SMU fans knew that with a young team on the field, this had the potential to be an extremely rough season.
However, with Matt Davis going down for the season, the outlook appeared even more grim. SMU would have to ride with a redshirt freshman quarterback for the remainder of the season, in hopes of making its first bowl game since 2012.
While Ben Hicks has struggled since taking on the starting role, it’s hard to peg him as the sole reason for SMU’s early struggles. His seven interceptions in just three games aren’t encouraging, but at times, it appears he can do enough to take advantage of the Mustangs’ supremely talented receiving core.
What’s really hurting the Mustangs are their second-half collapses
Consider the game against Baylor, when SMU took a tie ball game, 6-6 on the road into the locker room at halftime. Baylor subsequently scored a touchdown on the first drive out of the locker room, and opened up the game from there. Two end zone interceptions later, Baylor won 40-13, appearing dominant in the closing minutes in Waco, and leaving the hearts of upset-minded SMU fans shattered.
The same was true of Friday night’s contest against SMU’s arch-rival, the TCU Horned Frogs. The Mustangs trailed just 6-3 heading into the locker room, but could not contain the Frogs in the second half. TCU scored on a 75-yard touchdown pass from Kenny Hill to Josh Diarse on their first play from scrimmage, and from then on, it appeared that SMU did not even belong on the same field as its rivals from the west.
The Frogs absolutely torched SMU in the second half, putting up 27 unanswered points and winning 33-3. SMU has now lost 15 of its last 17 games against TCU, including five straight.
What exactly is the cause of these second-half collapses for the Mustangs?
Part of it is the depth of the SMU defense. SMU has many freshmen and sophomores among its defensive ranks. Additionally, with only two years of Chad Morris recruits, the depth of said defense is still being built by the relatively new coaching staff. However, for the time being, the Mustangs are missing out on the ability to properly rotate their starters, which causes a great deal of fatigue in the second half. It was clear when TCU started running the hurry-up in the third quarter, it wanted to take advantage of this, and did, quite handily, for the remainder of the game.
The second major issue is the vast disparity in Ben Hicks’ play from the first to the second half. In the first half of games this season, Hicks is 33 of 64 for 514 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. While those numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, his second half splits drop to 27 of 56 for 313 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions. SMU wants to use the passing game to pull away in tight contests; therefore, Hicks has to be better in the third and fourth quarters of these games.
Realistically, this will be a problem the entire season for SMU. The Mustangs simply don’t have the defensive depth, nor do they have the quarterbacking experience, to put on gutsy performances in the closing minute of games. Hopefully, as they head into conference play, they can use their dominant skill position players on offense to score early, making their late collapses less painful. There’s a lot of talent on this Mustangs team, it’s just a matter of time until it develops.