Matt Davis is down for the season with a torn ACL.
The news that came down Monday night certainly rocked the SMU football world. The man who was slated to lead the SMU offense this season will now watch from the sideline. In Davis, SMU has lost not only a great quarterback, but one of the most influential men on the field and in the locker room. While Davis will seek a sixth year of eligibility due to medical hardship and potentially return to the Mustangs next season, the “next man up” mentality has taken hold at SMU, as the Mustangs look to capitalize on a down year from the American Athletic Conference.
That next man is none other than Ben Hicks, a redshirt freshman out of Midway High School in Waco. Hicks sat out all last season, developing his skills and learning the SMU playbook, and considering Chad Morris and his staff have made no real changes to it since changing quarterbacks, Hicks’ familiarity with the system is certainly a good thing.
In his first start on Saturday against Baylor, Hicks showcased that familiarity, driving the Mustangs down the field for a field goal on his opening drive of the game. However, things would quickly go sour for Hicks against Baylor, reminding SMU fans why freshman quarterbacks struggle to compete in FBS football.
Against Baylor, Hicks completed 17 of his 44 attempts for 229 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions. While fans saw glimpses of what he can do, especially on his connections with star wide receiver Courtland Sutton, overall Hicks had a pretty poor performance in his hometown. Two of his three interceptions came in the end zone, which is simply unacceptable for any team trying to secure victories on the road. Additionally, while he was asked to throw a ton for his first college start, Hicks’ accuracy was poor throughout the game, as he completed just 38.6% of his passes.
However, it’s worth remembering that Hicks is a redshirt freshman, making his first ever college start, against a ranked Big 12 opponent, on the road. It would be ludicrous to expect him to come out and eviscerate the Baylor defense. Thus, while his first start was objectively bad, the good plays he did make signal potential that could develop over time.
While his first start likely came against SMU’s toughest opponent of the year, his second may come against their easiest. SMU takes on FCS program Liberty in their home opener, a game which they should win handily, thus giving Hicks the opportunity to develop chemistry and familiarity in game, rather than as a practice player.
As a former Texas Tech and Houston recruit, Hicks’ talent is certainly not in doubt. However, the SMU offense will have to adjust from having a true dual threat quarterback in Matt Davis, to a traditional, pro style quarterback in Hicks. His ability to throw will certainly benefit the SMU receivers, but it remains to be seen if he can elevate this offense overall.
Apart from powerhouse Houston, the AAC appears wide open this year, and the young Mustangs are primed to take advantage of it. However, their ability to seize the moment will likely come down to the play of Hicks. If he can limit his mistakes and rely on the incredible ability of his receivers, the Mustangs will be very successful. However, if the boneheaded decisions he made against Baylor become a habit, it could be another very long year for the SMU faithful. Mustang fans will likely learn a lot about Hicks against Liberty, and will be hopeful that his redshirt year will pay dividends in 2016.