Pony NATE-tion: Does Abilene Christian have firepower to match SMU?
Mustangs, Wildcats kick off 2021 season Saturday at Ford Stadium
Posted on 09/01/2021 by PonyFans.com
PonyFans.com is proud to have journalism student Nate back as a guest columnist for the 2021 season. This week, Nate previews the Mustangs' season opener against Abilene Christian.

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 kicks off the 2021 season Saturday when Abilene Christian visits Gerald J. Ford Stadium (photo by SMU athletics).
After a strange season in 2020, the SMU Mustangs return to the field Saturday to kick off the 2021 season against Abilene Christian. The 2020 season played out somewhat similarly to the 2019 season: SMU started the season with an undefeated run (8-0 in 2019, 5-0 in 2020), fell in a Top 25 conference matchup to end the winning streak (2019 vs. Memphis, 2020 vs. Cincinnati), and attrition wore down the Mustangs as they finished both seasons in unconvincing fashion (lost three of the last five games in both seasons).

That will be the next step for the Mustangs as they head into 2021. Can they sustain success and not flame out three quarters of the way through the season? This is year four of the Sonny Dykes Era and as he has begun to put together better recruiting classes each year, some of that depth that has been missing in years past should begin to show up. With more depth, the Ponies will be able to handle the attrition of a full season in the American Athletic Conference.

Abilene Christian comes into the season after a 1-5 record in 2020 and did not play any games in the spring as some of the smaller schools did. The three Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams that ACU played in 2020 (UTEP, Army and Virginia) beat the Wildcats by a combined 76 points. This will also be ACU’s first season in the Western Athletic Conference after leaving the Southland Conference.

The team’s head coach since 2017, Adam Dorrel had a quarterback competition of his own to deal with between Iowa transfer and 2020 starter Peyton Mansell and Stone Earle. Dorrell expressed that it is “neck-and-neck" between the two at his most recent media availability; the depth chart released through the athletic department lists Mansell as the projected starter.

ACU was dreadful on many fronts last season. Offensively, the Wildcats averaged just 3.3 yards per carry and 6.9 yards per pass attempt, and only scored a bit over 20 points per game. They weren’t good on third down (converting 35 percent) and turned the ball over 10 times in six games. Defensively they surrendered 35 points per game while routinely getting gashed for an average of 224 rush yards per game.

This game is mostly just about SMU breaking in its new signal-caller and the rest of this new-look roster.

Head coach Sonny Dykes spoke about the upcoming game and a couple items stuck out to me. First, he spoke on how reps will be distributed in this game, saying, “It'll be fluid,” he said. “I would imagine there will be some guys listed as starters that play less than other guys that are listed as backups.” It sounds like the SMU coaches will be rotating through as many guys as they can. This week is an opportunity for them to evaluate and see what they have in the roster.

Dykes also spoke on the importance of a game like this and how he plans to handle this matchup. "Yea, biggest deal is to play the very best we can play nor will we hold anything back. We'll fire every bullet we got and try to play the very best we can play. I've never been one for saving anything,” Dykes said. “I think you want to go play at the very highest. I think your first game is always important because I think it sets the bar for the year. You want to set it very high and build off of that so it's going to be really important for us to play as well as we can play and we're going to need to." This game is a springboard into the other 11 games, but Dykes said he is not a believer in holding anything back and will not be the type of coach to “save” a play or formation for crunch-time against TCU or Cincinnati.

This is a clear mismatch and will be an opportunity for SMU to ease its new faces in. From a new defensive coordinator to a brand-new quarterback, there will be some sloppiness and some mistakes, but this is the type of game in which to make those mistakes and work out those kinks before the season really gets going. Dykes always has done a good job of ensuring the Mustangs are ready to play regardless of opponent, especially early in the season. Saturday will be no different.

Nate’s take: SMU 45, Abilene Christian, 14

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