UConn football rolls into Dallas Sunday to take on SMU, home of flashy running backs rolling around in brand-new muscle cars and big-time Texas boosters in bolo ties.
Once upon a time, players were paid to play for the Mustangs. It’s been a long time since that was the reality for SMU. In fact, it’s been 30 years since the NCAA handed down the death penalty to SMU football for keeping a slush fund handy to pay football players to attend. That was the first time the NCAA has ever shut down a football program for a period of time, and it hasn’t been done since.
Whatever the NCAA was trying to accomplish with the death penalty for SMU football worked beyond expectations. From 1988 to 2007, SMU had three different head coaches and one season with a winning record. Things started to look up for the Mustangs in 2008 when they went 7-5 and played in their first bowl in 25 years. Since then, SMU has been to three more bowl games.
That brings us to 2017, where SMU has quietly had a very good season so far. They’re 3-1 with wins over Stephen F. Austin, North Texas and Arkansas State and one loss to TCU.
SMU has one of the most explosive offenses in the country this year, ranking 11th in the nation with .575 points per play and fourth in the nation with 17.8 yards per completion. The Mustangs are also one of the best teams in the nation at finishing drives, scoring an average of 5.26 points per trip inside the 40 yard line.
SMU’s starting quarterback is Ben Hicks, a gunslinger who’s already thrown for 995 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season, but only boasts a 48 percent completion percentage. Hicks is surrounded by some of the best supporting cast talent in the American.
Receiver Courtland Sutton is already looked at by NFL scouts as a top-10 pass-catcher in the draft and if that wasn’t enough, Trey Quinn and James Proche have 315 and 283 yards receiving on the year already.
Although running the ball isn’t SMU’s strong suit, they can still rush the ball at a respectable level, coming in the top half of the nation in rushing success rate and yards per carry. Xavier Jones is the feature back, rushing for 296 yards on the year, including a 146-yard performance last week against Arkansas State.
SMU’s defense is definitely the weaker half of the team. The Mustangs rank near the bottom of the nation in yards per play at 110th, and have given up over 400 yards of total offense against every FBS team they’ve faced so far this year.
The strength of SMU’s defense lies in the secondary. Safety Mikial Onu leads the team with 29.5 tackles so far on the year and defensive back Jordan Wyatt has racked up 18.5 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and four pass break-ups on the year.
UConn takes on SMU this Saturday.
Luke Swanson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.