BY: Richard W. Humphrey
UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas – The SMU football team laid a rotten egg in the team’s first bowl appearance in five years. The Mustangs turned the ball over six times, including two “pick sixes”, to hand the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs a 51-10 dominating victory in the first DXL Frisco Bowl. Both teams finished the year with 7-6 records.
The Mustangs came in as four point favorites on the betting line looking to cap off the 2017 season with an eighth win. It was new head coach Sonny Dykes’ first game, and the team wanted to make him a winner as well as send out the seniors with a win to capture momentum for next season. On the field though, the dream didn’t come true.
Louisiana Tech quarterback J’mar Smith completed 15 of 23 passes, including three for touchdowns, for 216 yards to spearhead the Bulldogs’ offense.
The Mustangs turned the ball over five times in the first half, as Louisiana Tech took a 42-10 lead to the halftime locker room. Tres Quinn scored the Mustangs’ lone touchdown. SMU QB Ben Hicks completed 19 of 33 passes for just 127 yards.
In retrospect, the shellacking at the hands (paws?) of the Bulldogs was probably inevitable. Once the regular season ended November 25, the speculation whirled that head coach Chad Morris would be offered a head coaching job from a school in one of the power five conferences.
It turned out to be Arkansas, and the uncertainty was far from over once Morris left. Players are really closer to their position coaches, and Morris ended up taking almost the entire offensive assistants. G. J. Kinne, a graduate assistant, was the Mustangs’ offensive coordinator for the bowl game.
The uncertainty is far from over for the players though. Many of the assistant coaching positions are still to be filled. Many are wondering not only who their new position coach will be and how they will fit in a new offense and most probably a new defense too. There is no chance that defensive coordinator Van Malone returns in that position.
The day of the bowl game was not a total loss for the program. The signing date for football players was moved up to December 20. The Mustangs had accumulated 19 verbal committments before Morris left for Arkansas. Three de-committed immediately when he took the new job.
It was thought to be a reasonable recruiting class, though 247 Sports projected it to be ranked in the 70′s. The question was thought to be whether Dykes could keep it together as many of the other 16 verbal commits were taking a wait and see attitude.
Instead, Dykes pulled a big rabbit out of the hat on signing day. Levon Livingston, a 6′-7″, 275 pound offensive lineman, surprisingly signed with the Mustangs. He was a highly regarded prospect with offers from schools such as Texas. He undoubtedly will be the starting left tackle next season. He’s the type of signing that can attract better recruits, a definite program changer.
Dykes ended up signing seven recruits over the 72 hour signing period that began December 20. Two others – Nick Dennis, a 6′-4″ 315 offensive guard, and Trevor Denbow, a 6′-1″ 220 pound linebacker, also signed out of Navarro Junior College.
With the early signing period now closed, Dykes’ number one priority is filling out his coaching staff. In his introductory press conference, he stated that defensive coordinator would be a high priority. “For us to win a conference championship, and that’s our intent, we’ve got to become a great defensive football team.”
He has about seven weeks to fill out his recruiting class. It’s inevitable that some players currently in the program will transfer. The players will begin learning Dykes’ “Air Brigade” offense, which isn’t drastically different from what Mustang fans saw with Chad Morris as head coach.
There is much to do to prepare the team for an even better record in 2018; but for sure, Dykes takes over far more talent than Morris did prior to the 2015 season. Mustang fans should have every expectation of the program continuing to improve, rather than take a step back initially.
* Courtland Sutton made official what everyone assumed would happen. He wrote a “good-bye” letter to SMU two days after the bowl game declaring for the NFL draft instead of returning for his final year of eligibility. Sutton graduated after the fall semester with a degree in sports management. “The relationships I have built, and the experiences I have had are absolutely priceless,” Sutton said in the letter.
* John Stephen Jones, the grandson of Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones, quarterbacked the Highland Park Scots to the school’s second consecutive state football championship last Friday. Jones has received sholarship offers from both Arkansas and SMU.