It was almost a tale of two halves for the season on offense as the Mustangs battled turnovers while improving their offensive numbers from Chad Morris' first season at the helm. SMU got off more plays, improved on their yards per play and racked up over 500 more yards per offense. Points per game stayed relatively the same, but dropped by .1 points per game. You can point to turnovers, missed field goals and not finishing drives that resulted in that.
Here's the breakdown of how the offense finished out gradewise and my thoughts on each position.
Redshirt freshman Ben Hicks was thrust into the starting roll following Matt Davis being out for the year with a torn ACL and Darrel Colbert being injured as well during the season. Hicks started rough in terms of being turnover prone and locking into receivers, but as the year went along, Hicks did show enough improvement to give SMU hope that next season, he'll be back as the starter if he can win it in the spring and fall. Hicks had his best month with a 139 passer rating in November while facing some of SMU's best competition against Memphis, ECU, USF and Navy. While Hicks threw two interceptions in each of the last two games, there was enough improvement in going through his progressions to help SMU's offense have three of its best games to finish the season. It was disappointing for Hicks to finish the Navy game the way the offense did, but if you turned on the film from the first start against Baylor to now, Hicks showed serious improvement. While the total body of work won't impress you in terms of TD:INT ratio, Hicks had the offense moving, but it wasn't enough to overcome some defensive deficiencies and moments of going cold on offense.
Running Back: B-
With a beat up backfield that was missing its starter nearly the entire season, SMU running backs Braeden West and Ke'Mon Freeman combined for 1,687 yards on the ground. West averaged over five yards per carry and Freeman averaged over four yards per carry. There was a lot of criticism at times on SMU's play calling and mainly, personnel in 3rd and short situations. On half of SMU's situations under three yards to go on third downs, SMU gained a first down when the team went on the ground. That's not where the team wants to be, but it's tough to put that on the running backs of SMU. SMU just wasn't getting enough push up front or assignments were being missed. SMU had to compensate at times for its issues up front and the running backs suffered at times because of it.
Wide Receivers: B
SMU's wide receivers struggled a bit early in the season with drops, but as the year went on, Courtland Sutton, of course, emerged as SMU's top target on offense and was a first team All-AAC selection. Sutton continued to draw double-coverage and pass interference calls throughout games. SMU missed opportunities to get the ball to Sutton even more this year, but the team say James Proche emerge as a legit No. 2 wide receiver. Xavier Castille battled inconsistency all season, but ended up being SMU's No. 3 leading receiver on the team. Castille showed enough that SMU should have a legit No. 2 or 3 option next season if Sutton doesn't return. Kevin Thomas had a disappointing sophomore season and has yet to really step up.
Tight Ends: C-
Outside of Jeremiah Gaines' three-game stretch of three straight touchdowns, SMU's tight ends were very quiet all season. The biggest impact on SMU's offense was at times, tight ends missing assignments in the running game, which allowed penetration by way of defensive linemen getting across the face of the offensive line. With SMU's receivers stepping up this season, SMU didn't use the tight end as much in the passing game this season. Some play action and deception routes from the tight end could have taken a little bit off the offensive line if the defense was thinking about that.
Offensive Line: C-
SMU finished in the middle of the country in sacks allowed, but didn't finish as strong as the team would have liked to down the stretch. SMU allowed its most sacks of the season in the month of November with nine allowed and that's with Ben Hicks improving his passer rating all the way to 139.1 in November. The biggest problem SMU faced this season along the offensive line was injuries and that kept SMU from having the experience and talent along the line to get push in key situations such as 3rd and short. Hicks did do himself some disservice by holding onto the ball too long and causing some sacks, but as the year progressed, Hicks improved with deal with pressure and making decisions. Early in the season, pressure forced Hicks to get rid of the ball and it caused turnovers like killer pick-sixes. There was improvement from the offensive line this season, but inconsistency plagued them as well. With all the injuries, this unit was better than expected.