Matt Visinsky

Game Preview: SMU vs. East Carolina on the road in tough, bounce back test

Scott previews SMU's road AAC matchup against East Carolina on Saturday as the Mustangs look to bounce back after the Memphis loss.

WHEN: Saturday, November 12, 2016 at 11:00 a.m. CT
WHERE: Bagwell Field at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium – Greenville, NC
TV: ESPNews
SERIES: ECU leads 4-2
LAST MEETING: ECU won 49-23 on October 3, 2015
LINE: SMU +7
OVER/UNDER: 63

PONY TRENDS

Everything that could go wrong went wrong last weekend against Memphis.  The Mustangs made mistakes on offense, defense, and special teams that put them down early and they were not able to dig themselves out of that hole.   The Mustangs gave up almost 500 yards to the Tigers’ offense, lost two fumbles, threw one interception, and allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown.  All of those mistakes, coupled with Ben Hicks’ bad outing and no forced turnovers by the defense add up to a 51-7 loss.  Moving on now, the Mustangs must win two of their final three games to become bowl eligible.

Matt Visinsky

OPPONENT STRENGTHS

Since putting up 33 points against NC State, the Pirates have not been consistent on the offensive side of the ball (much like SMU), but that doesn’t mean they don’t have weapons.  Zay Jones, the nation’s second leading receiver with 1300 yards, can catch the ball all over the field and can burn a secondary on a regular basis.  Jimmy Williams and Quay Johnson are two other receivers that can help take the pressure off Jones.  6-foot-3, 218-pound James Summers leads the running attack for the Pirates.  The former receiver is a big back that has run consistently all season long.  

On the defensive side of the ball, the pirates are led by Dayon Pratt.  The senior linebacker is the leader on that side of the ball, and his performance backs that up.  Pratt leads the teams in tackles (58) and TFL’s (7.5).  

Phillip Nelson (© Michael Clark)

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Zay Jones vs. SMU secondary: There’s no question Phillip Nelson will continue to throw to Jones, considering they go his way about 20 times a game, so slowing one of the nation’s top receiver will be important if they want to beat the Pirates on the road.  Nelson has done a good job of keeping the ball out of his opponents’ hands, but he will face an impressive SMU secondary.  If the Mustangs can force Phillips to go to his other receivers, or do a good job of covering Jones, they could throw East Carolina out of sync.

Zay Jones (James Guillroy/USA Today)

KEYS TO THE GAME

On offense for SMU, they need to get going early.  Allowing Ben Hicks to get a few short, easy pass completions early will help him gain some much-needed confidence for the entire afternoon.  He also needs to take care of the ball, which is something he did not do last week.  Allowing ECU to grab a turnover or two will just give Phillips for opportunities to connect with Jones.  On the defensive side of the ball, it’s crucial this secondary tackles well in the open field and comes away with a turnover or two.  Giving Hicks a short field will help him out tremendously.  The defensive front seven also needs to get to the ball quickly.  The Pirates love to get their playmakers out in space, which could burn SMU if they aren’t hustling around.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

When ECU is on Offense: The man to watch when the Pirates have the ball on offense is obviously Zay Jones.  Jones can do it from the backfield, over the middle, or on the outside, so limiting his big plays is important for SMU.  

When ECU is on Defense: The Pirates don’t do anything special on defense, but that doesn’t mean SMU can sleep on them.  If ECU can somehow get after the quarterback (despite 7 sacks on the year) or come away with a turnover (just 8 this season), they’ll have the momentum they need to come away with a win.

When SMU is on Offense: The Mustangs have faced much more impressive front sevens, but this offensive line group needs to play exceptionally well this week after Ben Hicks struggled last week.  Allowing Hicks to stand tall in the pocket and go through his reads will be important has he tries to bound back from last week.

When SMU is on Defense: The Mustangs have just one interception over the last three games.  Not that the secondary has been playing all that bad, but generating some confidence early could go a long way on the road against a hungry team.  

Pony Stampede Predictions

Billy: 24-21 SMU
Patrick: 31-21 ECU
Scott:  27-24 ECU
Demo: 35-17 ECU
Hatts: 42-24 ECU
Phil: 35-20 ECU


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