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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Football

Mustangs by the numbers, part one: SMU packs punch with loaded offense


offense

The Cougars (3-1) are set to face the Mustangs (4-1) and their powerhouse offense this Saturday at TDCEU Stadium. | File photo/The Cougar

The Cougars successfully held off Temple’s late comeback in their 20-13 road win, despite the their best defensive player, Ed Oliver, coming down with an injury in the second half.

Newly-appointed Houston QB Kyle Postma efficiently managed the game by limiting turnovers, and he made some crucial plays down the stretch to put the game away.

While a road game against the Owls posed a serious test for Postma during his first start in 2017, life will not be getting any easier this weekend. Mustangs are off to a 4-1 start, with the sole loss coming against a stout TCU squad on the road. Here is an in-depth look at SMU before the big game Saturday.

Sophomore QB improves with experience

Southern Methodist quarterback Ben Hicks did not do anything of note last year. The Waco native was barely above-average in yards and scores per game. He also finished in the bottom quarter of NCAA quarterbacks by completing only 55.5 percent of his passes and throwing 1.25 interceptions per game.

There is one caveat though — last season Hicks was just a freshman.

Five weeks into his sophomore year, the 6-foot-inch quarterback is in the top 10 of the nation’s quarterbacks with 2.8 passing touchdowns per game and in the top 40 with 255 yards per game. After suffering from turnovers last year, Hicks boasts an impressive 14 to 3 touchdown-to-interception ratio, with two picks coming against a tough TCU team on the road.

He does not pose a running threat, but the sophomore quarterback makes up for it soundly from the pocket, which manifested in his clean-as-a-whistle performance last week — 73 percent completions for 280 yards and four touchdowns.

Wide receivers spearheaded by 2016 standouts, LSU transfer

Making life easier for the Hicks are his returning wide receivers — junior Courtland Sutton and sophomore James Proche. The duo accounted for nearly 2,000 yards and 16 touchdown catches last season.

The 6-foot-4-inch Sutton represents the biggest weapon on the Mustang offense, consistently catching passes, drawing double-teams and opening up SMU’s passing game. The junior has already accumulated seven touchdown receptions over just 20 catches in 2017. This places him in the nation’s top 4 in scoring efficiency.

The direct beneficiary of all the attention Sutton draws is LSU-transfer Trey Quinn. The junior leads the team with 37 receptions  — top 20 among FBS receivers — for 431 yards, including four scores. Quinn appeared to fully hit his stride during the last win against Connecticut, grabbing 15 passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns.

Proche efficiently plays third fiddle by catching 12 passes for 312 yards and three scores. This lands him third among wide receivers with a whopping 26 yards per catch and in the top 20 in scores per attempt.

Respectable backfield

Even though the Mustangs don’t take particular pride in their rushing game, they don’t suffer from a lack of talent at the position.

​The rushing load is evenly distributed between junior Xavier Jones and sophomore Ke’Mon Freemon. In 2017, both have carried the ball 63 times, with Jones being more efficient with 5.8 yards per carry to Freemon’s 4.9, but the sophomore does serve as the primary option in the red zone with six rushing touchdowns to Jones’ three.

Another weapon in the Mustang backfield is 5-foot-10-inch Braeden West. After rushing for 1,036 yards and six touchdowns in 2016, the junior settles for a lower volume of carries this season. This doesn’t stop West from being in the nation’s top 20 running backs with 8.1 total scrimmage yards per play.

Opportunistic defense

The Mustang defense returns most of its playmakers from 2016, with Justin Lawler leading the way. The junior defensive end was the most disruptive player on SMU last season. He delivered 15 tackles for loss — 65 overall — and six sacks. This year, Lawler makes an early statement with his eight tackles for loss, six sacks and two forced fumbles over just five games.

The second most impactful player in Mustang defense is junior Kyran Mitchell, who led the team with 67 total tackles in 2016, including six for loss and 3.5 sacks. Just like his teammate Lawler, the junior linebacker is off to the races with nine tackles for a loss and three sacks in 2017.

The only considerable losses come in the SMU secondary.

Defensive backs Horace Richardson and Darrion Millines have graduated and will be sorely missed after combining for an outrageous 11 interceptions and 12 defended passes in 2016.

To pick up the slack for the graduated seniors is the do-it-all defensive back, Jordan Wyatt. After producing 50 tackles, four forced fumbles and four interceptions last season, the 6-foot tall junior has already forced two fumbles and came down with two picks in 2016, returning one of those for a touchdown.

Luckily for the Cougars, his status for the Saturday game is uncertain due to a shoulder injury.

SMU is pretty reminiscent of Texas Tech due to its pocket-passing quarterback and weaponry at the wide receiver position with a bigger penchant for trick plays.

On the other hand, the Mustang decimated secondary should allow Postma to complete some passes and move the chains, especially if Houston’s offensive line doesn’t let up. All-in-all, this is an intriguing matchup, and it should produce a higher point total than the game at Temple.

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