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Notes and takeaways: SMU Week 3 media day

SMU head coach Chad Morris, offensive coordinator Joe Craddock, defensive coordinator Van Malone and quarterback Ben Hicks met with the media before SMU's game vs. Liberty on Saturday. PonyStampede has notes and takeaways from their comments.

Matt Davis out for season

Chad Morris announced on his radio show Monday night that quarterback Matt Davis will miss the remainder of the season with an ACL injury and will have surgery this week. Davis left with the injury in the second half of the season opener at North Texas. SMU will seek a sixth year of eligibility for him.

Davis started 11 games for SMU last season, scoring 26 total touchdowns. He threw 2 touchdowns in the opener before exiting. 

Redshirt freshman Ben Hicks made his first career start in the 40-13 loss to Baylor, completing 17-of-44 passes with 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions.

“You have to hit the reset button and move on. That’s one of the things he has to really continue to work on,” Morris said of Hicks on Tuesday. “But he’s got a phenomenal career ahead of him.”

Two of the interceptions came in the end zone, immediately following Baylor turnovers. In four trips inside Baylor’s 12-yard line, SMU scored 6 total points.

“My goal is finding a way to get our offense in the end zone, especially in the red zone,” Hicks said.

Morris said he didn’t simplify or drastically change the offense with Hicks in place of Davis, even though Hicks isn’t the running threat that Davis is.

Hicks had not made a start since 2014, his senior year of high school. A former Houston commit, he was one of the first players to commit to Morris at SMU and enrolled a semester early. He picked SMU over Texas Tech. The SMU coaches have praised his confidence, even during his struggles in his first two spring seasons.

“You’ll see a better Ben Hicks this week than you did last week,” Morris said. “Our players have confidence in him and our team has confidence in him. That’s the main thing.”

SMU not taking Liberty lightly

SMU played FCS opponent James Madison at home last season and lost. In the three games before, SMU had played TCU closely, beat UNT and played Baylor close for a half. The 48-45 loss sent SMU into a rut.

“We felt like our guys had played hard for two solid weeks,” Morris said. “We were definitely trending upward. When James Madison came in here and we lost that game, then up 23-0 the next week on East Carolina, we could never pull ourselves out of a tailspin. It cost us. That game left it’s mark on this program. That’s something that we’re going to learn from.”

James Madison went 9-3 in 2015 and advance to the second round of the FCS playoffs. The Dukes won their second straight Colonial Athletic Association title under head coach Everett Withers, who is now at Texas State.

This year, SMU hosts FCS foe Liberty in its home opener. The Flames don’t have the pedigree of James Madison, but Morris and players aren’t overlooking them. They played at Virginia Tech in their opener, a 36-13 loss, but held a 13-10 lead early in the second quarter. They are led by former Buffalo and Kansas head coach Turner Gill.

“This team is extremely talented. They’re really good,” Morris said. “This is a tough opponent for us. There’s nobody in this building taking this team for granted. This team is not going to be intimidated because they’re playing a Division I opponent in Dallas.”

Defensive coordinator Van Malone said SMU has no right to overlook Liberty like SMU overlooked James Madison in 2015. The Dukes gained 729 yards on SMU’s defense, including 440 on the ground.

“We don’t have room at this time to overlook anybody,” Malone said.

Craddock seeks improvement from tight ends

Through two games this season, SMU tight ends have caught 4 passes. Jeremiah Gaines, who is listed atop the depth chart and is two seniors playing on offense, has no receptions. 

The Mustangs started two tight ends against Baylor. True freshman Ryan Becker started next to Mitchell Kaufman because SMU wanted to max protect against Baylor’s defensive line. SMU signed Becker with the intent to eventually grow him into an offensive lineman. Becker had offers as a tight end, offensive lineman and defensive end coming out of high school. Fellow freshman Corey Rau a more natural pass-catcher, is playing behind Becker. 

“Ryan shows that he’s physical,” Craddock said. “He’s not the best route-runner. He’s gonna screw up a little bit on where to line up. But he’s physical. He plays until the echo of the whistle. If you look at some of the plays where he’s been in there, he’s almost Michael Oher-ing people out of bounds blocking them so hard. We need everybody in that group to be as physical as he is.”

Craddock was pleased with SMU’s pass protection vs. Baylor and said it improved since the UNT game. Against an athletic Bears defensive front, SMU gave up one sack. It wasn’t the offensive line’s responsibility. 

“Really, the only sack we gave up was by the tight end,” Craddock said. “That’s a position that has to come on and we have to be better at that position. That’s a position that makes this team go.”

This and that

  • Morris said Monday night Xavier Jones was a game-time decision vs. Baylor with a hamstring issue and is likely to be a game-time decision for Saturday.
  • Morris said defensive end Nick Horton will be a game-time decision for Saturday. Horace Richardson and Rodney Clemons sustained minor injuries vs. Baylor but should be fully healthy for Liberty.
  • SMU and Baylor’s 6-6 halftime score marked the first time in eight seasons that the Bears did not score a first-half touchdown.
  • Signed as a safety in February, Collin Rock is now listed on SMU’s roster as a quarterback. The plan is for him to redshirt, but Morris said the move was made as an emergency precaution because of the lack of quarterback depth resulting from Davis’ injury. Rock played the position in high school. Morris did not say if the move will last beyond this season.
  • Cornerback Jordan Wyatt played every defensive and special teams snap (115 total) on Saturday. Malone said he doesn’t want him to play that much, but he refused to come out.
  • Malone said SMU had far fewer missed tackles and allowed fewer yards after missed tackles on Saturday compared to last season against Baylor. “I think that goes to our team speed on defense. We hadn’t really been able to say those two words together, speed and defense.”

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