Matt Visinsky

Notes and takeaways: SMU's Week 4 media day

SMU head coach Chad Morris, offensive coordinator Joe Craddock, defensive coordinator Van Malone and defensive end Justin Lawler met with the media on Monday before SMU's game vs. TCU on Friday. PonyStampede has notes and takeaways from their comments.

‘Pressing’ in red zone

In SMU’s last 12 possessions inside an opponent’s 15-yard line, the Mustangs have made 6 field goals, missed 2 field goals, thrown 4 interceptions and scored no touchdowns. Ben Hicks’ turnovers in the end zone have been the lowlight, but Morris wants the entire offense to clean up sloppy mistakes.

“We’re really anemic in that area. Very nonexistent. That’s a huge concern,” Morris said. “Not only are we not coming away with points, but we’re turning the ball over. That’s something that’s gotta stop. If there is a good thing, it’s correctable.”

Morris and the coaches have touted Hicks’ confidence as a quarterback. They’ve admitted it hasn’t shown up on the field this year, especially after he makes a mistake.

“I think the biggest thing is he’s trying to impress his teammates. He knows Matt Davis was the leader of this team and those are big shoes he’s trying to fill,” Craddock said. “The biggest thing I’ve been disappointed in with Ben in two games he’s started is his body language. He’s trying so hard and is a kid that is so hard on himself.”

Morris said the main reason for the mistakes are because Hicks and other players are overthinking instead of simply executing. He’s called it “pressing.” 

“You get there and you get a young guy or two young guys who try to press,” Morris said. “We say it all the time, you have to operate within the system. You start operating outside the system, that’s when you get in trouble. Our system is set, our system is proven.”

Playing within the system entails going through reads instead of guessing, throwing to an open receiver instead of forcing a ball and recognizing how a play works against a certain defensive alignment or movement from a defender. Morris says SMU has drills in practice to work in it. In some drills Craddock acts as the defensive player that an offensive player is supposed to read or recognize.

“We just want to score points and to cut the turnovers,” Morris said.

Breaking down TCU

SMU lost at TCU last year, 56-37, but was within five points before the Horned Frogs scored two late touchdowns. They lost quarterback Trevone Boykin, running back Aaron Green, receiver Josh Doctson and receiver Kolby Listenbee from an offense that averaged 42.1 points and 563 yards per game. 

Taking over for Boykin is Kenny Hill, a Dallas-area native and transfer from Texas A&M. As the primary running back, Kyle Hicks has averaged 5.9 yards per carry and scored 5 touchdowns. Speedy slot man Kavontae Turpin is the leading receiver, but he left last weekend’s win vs. Iowa State with an injury. 

“Kenny’s ability to leave the pocket and run, he ability to scramble and make plays with his feet,” Malone said. “They have a lot of speed on the edges. They challenge you with many different formations. (TCU offensive coordinator) Doug Meachem and I worked together at Oklahoma State, I just remember all the things they did back in those days that present incredible challenges for defenses.”

Hill faced SMU two years ago while at A&M, before Chad Morris was hired. He is a former four-star recruit from Southlake (Texas) Carroll High School in the DFW area.

“Every good quarterback I’ve been around, when things don’t go well around them, they always find a way to hit a reset button,” Morris said. “If something breaks down, Kenny has the talent to cause you some mismatches.”

Defensively, TCU has allowed 34 points and 405 yards per game so far this year. Those numbers are atypical of Gary Patterson’s defenses, although they are about the same as a season ago.

“They do a great job of getting the extra hat in the box, whether it’s a safety, an outside ‘backer, a rover,” Morris said. “Whoever it is, they do a great job of it.”

This and that

  • Through three games, SMU has 9 interceptions. That’s tied with Ohio State and Cincinnati for the most in the FBS. But the offense hasn’t turned them into points. Against Liberty, SMU intercepted 4 passes, but only scored 10 points off them. “It puts you in a ball game down to the wire when you’re unable to score points off of creating turnovers,” Morris said.
  • Morris said that defensive end Nick Horton is out for the season and will have surgery. He was not dressed for the Liberty game and wore a knee brace. Michael Badejo is listed as the starter at end opposite Justin Lawler.
  • Darrell Colbert will miss “several weeks” with a hand injury, Morris announced. He left open the possibility that he may not play again this season. Connor Simpson and Ke'Mon Freeman are listed as the No. 2 and No. 3 quarterbacks on the depth chart, respectively. Freeman has been working as a running back this season, but played quarterback in high school. Simpson is a walk-on.
  • A week after cornerback Jordan Wyatt played all 115 defensive and special teams plays against Baylor, he played about 70 (Liberty ran 72 offensive plays). He intercepted 2 passes, broke up another and downed a punt. He is tied for the team lead with 3 picks.
  • Morris has touted SMU’s 12-man rotation on the defensive line. Much of the depth up front has come from younger guys. Justin Lawler, one of SMU’s more experienced linemen and the team’s sack leader, is impressed with their eagerness to learn. He specifically mentioned true freshman defensive end Demerick Gary. “As soon as I come off the field, he’s always in my ear,” Lawler said. “It’s ‘what are you seeing? What are they doing with their hands? Are they soft? Are they letting you come inside?’ Just a bunch of stuff so that way when they go on the field, they already know and don’t have to figure it out themselves.” 
  • Craddock said that SMU’s offensive line “probably had its worse game” of the season vs. Liberty.

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