SMU Mustangs vs. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Spread: SMU -4
Series: Louisiana Tech leads 3-1
The commentary crew in Frisco, Texas, just 25 miles north of SMU’s campus, should have plenty to talk about on Wednesday night.
SMU’s new coach Sonny Dykes was formally announced last Tuesday following the news that Chad Morris would be taking the Arkansas job.
Morris plundered SMU’s offensive staff when he left town taking the Mustangs’ offensive coordinator, offensive line coach, wide receiver coach, and a handful of other support staffers along with him. He even took the dang interim coach after it became clear the interim job would not pivot to a full-time gig.
This has understandably left SMU in a bit of a pickle and as a result, Dykes will coach the Ponies in the inaugural DXL Frisco Bowl against Louisiana Tech despite having only one week to prepare.
An additional wrinkle to the story is that Louisiana Tech gave Dykes his first head coaching opportunity back in 2010.
Dykes has had nothing but positive things to say in the week leading up to the game about his time in Ruston as the Bulldogs’ head football coach and expressed his admiration for what Bulldogs’ head coach Skip Holtz has accomplished for the program:
“It’s always the same; you’re mortal enemies the day of the game and you’re best friends afterward. So I can’t say enough good things about Skip. He’s just been really good for that university and has really done a great job with that program”
Additionally, these two former WAC members just announced earlier this week that they will play a home and home series beginning in 2021, so if your team loses you only have to wait four years for revenge!
SMU enters the game looking for their first bowl win since a 43-10 victory over the Derek Carr led Fresno State Bulldogs in the 2012 Hawaii Bowl.
Meanwhile, Louisiana Tech is looking to win their second straight game over an AAC team in a Dallas/Fort Worth bowl after beating Navy 48-45 in last years Armed Forces Bowl. They are going for their also going for their fourth straight bowl victory under coach Skip Hicks.
Let’s get to the game.
It’s hard to know exactly what to expect from SMU given the turmoil behind the scenes. Dykes has said that SMU will be running the same offense they have been running all season for this game in an attempt to keep some form of continuity for the players.
Sophomore QB Ben Hicks has been teaching Dykes the offense and will be acting as some form of hybrid player-coach, which has potential to be very entertaining and gimmicky but has certainly also got the chance to just go terribly, terribly wrong.
At the end of the day, SMU will still have the same weapons that made them an elite offensive unit that finished eighth nationally in scoring, and Dykes is an offense first coach (Cal fans might tell you he is an offense ONLY coach), so even though he is going in relatively blind I do expect the Mustangs to be able to put up points.
The head has been cut off the chicken, but the Mustang offense is a supremely talented unit with playmakers across the board. Courtland Sutton, whose name should get called on day one of the NFL draft in April, and Trey Quinn, who could also be playing his final game as a Mustang, are a dynamic duo of 1,000-yard receivers and the Ponies will round out their offensive attack with a stable of three quality running backs that combined for 2,000 yards on the ground.
Louisiana Tech is not a bad defensive unit, but they have only faced one offense that is as good as SMU, and that FAU squad scored 48 points on them.
The Bulldogs struggle to defend the run and if they allow SMU to stay ahead of the chains with large gains on first down then expect the Ponies to take plenty of shots and generate some explosive plays, possibly even with a few trick plays thrown in.
If “offensive coordiback” Ben Hicks is able to get his offense on the same page, then Louisiana Tech should be in trouble – but that doesn’t mean SMU will necessarily run away with the game, because, you see, defense is a thing.
To put it simply, SMU’s defense was bad this season. Chad Morris wisely did not take the defensive staff with him to Fayetteville, so while SMU will at least have continuity on one side of the ball, that might not necessarily be a good thing.
SMU struggled to defend all season long allowing the ninth most total yards per game in the country and was among the very worst at allowing explosive plays, both in the air and on the ground.
This will be one of the worst defensive units that the Bulldogs have had the luxury of going against all season – SMU’s defense is on par with CUSA foes Rice and UTEP, which were two of only three instances where Louisiana Tech managed to scored 30+ points against an FBS team.
Louisiana Tech runs the ball well, a fact that should send shivers down any SMU fan’s spine, and while they aren’t on par with Memphis or some of the other AAC teams that gave the Ponies fits, they should be able to move the ball on the ground.
Running backs Boston Scott and Jarred Craft combined for nearly 1,500 yards and should have plenty of chances to add to that total against one of the nations worst rush defenses.
QB J’Mar Smith is the Bulldogs’ third leading rusher and I would be shocked if he doesn’t break loose at some point as SMU has struggled to contain dual threat QBs on several occasions this season (and no, I’m not counting Navy QB Malcom Perry who ran for 282 yards and 4 touchdowns since you have to complete a pass to be labeled dual threat).
The Bulldogs have had less success in the air, but against an SMU team that allows the tenth most passing yards per game (despite a game against Navy where the Midshipmen recorded zero passing yards) anything is possible. Still, if Louisiana Tech finds themselves playing from behind and forced to abandon the run they might struggle to keep up in what could quickly turn into a shootout.
J’Mar Smith may be the teams third leading rusher but he still has been inconsistent with his arm, completing just 55% of his attempts and throwing only 13 touchdowns.
Coaches are a luxury, I’m taking SMU! The Mustangs have scored 30+ points in ten of twelve games, and most of those were against teams with comparable or better defenses than Louisiana Tech.
SMU’s defense is poor and does not rate well by just about any stat you want to look at, but I’m not convinced that the Bulldogs’ offense is potent enough to take advantage of it and outscore the Mustangs.
SMU 42, LA Tech 27
If you couldn’t tell this preview’s bias was skewing heavily toward SMU then I’m bummed that I’m about to blow my cover. I didn’t know if it was bad form to end an “unbiased” preview with a “Pony Up” but I decided to do it anyway.