The calm before the storm
The Mustangs return to the Hilltop for a Homecoming Weekendmatch-up with the University of Tulsa.
The Golden Hurricane surprised the WAC last season with an 8-5finish, but this year they sit at a disappointing 2-6 despite theirhigh powered offense.
Last week we saw the Hurricane defeat the Rice Owls 39-22 whileSMU (1-7) took a 42-0 loss in Fresno. The SMU offense moved theball up and down the field to the tune of 356 yards something thathaunted Coach Bennett. “We moved the ball, but we were ourown worst enemy with too many turnovers.”
If SMU can get the same kind of offensive output without theturnovers the alumni will leave Ford Stadium happy.
Tulsa’s Ashlan Davis against the SMU ReturnCoverage
The kicking game takes on added emphasis with the most recentedition to the NCAA record books taking the field. Davis, a juniorfrom Mesquite, returned a kick 83 yards for a touchdown last weekagainst Rice, tying the record for consecutive games with a kickoffreturn for a touchdown with three.
Davis, whose day job is the second leading receiver on theHurricane, returned kicks for 100 and 94-yard touchdowns againstBoise St. and Nevada in the prior two weeks.
His return against the Broncos was a thing of beauty with threemissed tackles that netted him an appearance as SportsCenters No. 1play of the day, but Coach Steve Kragthorpe says that Davisdoesn’t deserve all of the credit.
“AD would echo my sentiments that its an 11 manoperations,” said Kragthorpe, “but AD has also madesome great individual efforts by breaking tackles and outrunningguys.”
The Ponies can respond to Davis in a number of different waysbut trying a shorter high kick would probably be a bad idea.
Rice tried the same strategy and Davis just caught the ball onthe run at the 17 and never looked back on his way to the endzone.
Kicker Chris McMurtray could keep the ball out of Davis’shands by putting the ball deep in the endzone or by kicking lowsquib kicks.
If the ‘Stangs want some inside knowledge on Davis theyshould just ask their own starting quarterback Tony Eckert, whothrew a few scores to Davis when the two played together at TylerJunior College.
Whatever the Mustangs choose to do, limiting Davis’touches will be a huge key to success on Saturday.
Tulsa’s Garrett Mills
Some have called Mills the best all-around offensive player inthe WAC, SMU’s Phil Bennett just considers him a hugematch-up problem.
“Mills will line up at H-Back, Tight End, or even splitwide,” Bennett says, “and he single handedly kept themin the game against Boise St.”
Mills caught 8 balls for 139 yards in a 45-42 loss to thenationally ranked Broncos.
This season Mills has only 1 touchdown despite having 41 catchesfor 459 yards.
Mills also attacks his run blocking assignments with authoritysomething that has NFL scouts salivating about having Mills intheir line-up.
Mills was named first team All-WAC last season when he caught 53receptions for 456 yards and 10 touchdowns.
SMU must find a way to contain Mills because stopping him isnext to impossible. Matching a safety on him may be the only waythat the Mustangs can run with Mills, but will Jamey Harper andAlvin Nnabuife be big enough to handle Mills?
If the safeties have big days SMU may have a happyhomecoming.
SMU’s Bobby Chase
Bennett and the rest of the coaching staff have been very happywith the improved play of Chase.
“We are really excited about the way Bobby Chase hasplayed, exclaimed Bennett, “he has really wanted the ball inall situations.”
Against Fresno, Chase made the most of his opportunities takingfive passes for 108 yards. Chase has consistently improved his playover the course of the season as he has 14 of his 18 catches on theseason in the last three games.
Chase is also a strong downfield blocker who seems to make acontribution on every play. A repeat of last week’sperformance by Chase could mean a win for the Mustangs.
Inside the Golden Hurricane
Tulsa’s offense had high expectations this season behindsenior leader James Kilian, but through five games the GolderHurricane sat in idle.
A visit from defending WAC champion Boise St. was just the thingthe Hurricane needed to get moving as they are averaging 448 yardsof offense in the last three games. Two of those games have endedup in wild losses, 45-42 to the Broncos and 54-48 to Nevada, butlast week was a runaway victory over Rice.
The key for the Hurricane is their ability to send the samepersonnel (2 TE’s, 1 RB, 2 WR’s) out on every play andlineup in the spread, Power-I or regular two tight end set due tothe versatility of Mills and second tight end CalebBlankenship.
The Hurricane rely on the intelligence and guts of Killian whohas an admirer in Bennett.
“If you tested size, speed, weight, he wouldn’t testwell,” chuckled Bennett, “but he’s awinner.”
Killen, who ranks sixth on the Tulsa all-time total offensecharts, doesn’t mind running the ball a little bit with sevenrushing scores last season.
This year he’s handing the ball off a little more to therushing duo of Uril Parrish and Brandon Diles. The two havecombined for 522 yards in the last two games as Tulsa found itselfplaying with leads for the first time all season.
Kragthorpe has put together a slew of option (we didn’teven mention Ashlan Davis) that has his multiple set offenserunning on all cylinders.
Inside the Mustangs
SMU is asking its players and fans to believe after adisappointing performance against Fresno.
On defense Bennett said his team, “was unable to stop therun, had too many missed tackles and gave up 6 yards per carry and2 big plays in the passing game.”
The Bulldogs rolled for 465 yards of total offense including 269yards on the ground. The defense looks to bounce back this weekendagainst Tulsa’s array of sets. Safeties and linebackers mustbe prepared to stack up against the run or be able to run out widewith tight ends split out as receivers.
The secondary continues to lead the Mustangs with Harper andHumphrey leading the team in tackles at 56 with Nnabuife not farbehind at 54.
The offense didn’t help the defense much last week byproviding the Bulldogs with four turnovers to stop drives.
Three of Fresno’s scoring drives came off turnovers by theMustang offense but their were some positives on the fieldincluding Jerad Romo’s 71 yards on 11 carries.
Jay’Mond Cleveland had highest output of the seasonhauling in 3 passes for 67 yards.
Foy Munlin returned to the lineup and went for 31 yards onlimited carries as SMU played from behind all day. The keys for SMUis to make Tulsa one-dimensional by stopping the run andeliminating the turnovers on offense to take advantage of thedefense.
A Welcome Storm
SMU welcomes the Golden Hurricane with open arms as the Mustangshave taken 7 of 8 against the Hurricane although Tulsa did takelast year’s tilt, 35-16 at Skelly Stadium.
SMU looks to continue their success against the Hurricane andturn their season around Saturday at 2 p.m. in Gerald J. FordStadium.