Pony NATE-tion: Mustangs seek bounce-back against Arkansas State
Mustangs, Wolves kick off at 6 Posted on 09/23/2017 by PonyFans.com
PonyFans.com is proud to have 17-year-old Nate as a guest columnist. In this installment, Nate breaks down the Mustangs' attempt to bounce back from their first loss of the season..
|Nate says he expects Courtland Sutton to play with a major chip on his shoulder against Arkansas State after being held to a single catch for no yards against TCU (photo by Max Franklin).
Feel free to post comments and constructive criticism, ask him questions, and/or give suggestions for upcoming columns! (He can be followed on Twitter at @Pony_NATE_tion.)
SMU suffered its first loss Saturday against TCU, an expected result, but a result that came with encouraging signs for things to come for the Ponies. The Mustangs held tough for a good portion of the game, but did not capitalize on several fluky mistakes TCU made early on. Holding a 19-7 lead at its highest point, SMU should have been up by more. On top of a missed extra point, the Mustangs got deep into the TCU red zone three times in the first half, only to settle for field goals. At the time, it was fine that they were scoring and were ahead, but those drives that stalled in the red zone came back to bite SMU as there was not enough cushion to hold off the humming Frogs’ offense that had SMU’s defense on its heels all day. It was a valiant effort by the Mustangs as they fought hard and stayed in the game for a while, though some might attribute that to the fluky rabbits head coach Chad Morris was pulling out of his hat with flea flickers, option passes, etc. Any kind of trick play you can think of, the Ponies ran against the Frogs.
It’s safe to say SMU pulled out all the stops to try and beat a very good TCU team. But what proved to be the Mustangs’ downfall was not capitalizing in the red zone and a very porous defense, which struggled in part because the offense struggled to sustain drives. The defense was gassed and on the retreat for most of the day. TCU amassed 619 yards of offense, 254 of those coming on the ground, as the Frogs had gaping holes through which to run.
There were a few bright spots on the defense, such as linebacker Kyran Mitchell, who seems to be coming into his own as a legit playmaker at the STAR position. Defensive end Tyeson Neals had a nice impact too, taking TCU quarterback Kenny Hill down twice. Defensive ends Justin Lawler and Dimarya Mixon seem to be two legit players at each defensive end spot, always seeming to be in the action. This is a young Mustangs secondary that has a lot of growing to do, and if SMU has any plans of accomplishing anything impressive this year, that secondary has to grow in a hurry after Hill completed 24 of his 30 passes.
Lastly, Courtland Sutton’s disappearance can’t go unmentioned. He finished with one catch for zero yards — not too impressive. It is understandable that TCU was bracketing him most of the day, and TCU coach Gary Patterson obviously wasn’t going to let the best wide receiver in the country beat him. Sutton was visibly frustrated, and there were times he was open for a big play and the throw was off or never came. One could argue Sutton did his job, opening up lanes for Trey Quinn, James Proché and the rest of the receivers. But a legitimate receiver like him still needs to give more than zero yards, regardless of how tough the coverage is.
The Mustangs will have no walk in the park Saturday against the Arkansas State Red Wolves. ASU is a team coming in at 1-1 (its game against Miami was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma), coming within a Hail Mary of overtime in Lincoln against Nebraska and a blowout of Arkansas Pine-Bluff. The Wolves certainly will compete for the Sun Belt title and are a very good non-Power Five team.
To say this will be a test of the young SMU secondary would be an understatement. Arkansas State slings the ball all over the field, rarely running. Justice Hansen is the leader of the offense, throwing for 750 yards and eight touchdowns in just two games. ASU does not have a bona fide lead back, as its leading rusher, Warren Wand has toted the rock just 21 times this season for a meager 131 yards. The Wolves have one rushing touchdown the entire season. On the flip side, ASU has tons of weapons on the outside. Four receivers have over 100 yards receiving and four have at least ten catches. Seven different receivers have caught touchdowns in just two games. The leaders of this stacked receiving corps: Christian Booker and Chris Murray. They are the Wolves’ two leading receivers and have big play capabilities. There is certainly a lot to be worried about for SMU in terms of stopping the Wolves through the air, something the secondary has had a hard time doing in three games. Hansen spreads the ball around, and his matchup with the Mustangs’ back end of the defense is key.
Defensively, the Wolves shut down an obviously weak Arkansas Pine-Bluff team, but were shredded by Nebraska, and not a particularly good Nebraska team that lost to Northern Illinois last week. Looking at what the Cornhuskers did to dismantle the Arkansas State defense, it was not all that complicated. Nebraska spread it evenly, rushing and passing for roughly 200 yards each. Nebraska ran the ball at a clip of nearly six yards per carry. SMU has struggled running the ball so far, and it will be a key to beating ASU.
Unfortunately, the Mustangs will be caught in a shootout that will be too hot to handle. Hansen will tear apart the SMU secondary and the Mustang offense will score in bunches, keeping up with the potent Wolves. I don’t have enough faith the back end to handle this challenge yet, and unless the front seven puts heat on Hansen constantly, this will be a track meet. Luckily for the Mustangs, Arkansas State’s defense is nothing to write home about, and the SMU offense will have a field day. Sutton will play angrily after his performance last week and have a huge game, while the Mustang running back committee will run through some big lanes this week. If quarterback Ben Hicks can take care of the ball like he has been, SMU will come out victorious, but not easily. I like the Mustangs to move to 3-1 in an offensive spectacle.
Nate’s Take: SMU 45 ASU 41