Last week’s loss to James Madison all but killed SMU’s momentum. Through three games, the Mustangs sat at just 1-2, but had given TCU and Baylor, two top-10 teams in the nation, the hardest game those two programs had faced in quite sometime. Additionally, the Mustangs avenged last year’s loss against North Texas with a definitive win at home.
Mustangs fans looked at their team, led by quarterback Matt Davis, wide receiver Courtland Sutton, and head coach Chad Morris, and saw an excitement about the future that they hadn’t felt in quite some time. Unfortunately, a loss against an FCS school killed all the momentum SMU fans had heading into American Athletic Conference play.
It’s worth noting that this loss does not fall on the offense. Against James Madison, the Mustangs were able to muster 45 points, which should be enough for SMU to win on any given week. Unfortunately, SMU’s defense gave up 48 points, and was unable to hold the Dukes to anything resembling a reasonable box score.
The Mustangs’ defense allowed 729 yards of total offense, a number that would seem more reminiscent of a game against TCU or Baylor instead of James Madison. While JMU has some talented offensive players, the SMU defense will have to be much better if they have any shot at a bowl game this weekend.
When SMU takes on East Carolina on Saturday, the Mustangs’ focus will undoubtedly be on defense. ECU has produced some very high octane offenses over the past few years, and will provide a great test for SMU’s budding defense. The June Jones era left the Mustangs virtually devoid of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but one player should be able to step up and make a huge difference for the Mustangs.
Zach Wood, the Mustangs’ junior defensive end out of Rowlett, Texas, will be a key to SMU’s defense against ECU and throughout the remainder of conference play. While Wood has failed to record a sack this season, he has 12 tackles in three games this season and after sitting out the JMU contest with an injury, will likely return to action against East Carolina. After watching their defense get absolutely torched by an FCS team from Virginia, SMU fans will be happy to have arguably their best defensive player return to the field before AAC play begins.
Against the Dukes, JMU quarterback Vad Lee ran rampant on the SMU Mustangs. He amassed 276 yards rushing on 20 carries, including two touchdowns and multiple big plays, including a 40-yard run down the middle of the field. SMU fans can’t help but feel that had Wood been on the field, Lee wouldn’t have done nearly as much damage.
Wood has been an important containment option for the Mustangs this season, and contributed to the bottling up of the North Texas offense, as well as TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin. Any team without their top defensive line option will suffer, but on a team as shallow as the Mustangs, the addition of Wood is as essential as any player on the field.
Ultimately, the 2015 SMU Mustangs will never be a defensive-minded team. They will have to win games with a high-powered offense that their opponents simply can’t keep up with. However, giving up over 700 yards of total offense to an FCS school, no matter how talented, is hardly a formula for success, and the addition of Wood will help massively for making sure that doesn’t happen against conference opponents.
While Wood may not completely change the team, he will provide a level of dynamism on the defensive line that SMU didn’t see last week against JMU.