“Playing like we’ve arrived”
After beating then-No. 11 Houston and Tulane, SMU experienced extended success for the first time under Chad Morris.
Morris and staff think that was a reason SMU played so poorly in last weekend’s 51-7 loss to Memphis.
“We played like we had arrived,” Morris said. “We played like we had been on a two-week pat-on-the-back session, like we’ve got this thing figured out.”
Morris said one play summed up that sense of entitlement. Surprisingly, it was one of SMU’s few good plays. He was unhappy with Ke'Mon Freeman jogging into the end zone on his 16-yard touchdown reception.
“We go against everything this program stands for, and we trot into the end zone like we’ve arrived,” he said.
Defensively, SMU let Memphis grab a 14-0 lead less than four minutes into the game. Aided by a fumble and a blown coverage, the Tigers needed only four offensive plays to score two touchdowns. Poor tackling and blown coverages led to Memphis averaging 14.4 yards per completion.
Van Malone also sensed the premature feeling of arrival, noting players can’t make one win or loss any different from another, no matter the margin or quality of opponent.
“When we play Tulsa, we lost, and in that situation, when I look in the win-loss column, there’s an ‘L’ and there’s one more number. It’s the same to us,” Malone said. “When you win, there’s only one win. When we played a couple weeks ago and we shocked the world and they moved the planets around for us, it’s just one win. You have to take them the same. Our guys are going to grow to be this way."
After the loss, quarterback Ben Hicks pointed out the team had a lack of focus in practices leading up to the game. He said given the decline in practice, he wasn’t completely shocked SMU played as poorly as it did. He said he is taking responsibility for it.
Morris noticed the decreased focus in practice too.
“I thought we have had better practices,” Morris said. "But nothing that led to the fact of coming out and playing and performing uninspired. Not especially when you’re a football team that still can talk about implications of playing for a conference championship, or at least sharing your division. All that was at stake.”
Added Malone: “It’s our staff’s job to get them to understand that each and every week, each and every day, each and every practice are just as important as the game’s we’ve played.”
SMU now has to win two of its final three games to become bowl-eligible. Getting to that point requires the team to regain the focus that helped it win two straight games (and nearly a third) in October.
Before that streak, SMU suffered a 45-20 loss at Temple, after which Chad Morris didn’t mince words in team meetings and called for his players to respond. Now, SMU finds itself in a similar place.
"I was disappointed in our play, our preparation,” Morris said. “I’m disappointed in our coaches, disappointed in myself that I didn’t have you ready, that our staff didn’t have you ready. With everything in front of us to play for, we came out and played uninspired."
“Sunday’s team meeting wasn’t quite as politically correct. It was more direct and to the point. Totally unacceptable. I’m not going to tolerate it, and it starts with me.”
ECU: familiar faces despite new coaching staff
Like this year, SMU’s game vs. East Carolina is about responding following a bad loss. After collapsing in the final two minutes against James Madison, the Mustangs took a 23-7 lead early in the second quarter before giving up six unanswered touchdowns in a 49-23 loss.
Pirates quarterback James Summers entered the game in the second quarter and ran for 85 yards with two touchdowns. He passed for two more. Now under a new coaching staff, he has moved to running back and is the team’s leading rusher with 594 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Philip Nelson and Gardner Minshew are both listed atop the depth chart at quarterback, with an “or” in between them. Nelson has thrown 16 touchdowns, but Minshew took some snaps during last week’s loss vs. Tulsa and filled in when Nelson was injured earlier this season.
“They’re not very different. Last year, they had one guy that was a big-time passer and another who was a runner," Malone said. "They both have abilities to be able to run the football as well as to deliver it in the passing game. We’ll be prepared for both.”
Whoever starts will have the nation’s leading receiver at his disposal. Zay Jones has 127 catches through nine games, 29 more than the next closest receiver. He has caught 17 or more passes four times this year.
“This guy catches the football about 18 to 22 times per game. They target him all over,” Morris said. “They do a great job of targeting Zay and moving him all around. We have our work cut out for us.”
This and that
- Morris’ words were strong enough that Justin Lawler, part of the team’s six-man leadership committee, didn’t feel the need to speak extensively. “That performance was completely unacceptable in this program, under his hands, under our leaders’ hands," Lawler said. "He just wanted to get it out that at the end of the day, it’s on us…The message hit me in the face and hit everyone right in the face.”
- Braeden West appeared early in the game, but left after Memphis built the big early lead. Joe Craddock said he feels better about West’s ability to play this week than he did last week.
- Chauncey Briggs did not play his usual right tackle spot due to injury. He didn’t practice last week, save for a couple walk-throughs. Braylon Hyder took extensive reps at right guard and right tackle. “Braylon did OK. We’d like to see him clean up his technique a little bit," Craddock said. "We’ve got to find a way to get him to lose a few pounds. When he’s playing ahead in weight, he doesn’t move as well.”
- Jerry Saena has seen time at both tackle spots due to injuries this year, in addition to his usual right guard spot. Craddock was complimentary of him. “Jerry has far exceed our expectations for him this year. It hasn’t always been great, but he’s exceeded our expectations.”
- In the first quarter of the loss to Memphis, Deon Green had an outburst on the sidelines, during which he appeared to shout at defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt. Malone said he has talked to him. “On the sidelines, that was not poised. We’ve talked about that with Deon now. He’s a passionate player and we appreciate that passion, but what we wanted, that was not it.”