As Tulsa celebrated Dane Evans’ touchdown run that sealed an overtime win, Justin Lawler couldn’t get off the field. SMU’s senior defensive end wasn’t hurting physically – he was too emotionally distraught to walk off alone.
“In 18 games, that’s the first time I’ve seen so many people hurting in the locker room,” SMU head coach Chad Morris said Tuesday.
A 43-40 overtime loss is a tough way to enter a bye week, even though SMU played much better than it did in a 45-20 loss at Temple the week before. Morris and his staff were pleased with the response and improvement, especially after they called out some players in team meetings after the loss to the Owls. Offensive coordinator Joe Craddock called Ben Hicks’ two-touchdown, zero-turnover performance vs. Tulsa his best of the season. After the offensive line’s worst game of the season vs. Temple, it did not allow a sack vs. Tulsa
“That’s what I was most proud about with our whole offense, is that everybody responded,” offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said. “We called some guys out and they took it personally, which they should have, and they did more.”
After the overtime loss, Morris challenged them to respond again. This time, he sought emotional maturity instead of a response to poor play.
“This team is going to go one direction or another during this open week, and it’s all predicated on how we respond,” Morris said. “I thought we responded really well.”
Morris made one thing clear: he’s not disappointed that his players were hurting. In fact, it impressed him.
“(It) tells me the care factor is going higher and higher,” Morris said. “The more you care, the more you give. It works hand in hand.”
SMU entered its bye week at 2-4 and begins its second half of the season Saturday vs. No. 11 Houston. It has 48 days from the start of the bye week until the last regular-season game vs. Navy. He wants his team’s attention there – and not on lasting effects of the emotional letdown from the loss to Tulsa.
“They aren’t going to cancel the season. You got six games remaining,” Morris said. “How we respond over the next 48 will determine the outcome of the season. You’re not going to be remembered for the first games, you’ll be remembered by the last six games and how you respond.”
Morris used the bye week to rest some high-usage and injured players during practice. Running back Braeden West, who has 35 more carries in six games this year (97) than he had in 12 games last year (62), was among the players who took some “mental reps.”
That’s about the only rest players got, despite the bye week and fall break. Morris said some bye week practices were in full pads with live tackling. It’s part of responding and continuing the season as normal.
“There wasn’t anybody complaining,” he said.