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SMU Mid-season Report: The Chad Morris Show

After many strikes and misses, SMU finally has a head coach that looks capable of leading the Mustangs back to glory. Questions of how long he will be with the program before taking a new job aside, how have the Mustangs looked in the first half of the season?

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The SMU Mustangs are at the midway point of the 2015 season with an overall record of 1-5. So why is there so much more enthusiasm and excitement in and around the program than in 2014?

The answer comes down to the choice of Chad Morris to lead the program.

Morris took the head job at Southern Methodist after serving as the Clemson Offensive Coordinator from 2011-2014. During his six games in charge of SMU, the Mustangs have scored a total of 185 points (30.8 ppg.). Compare that to the 2014 season, a season that saw them score a total of 39 points (6.5 ppg.) in the first half of the season. It is quite clear why the Mustang faithful is excited moving forward.

Let’s take a look at the Mustangs and just how they are looking at the midway point of the season.

Rushing Offense: B.

As stated before, SMU has been much more explosive on offense in 2015 with Morris in charge. The run game is much improved with the addition of two true freshman running backs. Xavier Jones (78/331/4TD) and Braeden West (46/234/1TD) have been dynamic at times in learning to run the ball at the college level. Both backs are averaging over four yards per carry and add 94.2 yards per game to the rushing attack. Quarterback Matt Davis (103/426/7TD) is the main rusher, but these two freshman running backs have looked very good at times.

Much of the ability to run the ball effectively is the right side of the offensive line. Center Taylor Lasecki, right guard Evan Brown, and right tackle Kris Weeks have made every start on the season, giving some stability to an offensive line that needs it.

Passing Offense: C+.

The biggest problem for the SMU passing game is sacks and the problem is twofold. First, the instability on the left side of the line has caused Davis to be on the run from the moment he takes the snap. The Mustangs have seen two redshirt freshmen take significant snaps on the left side of the line and no one look consistent enough to take the jobs full time. Second, having a mobile quarterback like Davis involves plays lasting much longer than with a classic drop back quarterback. The longer a play goes, the chance of something going wrong increases. Right now, the Mustangs passing game is high risk/high reward for that simple reason.

Davis has a redshirt freshmen in Courtland Sutton (27/498/6TD) that has the ability to be a star in the near future. The problem for the Mustang passing game is the need to increase catch rates from the top receiving options. Of the seven receivers with 10+ targets on the season, only running back Xavier Jones and wide receiver Ryheem Malone (15/177/2TD) have catch rates over 70%. The inability to be efficient in the passing game has really hurt the Mustangs this fall.

Defense: F.

As much as the SMU offense has improved since the disastrous 2014 season, the defense may be even worse this fall. I could break it down into rush defense and pass defense, but the numbers are just sad. Without diving too deep into the specific statistics, SMU is in the bottom 15 nationally in rushing defense, passing defense, scoring defense, tackles for loss, team sacks, total defense, third down defense, and passing efficiency allowed.

Other than in a 31-13 win over North Texas, the Mustangs have given up 48 or more points in every game this season.

Justin Lawler (36 tkl, 4.5 tfl, 4.5 sacks) has looked good as a sophomore on the defensive line, but there is not a lot to be excited about moving forward. The only other defensive statistic to get somewhat excited about is nine interceptions by the SMU defense, led by Jordan Wyatt and Horace Richardson with two apiece.

Overall: C.

It is tempting to drop the Mustangs as a whole to a "D," but considering what the team looks like now compared to 2014, a "C" seems right. They hung in versus TCU and had a chance in the second half, and even the fourth quarter to tie the game. They played well for a half versus Baylor, before being boatraced in the second half. The Mustangs have also looked competitive versus fellow AAC competition. Things are trending upward for SMU and we could see the program take a significant step forward in the second half of the season.