Four over four
On some fourth downs and on drives before halftime, SMU has opted to call safer, low-risk plays. Against TCU last week, SMU started an offensive possession with 2:24 left in the first half. Instead of trying to put together a quick two-minute scoring drive, SMU called three run plays and punted with 46 seconds left.
Chad Morris said after the game that he wants to keep his younger players out of adverse situations when he can. He explained that in 2015, SMU lost momentum and gave up points at the end of the first half and the start of the second half. He came up with the slogan “four over four,” meaning SMU needs to win the four minutes before the half and the four minutes coming out of halftime.
“Four over four equals one. There’s one way to fix it,” Morris said. “It takes one play at a time, one person to do their job across the board. Everybody has to do their assignment. We put that in our keys to victory – are we actually winning the four over four moments, that eight-minute time?”
Morris said SMU didn’t win those situations against TCU. SMU gave up a field goal with 2:29 to go in the first half and a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the second half.
“We gave them 10 points in the critical time we’ve identified. There’s so much in the mindset of not giving the other team momentum, especially with how young we are in some areas,” Morris said. “If you can eliminate those mistakes in those key moments in the game, you’re going to help yourself out. We’ve identified that we have to make sure we have the momentum and we dang sure don’t let it go to the opponent.”
Morris didn’t say when he may have the offense try to put together a scoring drive at the end of a first half or try to convert some fourth downs in opposing territory. He attributes many of his decisions to youth.
“As we get older and these guys continue to progress, you identify those times of the game and you want to capitalize on them,” Morris said. “If we can be the ones scoring 10 points, now what does it do for us? That’s literally how we break this game down.”
Addressing second-half struggles
SMU trailed 6-3 at halftime vs. TCU and was tied 6-6 at halftime vs. Baylor earlier this season. In the second half of those games, SMU gave up 61 total points and scored only 7. After strong first halves, SMU’s defense stayed on the field for too long, allowed third down conversions and didn’t force as many turnovers. Through four games, SMU played an average of 83 defensive snaps.
“When you look at both of those game, you look at missed opportunities,” Morris said.
TCU didn’t convert any of its seven third downs in the first half against SMU and didn’t pick up a first down until the last 90 seconds of the first quarter.
TCU’s 75-yard touchdown came after safety Kevin Johnson missed tackle on a quick slant. On a 16-play drive in the second half, the Horned Frogs converted three third downs with at least eight yards to gain. On the previous drive, a facemask penalty on third-and-19 gave TCU a first down after SMU had stopped the play short of the line to gain.
On Baylor’s first possession of the second half, a hands-to-the-face penalty negated a sack by Justin Lawler on third down. The Bears later scored a touchdown on that drive.
“There are four or five plays over the course of the game that they’re making and we’re not,” Morris said. “A lot of that comes from building a program and teaching these guys that while we’re playing well for an extended period of time, there’s still four or five plays that we have to make.”
Finding a fumble-forcing mentality
SMU’s 10 interceptions through four games are tied for the most in the nation and match last season’s 12-game total. Defensive coordinator Van Malone says it’s not a surprise after the coaches emphasized it so much in fall camp.
“It doesn’t happen by a miracle. We’ve been practicing these kinds of things,” he said. “All they see is the fruit they’ve planted long ago.”
But Malone wants to see the defense start forcing fumbles. SMU has forced only three fumbles through four games. He believes they put the opposing offense in a worse mental state than interceptions.
“Interceptions, yeah that’s cute,” Malone said. “But to take a fumble, to cause fumbles, it’s more violent. It’s more of a take. That’s what we want more of.”
Talking running game vs. TCU
SMU averaged 2.2 yards on 34 rushing attempts against TCU, which had 8 tackles for loss. SMU center Evan Brown said they were tough against the run.
“They did the best at containing our running game. They sort of shut it down a little bit,” Brown said. “But part of that is on us also. We have to fit our blocks better based on what they gave us.”
Craddock said the run game struggles weren’t a result of poor decisions by the running backs, but a missed assignment from someone on first down.
“We played with 10 a lot. It seems like every first down, we had 10 guys doing the right thing and one guy not, and you have a free hitter on the running back. Everybody thinks, ‘you can’t run the ball’ and that kind of stuff, but we had one guy just not doing his job. If he at least covers the guy up, we’d have 5 or 6 yards on first down.”
Morris said he saw only three missed assignments from offensive linemen in the game, the lowest total this season.
This and That
- SMU’s streak of not scoring a touchdown inside an opponent’s 15-yard line reached 13 straight possessions Friday night. The Mustangs reached TCU’s 6-yard line on their opening possession, but ended it with a 23-yard field goal. A Ke’Mon Freeman rushing touchdown was called back earlier on that drive because of a hold on Courtland Sutton. Instead of lamenting the call, offensive coordinator Joe Craddock complimented Sutton’s blocking. “He’s blocking his butt off, and I didn’t even get mad at him for it,” Craddock said. “He has to understand he has to let (the defender) go, but just for a second he held him. He’s being physical and that’s what I challenged Courtland to do. That’s my fault, if anything.”
- A year after winning 10 games and reaching the AAC title game, Temple is 2-2 with losses to Army and Penn State. The Owls surrendered 20 points to second-year FBS member Charlotte in a win last weekend, but their 20.5 points per game ranks 33rd nationally. Temple averages about 60 offensive plays per game and stresses physicality over tempo. “We have to match their physicality offensively,” Morris said. “They run the football, they do what they do and they’re good at it.”
- Morris said he feels left tackle Nick Natour “should be good to go” for Saturday’s game and that they well “hopefully” get left guard Daniel McCarty back as well. He said running back Xavier Jones will try to practice this week.