Get to know SMU football’s new quarterback: Will Brown
When Sonny Dykes got his first win in five tries for SMU Saturday against Navy, his starting quarterback wasn’t Ben Hicks – who has 56 touchdown passes and 27 starts under his belt – it was a kid who was throwing passes for Lamar Consolidated High School nine months ago: true freshman Will Brown.
Brown burst onto the scene a week earlier when he relieved an erratic Hicks at halftime of SMU’s game against Michigan, and led two touchdown drives against one of the most fearsome defenses in the nation.
But who is Brown? How has he been succeeding? And what can SMU fans expect from him going forward?
Let’s start with his path to SMU.
Brown did not go to a powerhouse high school; Lamar Consolidated went just 2-6 Brown’s senior year, and maxpreps.com ranked the 2017 Lamar Consolidated team as 641st in the state of Texas. Still, Brown’s 6-4 frame and cannon arm made him an intriguing quarterback prospect. 247Sports ranked him as a three-star, and Brown picked up offers from Alabama State, Indiana and SMU. Brown committed to SMU in January of 2017 when Chad Morris was still at the helm and stuck with the Mustangs through the coaching change.
He enrolled early at SMU, arriving on campus for the spring semester of 2018, getting the chance to learn under Dykes and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee for one extra semester.
SMU’s offense has indisputably looked better with Brown at the helm. Lashlee has drawn up a simple gameplan for Brown, centered around lots of runs, quick reads and short passes, and the freshman has executed.
He’s completing an excellent 69.6 percent of his passes, totaling 232 yards and four touchdowns in his game-and-a-half of action. His 5.0 yards per attempt is pedestrian, but it’s a factor of the short passing game that his staff has designed for him. Brown also ran for 48 yards against Michigan, while Navy stifled his rushing, holding him to eight yards on eight carries.
He’s made the throws when they are there, taken off when he’s needed to and has not tried to go off-script to force a play that is not there; when a quarterback does this, it usually results in a turnover. Brown’s only turnover of the season came when he attempted to scramble for a first down on a third and long, and a hard Navy hit jarred the ball loose. It’s important that he continues to avoid mistakes like these.
Another impressive aspect of Brown’s play so far is his toughness. Brown took lots of hard hits against Michigan, including a brutal helmet-to-helmet collision that got linebacker Khaleke Hudson ejected for targeting.
“That’s what you need to have in your program is you need to have a guy that is a tough guy that goes out there and takes the hits and just kind of keeps going,” Dykes said after the Michigan game. “What that does is that makes every single person around us better. Somebody that gives it up for his team, plays really hard, has a great demeanor, handles himself the right way, people will get behind him. I thought Will showed that today.”
If Brown does remain in at quarterback, it will be interesting to see if the staff opens up the offense to let Brown take shots down the field. Dykes said that he built the offense against Navy around screens because he liked the matchup of SMU’s skill position players against Navy’s defense.
“We felt like we liked our matchup when we got the ball on the perimeter, our skill against their guys,” Dykes said.
But SMU can’t dink and dunk forever. When going up against schools like UCF, Houston and Memphis it will not have the speed advantage that it had against Navy. Those schools are loaded with athletes on the defensive side of the ball, and will take away a one-dimensional attack.
If Dykes does stick with Brown, he’ll have to throw the ball down the field more and Saturday could be the right time to start. Houston Baptist is an FCS team that went 1-11 last season, and SMU’s receivers should have no problem getting separation down the field.
Brown’s only two real deep shots thus far resulted in an impressive long connection with James Proche that was called back for holding in Michigan, and Brown missing an open Reggie Roberson in the end zone against Navy. Houston Baptist is a good opportunity for the staff to see if the freshman can be accurate down the field.
Brown does have other areas to work on. A lot of his throws have been to targets that were determined before the snap. As he gets more time, the offense will become more complex, and he will have to analyze the field and decide whom to throw to as the play unfolds. He’s still learning some of the tricks that more experienced quarterbacks know.
“I learned that you’ve got to use your eyes as a quarterback,” Brown said after playing Michigan. “Your eyes are key and you can’t just look down your receivers the whole way. I’ve got to get the ball out, work on my drops, be more vocal to my players in a loud environment like (Michigan.)”
While Brown has done what’s been asked of him, Dykes showed that the freshman does not have his complete trust yet. With the game on the line in overtime, Dykes opted to go back to Hicks to win the game, despite Hicks’ poor play to begin the season.
“We just felt like we needed to throw the ball and Ben has just played more,” Dykes said. “And Will got a little banged up during the game and it just felt like in that situation, Ben just had more experience.”
Dykes hasn’t named a starter yet for the Houston Baptist game, but however the season shakes out, it looks like Brown will be a name that SMU fans will be saying for a long time.