The SMU Mustangs are 5-0 overall. They are 2-0 in the AAC race. Yet, there is still the sense that they have not even come close to reaching where they can be. Especially if you listen to head coach Sonny Dykes.
SMU Looks To Elevate Its Game
The Mustangs are coming off a three-point overtime win at Tulane. Dykes observations immediately after the game said a lot. “We did a bunch of things you normally do and lose when you do that. But we were able to win. And it’s because our guys just played really hard, showed a lot of grit, fought their tales off, and made plays down the stretch when they needed to.”
Working On The Fundamentals
After having time to look at the game film, his thoughts were still pretty much the same this week. “There were a lot of mistakes we made in the game a lot of things we have to fix, and things we have to do better.”
Dykes rattled off a laundry of things that he sees SMU needing to do better like blocking, tackling, penalties, and all the rudimentary parts of football. It was a longer list than what you generally get from a coach of an undefeated team. The bottom line was, “We were not as fundamentally sound as we needed to be.” That was what made the game so close. “That’s what happens when you do that. You look up and all of a sudden you are in a dog fight,” Dykes said.
A Game Circled On The Schedule
That leads to this week’s game and Cincinnati coming to Dallas for what feels like another critical game. When you look at the SMU schedule and their chances of competing for the conference championship, the to-do list is pretty clear to see. Memphis, Navy, (don’t underestimate the pain of defending the triple option), Houston, and Cincinnati.
The Bearcats are coming into the game at 3-0 and 1-0 in the AAC. They have not played since the first Saturday of October. Last Saturday’s game at Tulsa was postponed thanks to a COVID outbreak in the football program. Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell told the assembled media this week that being out for the last two weeks has made his team all that more excited for Saturday’s game at SMU.
Bearcats quarterback Desmond Ridder is in his third year of running the offense. But with the truncated schedule he has attempted only 78 passes all season. By comparison, SMU’s Shane Buechele had that total by early in the first quarter of the Stephen. F. Austin game. Ridder has thrown six touchdowns in the three games but also has four interceptions. Therein lies the Ridder dilemma for Fickell. The team’s offense needs a good outing since they tend to be mistake-prone. He threw for more than 2,100 yards last year but had nine interceptions against 18 touchdowns.
If Ridder is not sharp, it allows the defense to hone in on senior running back Gerrid Doaks, the team’s leading rusher through the three games. He had 102 yards and a touchdown against USF back on October 3rd, in their last game. But he was also held to a combined 43 yards on 20 carries in the wins over Army and Austin Peay.
Needing Rhythm On Offense
SMU’s offense is going to have to cut down on the inconsistencies Dykes talks about on a weekly basis. Dykes said, “Cincinnati is a line of scrimmage football team. That is a big compliment. They are big upfront on both sides of the ball. They play aggressively. There is a toughness with the way they play.”
To that end, SMU’s Buechele may be second in the country in passing yards. (1,710 yards, 46 behind UCF’s Dillon Gabriel), but there are still some areas that need to be cleaned up. He is completing passes at a 67% clip and has a dozen touchdown passes against only two interceptions. But even with that, Dykes says there is work to do. “I think he can definitely play better,” Dykes said this week. “I think that there were times Friday night, (in the Tulane game), we seemed a little out of sync and he seemed a little out of sync,” Dykes says there are improvements needed in Buechele’s timing with his receivers. Not having Reggie Roberson, Jr. in the line-up can do that to you.
Buechele was a respectable 23 of 37 for 384 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He has not been picked off since about five minutes left in the game of the season opener at Texas State. Still, going back to the Tulane game, Dykes said “For sure I know of three or four throws in that game Shane would love to have back. He’s certainly capable of playing better than he did. We need for him to and want him to.” Dykes said the need to have his quarterback and receivers in better rhythm is a focal point of this week’s practices.
A couple of weeks back Dykes said the better a team plays, and the more they get some of the national spotlight, the bigger that target is on their backs. Saturday against Cincinnati is the biggest target of the season to date.