Winning game vs. Houston validates hard work for team
After SMU dropped its game against Tulsa in overtime, Chad Morris knew the team was still believing in the process that the coaching staff was asking the players to believe in. All he had to do was walk in the locker room after the loss to Tulsa.
"You really knew at that point, that they cared (after Tulsa). My message was as long as I see the hurt, I know you believe," Morris said on Tuesday.
Turning the page to Houston, SMU came out and built a 21-0 lead over the Cougars and even when the Cougars threatened, SMU shut the door on the No. 11 team in the country.
"The performance our players put out on the field on Saturday night was huge for our program," Morris said. "I knew that as long as our players would continue to respond, the outcomes would happen."
Morris told the team after the Mustangs' win that all of their hard work led to this win.
"This is what it's supposed to look like. This is where we're going. It was just one win, it was a big one, but it was just one. There's more to come," Morris said. "We haven't arrived. We're a long way from there. There's a lot of things we could have done better."
The team got after it in the locker room and while the consensus is that Morris isn't a great dancer, it's a moment for the team to cherish.
"Sleep must be overrated. I slept less and felt better on Sunday. I went to sleep around 3:30 or 4," Morris said.
Van Malone said the team was weary of what could happen if the team took its eye off the prize. Morris said the team focused on one play at a time versus seconds left in the game.
"It wasn't until two minutes left in the game, that they could celebrate and smile," Malone said. "We've played three great quarters before, then had a letdown. You can learn when you win."
There's still plenty of goals left to accomplish for this SMU team and a winning streak is one of them.
"Everybody works hard across the country, but you have to have some validation," Morris said. "Moving forward, we have to validate what we're doing. Can you turn a win into a winning streak?"
Hicks, SMU offense has been building towards this
When you watched the first few games of Ben Hicks career at SMU, he was turnover prone and getting little protection from the offensive line.
Now, following the win over Houston, Chad Morris and Joe Craddock both said Hicks' improved play is a product of experience and his intense preparation.
"He's been working extremely hard all year. He watches a lot of film. A lot of defensive guys have told me that," Craddock said. "He knew it was his turn."
Morris said the plan to protect Ben Hicks that Craddock and Dustin Fry drew up was executed very well.
"Those guys had a great plan to protect Ben Hicks. We knew if we could protect Ben, he was going to get better. He has all year," Morris said.
One storyline from the game was Hicks facing a team he was committed to at one point, but Craddock said that didn't affect him.
"He wishes there were a few throws he wanted back, but he played really well. We want him to be the same guy," Craddock said. "I don't think Ben is a guy about himself. He wanted to see the team succeed."
Hicks said his focus is now getting to that bowl game that the team has talked about. Seeing the coaches and seniors celebrate was something Hicks enjoyed and that's pushing him to work harder and prove it wasn't a fluke.
"We've been putting in the work for a while. To finally get a win like that, I didn't come here to beat Houston one time," Hicks said. "We're an under .500 team right now. We've got a long way to go. We've got five more games to get to our ultimate goal."
Craddock let his offense know on Sunday that a game like that is what the coaches had been hoping for since they've been at SMU.
"I told our guys on Sunday, that's what you're supposed to do if you prepare and you were ready. This isn't a fluke," Craddock said. "The biggest thing now is turning the page and moving forward."
Craddock did say that while Hicks is playing earlier than he probably should have, each game is bringing more experience and that he's, "going to find a way to get better."
"It's getting a lot easier. Experience is a great learning tool. I thought my first three starts were tough," Hicks said. "I learned a lot about myself and about my teammates."
SMU defense saw all its fundamentals come together defending Ward
SMU had a tough challenge against Houston and quarterback Greg Ward, Jr., but the team stepped up. Defensive coordinator Van Malone said it's nice to be sitting at a press conference following a win.
"I've had the misfortune of being in this seat & it not being fun. Following a victory, you have to understand it's the same."
The key to defending Ward and that offense was staying disciplined, something SMU did well Malone said.
"We practice daily on leveraging the football. We just had a game where it worked out," Malone said. "If you keep your feet, maintain leverage and use fundamentals, you can contain him. Our practice habits they showed up."
There's still work left to be done for SMU's defense, which continues to force turnovers game after game.
"We accomplished quite a few of our goals as we go into the game. We push our guys for greatness. They understand that."
Team moving forward to Tulane as it still can improve
Morris said that SMU's next opponent is much improved and it's a credit to the coaching staff there. The Green Wave also present another issue in defending the triple option, which the team doesn't see often. Malone stressed that SMU still has areas to improve after the big win over Houston.
"That game is over. There are some great things we can learn from. We have not played our best game. We had 7 missed tackles," Malone said. "When we get the place when we have zero errors, I'm going to love that press conference."
SMU will continue to work towards that type of a performance, like the team does every day.
"If we put it all together, we had the opportunity to have a spectacular performance. That's what we strive for," Malone said.
Morris said that Houston's long drive including two third down conversions are learning areas for the team. The team got back to the practice field on Sunday and Morris was impressed with the focus and attitude.
"We corrected our mistakes and moved forward to Tulane," Morris said. "They had a spring in their step and were eager to get back onto the field and around each other. This is a close team."
Positive impact on recruiting expected
Malone commented on what the win meant for recruiting and the effect it had on the over 500 (per Morris) recruits on campus.
"Kids look at wins and losses. For us to be able to come out victorious, it gave us tremendous momentum. We have to capitalize."
The lifeblood of the program, like Morris said at his radio show, is recruiting and for SMU to win like that, Malone said it can only help.
"We have to continue to recruit. They come here because of the way we treat them, tremendous academic advantage," Malone said. "One game, one moment in time, it can do a lot, but it's just one win."
- Morris said that SMU is expected to have everyone for the Tulane game and there were no major injuries.
- Craddock on Evan Brown vs. Ed Oliver: "Ed Oliver is a great player, but we knew Evan Brown was too. We knew coming in that Evan was a guy we looked at when we were at Clemson. He did a great job and did an unbelievable amount of pride in his preparation. He knew that Ed is a good player."
- Morris on the open week and what it meant for the team: "I thought this was a critical time for this football team. I thought how we came off the open week would determine the season."
- Hicks said after Braeden West's run before the half, he said that and the touchdown to James Proche that followed were the two biggest plays of the game offensively. "We worked that play all week. After Braeden had that run, I knew exactly what coach Craddock was going to call."
- Morris said Tulane's two running backs are near the top of the conference and will be a pair they'll have to prepare for to stop.