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Bullseye: Southern Methodist Mustangs

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Sonny Dykes will face four non-conference opponents before traveling to Tampa for their first conference matchup of the 2019 season.

NCAA Football: Southern Methodist at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Previous Bullseye Opponent Primers:

Coming off two quality Power 5 opponents, an FCS cool off game and an open date, USF will host SMU in Tampa to begin conference play.

During AAC Media Days, SMU received one lone first place in the west, ahead of Memphis and Houston. So what’s going on in Dallas that is giving hope to someone?

Southern Methodist University Mustangs

Narrative

Optimism seems to be in the air in Dallas, as SMU is returning a lot of the productivity they had in 2018.

Sonny Dykes has an interesting history to him, playing baseball and football in high school before going to that Middle School in Lubbock for college baseball as a first basemen. After graduating he ended up being an assistant coach for a high school baseball team in 1994. He found himself switching to a running backs coach at a nearby rival high school, thus beginning his illustrious career having the Midas touch on offense.

Dykes ended up spending the next 16 years having a strong impression on the kids he coached and working alongside some of college foitball’s well-known coaches like Hal Mumme, Mike Leach, Dana Holgerson and Mike Stoops. He also directly coached Wes Welker, Mike Thomas, James Whalen, Rob Gronkowski, and Jared Goff.

As an assistant coach, Dykes was stellar in leading an offense. However, his career took a spiral after he was hired to be the head coach at Cal, where he ended his four year stint with an abysmal 19-30 record.

After Chad Morris left after the 2017 regular season, Dykes was hired on December 11th, 2017, meaning his first game with SMU was the Frisco bowl game against Louisiana Tech. SMU was crushed 51-10 in that game, setting a precedent for the upcoming 2018 season (and losing the Harambelt).

SMU ended the 2018 season with a 5-7 record, and in his first nine games as head coach of the mustangs, his team was outscored 331 to 226. However, the team came to life on November 3rd when his Ponies upset the then no. 17 Houston Cougars 45-31.

Personnel

Dykes’ offense stunk in last year and the close games were close due to SMU’s defense keeping them within grasp against Navy, Tulane, Memphis, Cincinnati, and Tulsa (all one possession games). To make matters even worse, promising starting QB Ben Hicks left SMU to re-join Chad Morris at Arkansas.

The 2018 season was plagued with inconsistency on the offensive line, with nine different players rotating in and out of the lineup and only their center, Hayden Howerton, being the only constant with 12 straight starts. This inconsistently left promising running back Xavier Jones (who rushed for 1,000 yards in 2017), barely be able to scrounge together 311 yards on 69 carries. Backing him up is Ke’Mon Freeman, who found the end zone six times last year on 75 carries.

The aforementioned QB room looks different with Hicks gone. Former starting QB for Texas Shane Buechele has transferred to SMU, giving the Mustangs a glimmer of hope in the backfield. Or maybe it won’t be Buchele. William Brown, who came in relief for Hicks for three games, could beat out the former Longhorn to win the starting job.

Despite the QB battle, It seems like the optimism in Dallas surrounds the talented wide receiver corps lead by “Mr. Catch-it-All” James Proche. Aside from Proche, almost all contributing members of last years WR unit is returning including Reggie Roberson Jr. and Tyler Page. Two senior tight ends will also provide even more experience, with Ryan Becker and Hunter Thedford looking for continued success this season.

The hope is that if the offensive line can be patched together, Xavier Jones will return to form, Buechele won’t miss a step moving from Austin to Dallas, and the receivers will continue to dominate as they have been. That’s a lot of hypotheticals.

On the defensive side of the ball, that high returning production percentage looks even better for defensive coordinator Kevin Kane. Five linemen, five linebackers, and six defensive backs all hit double-digit tackles last year, with their defensive contributors last season looking like a laundry list.

Along the defensive front, three defensive seniors anchor a line that was in the top-65 for rushing and passing efficiency. Defensive tackle Demerick Gary, nose tackle Pono Davis and defensive end Delontae Scott will be the seniors leading the front, with sophomore Turner Coxe filling out the final defensive end spot.

Leading tackler from last year, middle linebacker Richard Moore, returns for his senior year, and along side him in the 4-3 defense will be junior will linebacker Delano Robinson and junior STAR linebacker Shaine Hailey. Hailey runs a unique position in the Mustang defense, with his position being a hybrid linebacker/defensive back position on a 4-3 defense (think Jamie Byrd as a Husky DB playing close to the line of scrimmage).

The pass rush was a bright spot on the defense while the secondary didn’t shine quite as much, allowing 63% of passes to be completed to rank 101st in the nation. The four projected starters are all seniors, with Patrick Nelson, Rodney Clemons, Robert Hayes, and Kevin Johnson combining for five interceptions and nine pass breakups last year.

Outlook

This is going to be an interesting game come Week 4 of the 2019 season depending on how these two teams start their year.

For USF, there’s a chance they are coming into this game at 1-2 with losses to Wisconsin and Georgia Tech (and a projected win over S.C. State). On the flip side, they could be 3-0 looking to continue pouncing opponents and displaying the #PlayFastScoreFaster Mentality.

For SMU, they start the year with Arkansas State, North Texas, and Texas State. The week before USF, they’ll face off against rival TCU for the Iron Skillet. Projections are saying SMU will come into this game 2-2 with wins against Arkansas State and Texas State, but will they be reeling after a loss against their hated rival?

Or could the pistons could be firing, the offense dealing and the experience on defense have them at 4-0 after snapping seven-game losing streak against Horned Frogs?