In a season that frequently resembles a schedule of pick-up games, SMU is coming off a second bye week that came as the result of the opponent’s COVID outbreaks. Is SMU refreshed and ready going into this weekend’s game at East Carolina? The Mustangs have been dinged up in recent games, and the unscheduled week off gave them some time to heal and regroup.
Is SMU Refreshed And Ready?
Head coach Sonny Dykes said earlier this week, “As much as anything else, mentally, we were a little fatigued and a little tired.” He pointed out that from camp, to practices and games, the team had not had back-to-back days off since mid-August. “And the reason we haven’t,” he added, “is just that we did not want our players to go home. You know, we felt like from the very beginning, if we could keep them together, keep them around people that were being tested that would increase our possibility and likelihood of being above to play games and keep our guys healthy.” Keeping them in their own program-created bubble was key, Dykes said.
It has worked as well there as most any program in the country. SMU has had no game postponements or cancellations due to a COVID outbreak in the Mustangs facility.
East Carolina Struggles
That puts them at 7-2 on the season and 4-2 in conference play. They are coming off a loss at Tulsa that had Dykes openly agitated at his team’s effort.
They travel to Greenville, NC to face an East Carolina team that is 2-6 overall and 2-5 in the AAC. The Pirates also had three games “postponed” this season due to COVID issues either with them or their opponent. They even had two games scheduled for the same day get postponed. They were scheduled to open against Marshall on September 12th. When that game got postponed, they quickly scheduled a make-up game against South Carolina. That also got yanked late in the week. They also lost their game the following week against Norfolk State.
When they have played it has not been much to see. They are getting outscored by eight points per game. The Pirates are getting out-rushed by 42 yards per game, and out-passed by more than 20 yards per game. It is not hard to see how they sit at 2-6. Still last year’s game in Dallas lit up the scoreboard, with the Mustangs holding out for a 59-51 win. Ironically, it was the fast start in the first half, outscoring ECU 28-20, that made the difference for SMU. The second half was completely even.
SMU Still Searching For 60 Minutes
That has been the story for SMU on more than a few occasions this season. They get off to the fast start, and then try to hang on through sluggish period in the second half. The Mustangs had a 24-7 halftime lead against Tulsa two weeks ago. They got shutout 21-7 in the second half in the loss.
With an unexpected week off, there could be a tendency to “over try” to fix the problems with the consistency. “We’ve been pretty mindful about not trying to outthink ourselves, just because we do have some extra time. That is something you always worry about is all of a sudden we are going to come up with 12 new plays and do all this stuff that is certainly not going to contribute to playing well.”
Dykes said the coaching staff has stayed on the same timeframe in terms of assessing ECU that they would in any game week. “With East Carolina, they are very multiple in what they do. They do a lot of different things, a lot of coverages, a lot of different fronts. They blitz a lot.” To that point, sophomore linebacker Jireh Wilson leads the team in sacks with three-and-a-half. But overall, the Pirates have only twelve sacks on the season. Wilson is also second on the team with 60 tackles.
Head To Head Comparisons
Quarterback Holton Ahlers is averaging about 30 throws per game but has nine interceptions against 14 touchdowns. He is throwing at a 60% completion rate. His counterpart, SMU is throwing it 35 times per game and Shane Buechele is throwing at a 65% completion rate. He has 21 touchdowns against only four interceptions.
On paper it looks like a mismatch. Of course, much of that depends on SMU’s focus. They have been wildly inconsistent all season long. Dykes said they have gotten over the tough loss at Tulsa and have honed in on the Pirates. “The good thing about our players is you can put the film on, and they can watch it and they can watch it and see their players and see how they play. They can see, number one, that they are playing really hard. And number two, they have a lot of talent and a lot of speed,” Dykes said.
The postseason particulars for SMU rely on taking care of business in exactly these kinds of games.