and Bryce Wilds. I'm not sure it'll happen, but that'd be my move especially if Smith can come in and adjust quickly. That'd be a huge plus from a talent perspective alone. 

Lot of work to be done along the offensive line, but... it will probably stretch into the season yet again before a core group can settle in.

Patrick: Can Matt Davis be consistent and keep improving as a passer for a whole season?
Matt Visinsky

Quarterback Matt Davis started 11 games for SMU in 2015 and was a big reason for SMU’s improvement on offense. But he struggled as a passer as the season went on, and SMU’s offense became less potent as a result. In his final six games, he completed less than 50 percent of his passes in four and tossed an interception in five. His fundamentals and patience as a passer became less consistent as the season progressed. 

SMU’s defense was its weaker unit in 2015, and again figures to have some growing pains as some younger players get looks and learn on the fly. If SMU is going to win more games this season, it is going to rely on its offense, not its defense. The offense needs to avoid fading in the second half of games. Playing more complete starts with Davis finding consistency as a passer for the entire season, even in SMU’s run-first offense. He improved as a passer in 2015 and his decision-making skills are much better, but still can leave some passes on the field and can fall back into bad habits fundamentally at times. Going into the same offense with the same coordinator for the first time in his college career will help.

SMU has other position groups with a lot more question marks than quarterback. It seems odd to focus on a pretty clear position, but if SMU wants to see its record improve, it is going to rely on its experienced quarterback, not its inexperienced defense that is probably still a year away from helping win games. With some more consistency, Davis can help SMU’s offense play complete games and win some of the shootout-type games that it lost last year.

Hatts: Who will emerge as SMU’s second receiver behind Courtland Sutton?
Tommy Gilligan - USA Today Sports

Courtland Sutton had a great year for SMU and certainly burst on the scene as SMU’s go to wide receiver 49 catches for 862 yards and nine touchdowns. But behind Sutton, it was a struggle for any other receiver to step up to the plate as that go to second option. Ryheem Malone, Xavier Castille and Jeremiah Gaines, SMU’s next three leading receivers only combined for 700 yards between the three of them good for just over 60 yards per game.

With these three back in addition to Kevin Thomas, as well as newcomers James Proche, Brandon Benson and Alex Honey just to name a few SMU has a great opportunity to see a second-wide receiver emerge to help out Courtland Sutton. Often times, Sutton would have a great stretch but disappear at times during games due to the attention he received that just showed how important it is to have a second option. With both Gaines and Proche having impressive spring games, those two jump out as immediate candidates to take that next step. 

Scott: Can SMU's young defensive linemen develop enough in camp to be quality, consistent contributors this fall?
Gabe Brooks / SCOUT

One of the biggest holes on this team, the Mustangs are going to need several young players to step up if the team is going to improve up front.  SMU surrendered more than 260 rushing yards per game, and gave up 45 points per game largely because they struggled so much to put pressure on the other teams' quarterbacks.  Luckily, the Mustangs have several young, talented linemen coming up that have the potential to contribute early.

After redshirting, both Michael and Deontae Scott showed impressive flashes during spring ball and immediately add needed depth.  Chris Biggurs is another redshirt freshman that has the athleticism and talent to make an impact, but true freshmen Ken McLaurin (above) might the the youngster asked to do the most this fall. Michael Badejo, and Demerick Gary could also be asked to step up early.

Depth was a large weakness last year, but the talent, although young, is there now.  For this defensive line to take a major step forward, they will need the young prospects to step up beyond their years. 

Demo: Can SMU find consistency in the secondary in 2016?

It’s no secret that SMU had one of the worst defenses in the conference last season. The Mustangs finished second in the American Athletic Conference in total defense and eighth in pass defense giving up just under 3000.  SMU’s 9.3 yards per completion and 31 passing touchdowns allowed were the highest in the AAC.

This season there is a youth movement in SMU’s secondary. Horace Richardson is one of the only two seniors in that unit and has been one of SMU’s more steady presences on defense.   

New additions like Eric Sutton (above), Mikial Onu, Collin Rock Kevin Johnson (medical redshirt) and Michael Clark have the potential to make a difference right away. With their athleticism and ball hawking ability, SMU’s incoming freshman might be the difference that makes SMU’s defense great again.

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