By Zach Walker
Final Record: 2-10 (1-7 in American Conference Game)
This was a learning year for everyone surrounding the SMU football program. For the fans, what would Chad Morris be able to bring to their team? For the coaches, what kind of players do they have and what type of program are they trying to establish? For the players, what would they do to put last season’s one win campaign behind them?
I’ll tell you the changes I saw in this program from this season. In the post-game press conference room, which I can only assume is the film study room, based on layout and furnishings, there were noticeable changes. At the entrance of the room, is a heavy football on a spring and it looks the ultimate football lover’s coatrack, but it’s a change. The bigger change in the room is the ‘Commandments’ on the wall in the left corner of the room. If I can remember, there are 16, and I couldn’t tell you what’s on the list, and at the bottom are the team’s goals. It’s one thing to have goals and rules and expectations, but to have them spelled out, it’s a hell of a message. The energy is bigger than it was at any one moment than last season. Coach Morris has his players amped and ready for any challenge, especially if the competition is a ranked opponent. At home games, the crowds started timid and grew in quality until they were rewarded with a victory in the final home game.
My favorite, anything from home games, is the freshman hype-duo of Delontae and Michael Scott, when the Mustangs are playing, and scoring, or forcing a punt in big situations, those two reserve defensemen are the best thing to watch. Every score, I’ll look straight down from the press box and find the Scott’s hyping the team up with lively dancing to whatever song is thrown through the sound system at Ford Stadium. My single favorite moment of this season was what Chad Morris did for Garrett Krstich at the Naval Academy. Gave him a Captain’s ‘C’ and the start, because Krstich’s father was a Captain for the Naval Academy back in the day. It showed to me that clearly Chad Morris is a player’s first coach. That, and the fact that he is in the locker room with his players for a very long time after games. But clearly, this is going in the right direction.
The Mustangs are going to be returning, pretty much every offensive weapon that took the field this season, with Darius Joseph being the eldest statesman on offense. Matt Davis will have another offseason to grow within the Chad Morris system. The group of running backs were very successful this season, their drop in production was often due to the abandoning of the run game in order to keep pace with teams. Xavier Jones is one of the fastest players on the team, and for a smaller framed back, is not afraid of contact or running up the gut. Braeden West, is a player that Morris likes to scheme to get into space, because his so darn shifty, and his hands are great. Keep in mind, that those two were freshmen this season. Prescott Line will be rolling into next year as a senior, and often provides extra blocking for Davis in the backfield, looking like NFL Zach Line, than SMU Zach Line, but is the short yardage battering ram for the Mustangs. There will likely be an added emphasis towards running the ball next season. Jeremiah Gaines will likely further his development in Morris’ H-Back/Hybrid tight end role, going into his senior season, but I’d love to see more passes his way, to move the chains.
The tip of the SMU passing spear is freshman Courtland Sutton. Sutton killed it this season. Blew the doors off, and can tear the top off a defense, especially when Davis and Sutton are in sync. It is going to be a treat to watch Sutton grow into something special, and potentially, the next big time receiver from SMU to hit the NFL. Xavier Castille has a hell of a set of hands, I saw at least five of his catches that were all-hands, spectacular catches, also a freshman. The offensive line is where the recruiting process is going to have to come to play. They’ll be losing both right tackle Kris Weeks and center Taylor Lasecki. Chauncey Briggs will likely slide to right tackle for his upcoming senior year. Evan Brown should stay put at right guard, but losing a center is a huge blow to an offensive line. They worked in their future left tackle into mix during their last few games, Chad Pursley, another freshman. The offensive line needs to hammer out into a solid unit that can push people around and really dictate games for the Mustangs going forward.
They are losing a lot of seniors. I tallied seven impact seniors who are moving on, and it’s going to be a task and a half to replace these players. The defensive line won’t be bringing back Zach Wood, Andrew McCleneghen, or Cameron Smith. As of right now, Justin Lawler is the defensive leader now, and that’s a good thing, because he really came to play in the 2015 season. Beside him will likely be Mason Gentry, then Deon Green and Zelt Minor. But losing Wood and McCleneghen is a big loss, because they were fantastic, especially Zach Wood, who I think has NFL potential. The Mustangs are losing three of their top linebackers, Jonathan Yenga, Robert Seals, and Caleb Tuiasosopo. Replacing a linebacker isn’t the easiest thing, replacing three, that’s staring at all of the materials of a house and being given a hammer and the lid to the box. Yenga was a true leader, like Kevin Pope before him. Robert Seals showed a lot of pass rushing ability in the past, and he showed a good job of covering sideline to sideline. Tuiasosopo was often asked to be the rock in the middle of the defense and responded well. RC Cox is going to be the rock in the middle going forward, and if this season is any preview, Cox will be laying players out because he hits with intensity. The secondary will return a lot of players next year, minus Shakiel Randolph. Darrion and Horace Richardson will return and hopefully better than they were in 2015. The secondary has been a big problem, they aren’t covering well, tackling poorer than their coverage and really need to scour the Texas football landscape for some young cover men that can make some impact as well as game changing plays.
Not to say that the Mustangs would some sort of super team with some better coverage players, because they need to get better on defense, a lot better, but coverage is where the recruiting fire has to start. Chad Morris better get his dancing shoes on and handshaking hands warm, because he’s got another offseason to further his program. He’s gotten a lot out of freshmen players in his first season, and that really helps bring those players along going forward. The future is still bright on the Hilltop, that’s for damn sure.