Q&A with DMN writer Adam Grosbard: Is Navy the hardest opponent for which to prepare?
Mustangs, Midshipmen tee it up at 2:30 (CT) Saturday in Annapolis
Posted on 11/09/2017 by PonyFans.com
Adam says that despite giving up more than 600 yards, the performance turned in last week by safety Mikial Onu and the SMU defense was more impressive than the stat sheet might suggest (photo by Patrick Kleineberg).

PonyFans.com is proud to announce a new partnership with the Dallas Morning News. Throughout the season, we — the webmasters and readers of PonyFans.com — will pose questions weekly to Adam Grosbard, the SMU beat writer for the DMN, and he will do the same to us, and then we will publish the results in each outlet.

All PonyFans are invited to submit questions to be asked to Adam, either on the message board or through a private message on this site to Webmaster or PonyPride. We will select a few each week and submit them to Adam, so be sure to check back each week to see if yours is selected.

Make sure to follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGrosbard!


PonyFans.com: Chad Morris is a coach who always dismisses the idea of moral victories, but many have suggested that the Mustangs’ ability to scare the No. 15 team in the country in a 31-24 loss to UCF might have been their best overall game of the year. In this case, can there be a “good loss” and how can the Mustangs build on Saturday’s performance?

Adam Grosbard: I think with six wins SMU is past the "moral victory" stage of the program. SMU had a shot to beat a top-20 team and in the end beat itself. With a division title a very real possibility, that's not an easy pill to swallow. I'd go with the Cincinnati game as this team's best performance this season. The offense was terrific in the first half, the defense was in the second and the team was able to put together enough big plays to get a road overtime win. As for how SMU can build off this game, the team should get a boost of confidence from the performance moving forward against Navy and Memphis. A win over Navy puts SMU in a position to tie Memphis for first in the division with a win.

PonyFans.com: After the game, Morris specifically cited the defense, acknowledging a few defensive busts that led to big plays but saying that as weird as it sounds after giving up 615 yards of offense, the game might have been the best of the year for the SMU defense. Do you agree with that assessment? What did the Mustangs do defensively that was so encouraging to Morris?

Grosbard: The run defense was lacking, but overall the defense put up some impressive numbers. UCF only converted four of 15 third downs, a ridiculously low number. After Mikial Onu's tackle for loss on fourth down on the opening drive, the Knights didn't attempt another fourth-down conversion. UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton had previously thrown three interceptions on the season but the Mustangs turned him over twice. If I had to pick a best defensive performance of the season, it's either the second half vs. Cincy or the game against UConn where SMU limited the Huskies to negative-eight rushing yards. But you can see why Morris would be happy with his team's play on that side of the ball.

PonyFans.com: Last week’s opponent, UCF, came into the game ranked No. 15 in the country and leading the nation in scoring with a ridiculous average of 51.0 points per game (20 more than it was able to score against the Ponies). But does the unusual attack run by this week’s opponent, Navy, make Saturday’s game the hardest of the year for the defense to prepare for?

Grosbard: Yes and no. Navy's offense is very unique so SMU prepares for it in a little pieces throughout the preseason and season. And it's hard for SMU to forget the 75 points the Midshipmen scored to end last season. That being said, this is not the same Navy offense that we've grown accustomed to. Quarterback Zach Abey has not proven that he can be reliable in the pass game. Not that Navy is a pass-heavy team by any means, but the threat of throwing needs to at least be there to make sure that a defense doesn't put 11 guys in the box. Even in the run game, Abey has not shown consistency needed to run the triple option. The Midshipmen have lost eight fumbles this season, bad for 96th in the FBS. So while the scheme is unique, Navy's execution this year has made it a lot easier to stop.

PonyFans.com: SMU is 5-1 at Ford Stadium and 1-2 on the road. Is the discrepancy simply because the road opponents — TCU, Houston and Cincinnati — all are good teams, or have you seen any differences in the way the Mustangs play at home compared to the way they play at home?

Grosbard: The team has been very consistent from game to game. I think the road record is just losing to two really good teams in TCU and Houston. If you look at the schedule, SMU has lost to the three best teams it has played and beat everyone that it was supposed to beat. I don't think road or home has had much to do with SMU's results this season.

PonyFans.com: Saturday’s game at Navy is supposed to be chilly, played in weather expected to top out somewhere in the 40s. Will that give the run-heavy Midshipmen an advantage, or do you subscribe to the theory that “it’s cold for both teams” and therefore won’t affect the outcome of the game?

Grosbard: If I'm SMU, I'm more concerned about the crowd than the weather. Navy is always a tough place to play, but on Veterans Day, that game will be even more wild than usual. With three good running backs, SMU can win in sloppy conditions without relying much on its pass game.

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