Expect offensive fireworks this week

by Dan M | Posted on Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

smu-mustangs-football-tickets.jpg.870x570_q70_crop-smart_upscaleBy Johnny McAlpine

Arkansas State (1-1) at SMU (2-1)
Line: Mustangs -5.5 / 65
TV: 6:00, ESPN3
The Red Wolves and Mustangs meet for just the third time ever,
pitting two Top 20 passing offenses for a root’n toot’n showdown in
Dallas. Bring your popcorn, and hold onto your butts.
In the Sun Belt, the Power Five match-ups receive the most
attention, which is all well and good. But what SBC Commissioner Karl
Benson has mandated is more peer-to-peer scheduling, which is not only
good for the Sun Belt, but also good for the Group of Five.
The G5 needs mutual hatred and heat, elements that cannot be
mined from cross country money-and-body bag games. Hatred-and-heat,
generated between teams that share recruiting rights and geography,
creates storylines that keep fans interested. We need more CUSA vs Sun
Belt games like Texas State and UTSA, and Sun Belt vs AAC matchups
like Arkansas State and SMU.
Arkansas State and SMU have met exactly two times, with each
program claiming a resounding victory. The last meeting took place in
2007, when A-State legend Corey Leonard totaled 5 TDs (two passing and
three on the ground) and A-State co-legend Reggie Arnold rushed for
156 yards on 19 carries to race past the Mustangs 45-28.
If you like passing, you’ll love Wolves vs Ponies. The Red Wolves
feature the nation’s 8th ranked passing offense, averaging 385.5 yards
with 9 total passing TDs. SMU isn’t too shabby, either, sporting the
nation’s 20th ranked passing offense (318 yards, 10 TDs).
Sophomore QB Ben Hicks (6-1 203) is having a fine year with the
Mustangs, connecting with otherworldly WR Courtland Sutton (6-4 216)
for 5 scores in three games. Sutton and junior WR Trey Quinn (6-0 202)
have the prototype size to overmatch average defensive backs, allowing
Hicks to pile up yardage.
However, Hicks has only completed better than 50% of his passes
once in 2017 (51% vs UNT). Red Wolves QB Justice Hansen (6-4 207) is
completing 70% of his throws, finding big targets in Kendrick Edwards
(6-5 215), Justin McInnis (6-6 202) and TE Blake Mack (6-3 245).
SMU has some weaknesses
Chad Morris’ Mustangs went 5-7 last year, giving up an average of
36 points per game. In two games against FCS opponents this season,
SMU is surrendering 34 points per contest. Part of the problem is
SMU’s young secondary, which is giving up 311 yards per game. Junior
DB Jordan Wyatt (6-0 195) is having a fine season, but sophomore DB
Christian Davis (6-0 185) is still battling a tweaked ankle suffered
against North Texas and may not be available against the Red Wolves.
Another weakness for SMU: the right side of the offensive line,
where Morris has rotated players all season long. Against UNT, the SMU
offensive line gave up 3 sacks and 7 TFLs. The Red Wolves pass rushers
could have a field day, with DT Dee Liner (6-3, 325) set to return
injury.
Even though the Arkansas State offensive line is better than
advertised, the running game hasn’t become a real weapon for Coach
Blake Anderson. But maybe the lack of production is more a product of
Hansen’s success with the pass than a problem with the run scheme.
After all, lead RB Warren Wand (5-5 191) is averaging 6.2 yards per
carry. (SMU’s leading RBs, KeMon Freeman and Xavier Jones, are
averaging 3.8 and 4.8 yards respectively.) Wand’s big day may only be
a matter of time.
On defense, the run-stop raises some eyebrows. The Red Wolves gave
up 225 ground yards and a pair of rushing TDs to Nebraska in Week 1.
But then again, the ASU philosophy on defense is to menace the passer
and create mistakes. The Red Wolves may give up some nice runs to
Freeman and Jones on Saturday, but don’t expect the defense to ease
up.
The broad view on this game is that we’ll be treated to an all-out
air war. But this will also be a battle between talented former P5
offensive coordinators – Chad Morris vs Blake Anderson.
Fun fact: as a successful OC for Clemson, Chad Morris was a hot
commodity in 2013, when the Red Wolves embarked on its third head
coaching search. Morris (who was pulling down $1.2M as an assistant)
was a lead candidate for the position before Arkansas State landed
Blake Anderson, the OC for North Carolina.
Morris is known for his “smash mouth spread offense.” Anderson’s
play calling set several offensive records for North Carolina. Both
have hyperactive minds for devising fast paced offense capable of
producing big numbers. It will be fun watching the high-speed chess
match between these two.
The Red Wolves need to strike fast, orchestrating will-crushing
first quarter scores and force the Mustangs to play catch up. The
Arkansas State “Monster Defense,” spearheaded by Liner, DE Ja’Von
Rolland-Jones and LB Kyle Wilson, needs to pour the pressure on SMU’s
offensive line, forcing Hicks to make mistakes.
Chad Morris’ leadership has resulted in steady improvement for a
program that once seemed content with anchoring the American. If
Morris uses the ground game to maintain possession, and if Hicks can
avoid throwing drive-killing interceptions, then SMU should handle
Arkansas State before a friendly crowd in Dallas.
Home field advantage is always tough to overcome, and SMU’s
Courtland Sutton will be the best player on the gridiron this
Saturday. Look for the Mustangs to take care of business Staturday.
Pick: SMU 40 Arkansas State 35

The rest of the schedule;
Temple (2-1) at USF (3-0)
TV: Thursday, Sept 21, 6:30
Line: Bulls -17.5 / 63.5
Pick: USF 44 Temple 20

Army (2-1) at Tulane (1-2)
Line: Tulane -2.5 / 44.5
TV: 11:00am, CBSSN
Pick: Army 24 Tulane 20

New Mexico (1-2) at Tulsa (1-2)
Line: Tulsa -11 / 68
TV: 12:30, ESPN3
Pick: Tulsa 33 New Mexico 21

UCF (1-0) at Maryland (2-0)
Line: Maryland -4 / 59.5
TV: 2:00, FS1
Pick: Maryland 34 UCF 28

Cincinnati (2-0) at Navy (2-1)
Line: Navy -11.5 / 53
TV: 2:20, CBSSN
Pick: Navy 31 Cincinnati 20

Southern Illinois (2-0) at Memphis (2-0)
Line: NL
TV: 7:00, ESPN3
Pick: Memphis 35 Southern Illinois 25

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