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Notes and takeaways: SMU Week 2 media day

SMU head coach Chad Morris, offensive coordinator Joe Craddock, defensive coordinator Van Malone and linebacker Jackson Mitchell met with the media before SMU's game at Baylor on Saturday. PonyStampede has notes and takeaways from their comments.

Ben Hicks prepared for action at Baylor

With quarterback Matt Davis’ status for Saturday unclear, SMU is prepared for the possibility of giving redshirt freshman Ben Hicks his first career start. Hicks entered last weekend’s 34-21 win at North Texas on a designed one-series substitution, but took over permanently in the third quarter after Davis left with an injury.

On his radio show Monday night and his weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon, SMU head coach Chad Morris said Davis will be a “game-time decision.” The goal in Hicks’ planned first-quarter appearance was to get him some real game snaps in case Davis ever was injured. 

“We didn’t expect anything to happen to Matt,” SMU offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said. “But when Matt went down with the injury, we had to rally with Ben the rest of the way and he felt like he was ready.”

In his first career game, Hicks went 5-for-9 passing with 145 yards. His first career completion was an 88-yard touchdown to Courtland Sutton. If Davis is unable to go Saturday, Hicks would make his first career start in his hometown. He is a Waco native who starred at Midway High School. 

“We’re taking Matt day-to-day right now just seeing if he’ll be ready to go,” Craddock said. “If he goes in, he’ll be fired up playing in front of his hometown crowd.”

Morris signees finding roles

Morris said that 31 of the 47 players he signed in the 2015 and 2016 classes played in the win at UNT. In a rebuilding job, turning the roster over quickly is important to seeing better results on the field. 

“We knew the only way to create some depth is to let them go and let them play,” Morris said. “I was glad to watch these guys grow. Every snap, they get better, get a little more game experience. And that’s what you’re after.”

Freshman running back Ke'Mon Freeman drew praise from Morris, Craddock and senior linebacker Jackson Mitchell. He ran for 39 yards on 5 carries against UNT. A signing-day addition to SMU’s 2016 class, Freeman committed to SMU as a player without a true position. A quarterback for Texarkana (Texas) Liberty-Eylau, he has settled in as SMU’s bigger running back.

On one of his first days of fall camp, he was tasked with picking up Mitchell on a blitz. As a quarterback in high school, he didn’t have to block a lot. It wasn't an issue.

“Ke’Mon got him pretty good,” Craddock said. “All the coaches were like, ‘whoa, that just happened. This kid just started playing running back.’ The moment’s not too big for him. He’s just a football player. He’s a guy that just understands it.”

A surprised Mitchell could only compliment him.

“We do 1-on-1 pass rush with the running backs all fall camp,” Mitchell said. “He’s one of those guys who was consistently blocking everyone in front of him.”

“Just a football player” was Freeman’s reputation among other coaches and recruiting analysts. SMU’s initial plan after signing him was to give him a chance to play quarterback. Other colleges also were looking at him as a defensive back and running back. 

“He’s picked up really quick,” Craddock said. “I think he’s going to have a great career here, once he keeps developing at the running back position or if we ask him to play more quarterback. That’s the thing you love about the kid, he’s so coachable and he’ll do whatever you tell him to do.”

Baylor game a good “gauge” for SMU

To say Baylor had a troublesome offseason is an understatement. Even after firing head coach Art Briles in May and losing most of its freshman class, the Bears return a potent offensive core. In their opening game, they thrashed Northwestern State 55-7 and held the Demons to 78 total yards. Acting head coach Jim Grobe hasn’t change much about Baylor’s offensive and defensive tendencies and schemes.

“You don’t see much of a difference," Morris said. "They’re playing extremely confident. From an offensive standpoint, they look like a mirror image of what they’ve been in the past. From a defensive standpoint, you can tell coach (Phil) Bennett is still in charge and running full-throttle of what he does.”

Like last season, Morris said SMU is excited for the challenge of playing a tough opponent. He thinks game will be a gauge of SMU’s improvement from his first year to his second year. Mitchell is eager to prove that SMU can play with Baylor for an entire game. After only trailing by 7 at halftime against Baylor last year, SMU was shut out 28-0 in the second half.

“I’m so excited just to play a team with so much speed and had so much success," Mitchell said. "You love a moment like this because it’s really an opportunity to show what you can really do.”

This and that

  • Two kickers attempted field goals against North Texas: Josh Williams and Michael Armstrong. Morris said Williams battled cramps in the second half of the game. Armstrong replaced him and made one of his two field goal attempts. Morris was pleased with their performance on kickoffs: Williams kicked three touchbacks and Armstrong kicked one.
  • Morris said redshirt freshman offensive lineman Keaton Bates is unlikely to play at Baylor. Bates sat out against North Texas with an injury, but he is expected back soon. “I think we’re still another week out,” Morris said of Bates.
  • Former tight end Tony Richards moved back to offensive line during fall camp after Chad Pursley’s season-ending injury. Richards played offensive line at Highland Park (Texas) High School and was originally recruited to play there under SMU’s previous coaching staff. Morris said he will work more behind Nick Natour at left tackle.
  • SMU ran 73 plays against the Mean Green, but Morris wants to play even faster. His goal is to run between 80 and 85 plays. “We have to continue to push the needle even more. I think you’ll start to see that even more as the year goes.” 
  • Mitchell said the freshmen have impressed him with their ability and their preparation: “These young guys can really play. I remember when I came in as a freshman. I was this round and chubby kid that was just here. These kids that we got this season came in looking like college football players.”

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