Pony NATE-tion: Cincinnati defense could be just what SMU offense needs
Mustangs, Bearcats face off at 3 p.m. (CT) Posted on 10/20/2017 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' AAC road game this Saturday at Cincinnati.
|Nate says Braeden West and the rest of the SMU running backs should get back on track against the Cincinnati defense, which has surrendered 220.3 rushing yards per game this season (photo by Patrick Kleineberg).
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 is 4-2 coming out of a much-needed bye week, in which the Mustangs caught their breath, got healthier and geared up for the meat of the conference schedule. In a competitive American Athletic Conference, SMU needs to get things going, and if the Ponies have any hopes of being a contender for a trip to the conference championship, games like this against a bottom feeder of the AAC — Cincinnati is 0-3 in conference games — are games with which the Mustangs can not mess around. In a tough West Division, SMU needs every win it can get, and the Ponies are not out of the race at all — just a game out of first place.
In their loss at Houston, the Mustangs fought hard, but ultimately could not stop the run, as the Cougars ran for 265 yards. It is very hard to beat a team when giving up that many rushing yards. What is frightening about that result is the fact that Houston has had a tough time running the ball prior to the SMU game. Teams that normally are not able to run the ball are having success and picking up yards in chunks.
Offensively, 544 yards is a great number, and if SMU picks up that much yardage consistently, wins will begin to pile up. But those yards have to produced touchdowns. A glaring weakness of the offense thus far is an inability to finish in the red zone. SMU has been able to move between the 20-yard lines, but once the area is constricted, SMU has been inconsistent closing opportunities, and has had to settle for field goals. The real bright spot of 2017 has been the emergence of Trey Quinn, who caught 17 balls for 156 yards at Houston, finding the end zone once. He has really thrived playing opposite Courtland Sutton who draws so much attention.
Cincinnati comes into this game with a dismal 2-5 record, not the start the Bearcats were looking for. Though they might not be nearly as bad as their record shows. The Ponies might have a similar record if they had played the same schedule. The Bearcats are riding a four-game losing skid, including losses to the class of the AAC, USF, UCF, and Navy. The other losses were given handily to the Bearcats, courtesy of Marshall and Michigan.
Through seven games the Bearcat offense, led by quarterback Hayden Moore, has been unimpressive, mustering a meager 140 total points — 20 per game. To be fair, Cincy has faced some stout defenses, but 20 points per game is unacceptable. Moore has not been the issue, completing over 50 percent of his passes, throwing 10 touchdowns to six interceptions. He spreads the ball around to a plethora of targets, mainly Kahlil Lewis, who has caught four of Moore’s 10 touchdowns. Lewis is far and away Moore’s favorite receiver, leading the team in catches, 20 catches ahead of the next leading receiver. Lewis is complemented by deep threats Devin Gray and Thomas Geddis, as Gray is averaging 17 yards per catch. On the ground, there is a committee of running backs, featuring Gerrid Doaks, Mike Boone and Michael Warren II. Doaks is the leading rusher, but none has impressive numbers, and Doaks only has a paltry 260 yards through seven games.
Defensively, the Bearcats don’t offer much of a threat, surrendering 33 points per game. That is not a good combination against SMU’s high-powered, up-tempo offense. There is not much difference between the success teams have had running the ball versus passing the ball against the Bearcats. Cincy struggles up front, giving up 220.3 rushing yards per game, so the Mustangs’ three-headed monster of running backs could have a huge day. If SMU can run the ball effectively, especially if it jumps to an early lead, SMU could win this game going away. Controlling the clock and pounding the rock will be key.
The Mustangs have done a good job taking care of the football and not turning it over, and continuing this will make Saturday’s game much easier on Chad Morris’ blood pressure. After receiving a week to heal up in a heavily banged-up secondary, the Mustang defense should be rejuvenated and ready to right the ship against a poor Cincinnati offense.
SMU’s offense will have a big day, regaining its swagger by running the ball at a great clip. After getting away from the run against Houston — SMU did run for 147 yards at an impressive 5.7 yards-per-carry pace — Morris will establish the run with Xavier Jones, Braeden West and Ke’Mon Freeman. The defense will keep the Bearcats’ less-than-explosive offense in check, as SMU will move to 5-2, one win shy of clinching Chad Morris’ first bowl appearance as a head coach. I like SMU to win handily.
Nate’s take: SMU 38, Cincinnati 24