SMU mo­ti­vated to knock off Mids, be­come bowl-el­i­gi­ble

But Mus­tangs won­der about coach’s fu­ture with team

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Bill Wag­ner

DAL­LAS — On Monday, South­ern Methodist coach Chad Mor­ris talked en­thu­si­as­ti­cally about what his foot­ball team could ac­com­plish this week­end.

SMU(5-6, 3-4) can be­come bowl-el­i­gi­ble by up­set­ting Navy (8-2, 6-1) to­day at Ger­ald J. Ford Sta­dium. It is se­nior day for the Mus­tangs, who are also hop­ing to finish .500 in the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence af­ter go­ing 1-7 a year ago.

Knock­ing off the Mid­ship­men, the West Di­vi­sion cham­pion in the Amer­i­can, would be a strong state­ment by the Mus­tangs.

“Hey, we’re ex­cited about this op­por­tu­nity. What else would you want go­ing into the last game of the reg­u­lar sea­son? To have the To­day, 3:30 p.m. TV: ESPNU Ra­dio: 1090 AM, 1430 AM Line: Navy by 7

best team in our di­vi­sion com­ing in and for us to have an op­por­tu­nity to clinch a bowl berth,” Mor­ris said on the AAC tele­con­fer­ence.

One day later, Mor­ris found him­self war­ily re­spond­ing to re­ports he was on the verge of ditch­ing SMU and ac­cept­ing the head coach­ing job at Bay­lor. Me­dia out­lets said con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions had been on­go­ing with one stat­ing it was a done deal that Mor­ris would be hired by the Big 12 Con­fer­ence school by early next week.

“This time of year in col­lege foot­ball — this time of year even when I was in high school foot­ball — that’s just what hap­pens,” Mor­ris said dur­ing his weekly news con­fer­ence. “You’re ei­ther get­ting fired be­cause you ain’t won enough games or you’re leav­ing be­cause you’ve won too many games. Or you’ve got a pro­gram go­ing in the right di­rec­tion. That’s just the way this busi­ness is at this time of year.”

SMU can’t seem to get over the hump with re­gard to re­build­ing its once-sto­ried pro­gram. June Jones was lured away from Hawaii and led the Mus­tangs to four straight bowl berths, then abruptly re­tired in Septem­ber 2014 be­cause of per­sonal rea­sons.

Mor­ris, a Texas na­tive and hot­shot of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor at Clem­son, was an in­spired choice to re­place Jones and quickly di­rected a dra­matic one-year turn­around. SMU, which went 2-10 in its first sea­son un­der Mor­ris, is one of the most im­proved pro­grams in the Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion.

“I came here to build SMU into some­thing that I felt like can be great. And that’s my fo­cus and my fo­cus in my job is to give SMU and my staff and our play­ers 100 per­cent of ev­ery­thing that I’ve got ev­ery day,” Mor­ris said in fur­ther re­sponse to what he termed as “ru­mors” about leav­ing to Bay­lor.

SMU will clearly be mo­ti­vated to­day. Re­gard­less of their coach’s fu­ture, the Mus­tangs want to se­cure a bowl bid and send their se­niors out on a win­ning note.

“Our se­niors have in­vested so much in this pro­gram. They’ve gone through a coach­ing change and bought in so much. They have changed the cul­ture and flipped the whole mind­set of our pro­gram, and they are leav­ing a strong legacy,” Mor­ris said. “Our message to the un­der­class­men is that this is a week for the se­niors. Pour ev­ery­thing you have into help­ing these “My fo­cus in my job is to give SMU and my staff and our play­ers 100 per­cent,” coach Chad Mor­ris said in re­sponse to re­ports about leav­ing for a job at Bay­lor. se­niors go out the right way.”

There is a turn­ing point for ev­ery col­lege foot­ball pro­gram in re­build­ing mode, one that de­ter­mines the di­rec­tion of that at­tempt. For SMU, a thor­ough 38-16 thrash­ing of heav­ily fa­vored Hous­ton on Oct. 22 in Dal­las might well prove the cat­a­lyst for fu­ture suc­cess. Tak­ing down the Mids one week be­fore they play in the AAC cham­pi­onship game would be another notch in the belt of the Mus­tangs.

“I think we’ve def­i­nitely turned a cor­ner with this pro­gram. There’s no ques­tion about that. I’m ex­tremely proud of where we are. It’s about staying the course and not de­vi­at­ing from our stan­dard,” Mor­ris said. “These kids be­lieve in what we’re do­ing, be­lieve in our coaches, be­lieve in our sys­tem.”

Mor­ris was hired be­cause the SMU ad­min­is­tra­tion was con­fi­dent he could suc­cess­fully re­cruit the tal­ent-rich state of Texas. The Edge­wood, Texas, na­tive spent 15 years as a high school foot­ball coach in Texas, lead­ing Lake Travis to back-to-back un­beaten sea­sons and con­sec­u­tive state cham­pi­onships.

In 2014, SMUhad68Texas play­ers on its ros­ter — fewest among the state’s FBS pro­grams. Ev­ery mem­ber of the 2015 and 2016 re­cruit­ing classes put to­gether by Mor­ris and his staff is from the Lone Star State.

That abil­ity to re­cruit Texas, along with his strong ties to the top high school pro­grams in the state, is re­port­edly the pri­mary rea­son Bay­lor is pur­su­ing Mor­ris.

SMU’s depth chart is loaded with play­ers re­cruited by the cur­rent regime. The Mus­tangs lost a tal­ented quar­ter­back when re­turn­ing starter Matt Davis suf­fered a sea­son-end­ing knee in­jury in the opener. How­ever, Ben Hicks, a four-star prospect out of Mid­way High in Waco, stepped in and op­er­ated the of­fense at a high level as the Mus­tangs are av­er­ag­ing 427.3 to­tal yards.

Hicks has shown a strong, ac­cu­rate arm along with a vet­eran’s pocket awareness and in­stincts in com­plet­ing 203 of 378 passes (53.7 per­cent) for 2,599 yards and 17 touch­downs.

Court­land Sutton has blos­somed into one of the coun­try’s top wide re­ceivers as a sopho­more, catch­ing 70 passes for 1,186 yards and nine scores. The Mus­tangs have found a tal­ented tail­back in sopho­more Brae­den West, who is 12 yards short of reach­ing the 1,000 milestone for the sea­son.

Turnovers have been a prob­lem for the Mus­tangs, who are av­er­ag­ing 27.3 points as a re­sult. SMU has com­mit­ted 22 turnovers with Hicks throw­ing 13 in­ter­cep­tions.

SMU most likely will need to score a lot of points to pull off the up­set. The Mids have been on a roll of late, av­er­ag­ing 48.2 points and 524.8 to­tal yards over their past five con­fer­ence games. Quar­ter­back Will Worth has been the cat­a­lyst of the of­fen­sive fire­works, which be­gan af­ter a dis­mal per­for­mance against ser­vice academy ri­val Air Force on Oct. 1.

“Their quar­ter­back makes them go. Will Worth isn’t a flashy run­ner, but he’s strong. He op­er­ates the sys­tem very well and is in a great groove now,” Mor­ris said.

Mor­ris has been im­pressed by the play-call­ing of Navy of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Ivin Jasper, whose abil­ity to ad­just to what­ever de­fen­sive scheme the op­po­nent uses is be­com­ing un­canny.

“They’ve been around and been around long enough to know how peo­ple play them from a de­fen­sive stand­point, Mor­ris said. “They have an­swers based off how you play them.”

Mor­ris said SMUhas spent time pre­par­ing for Navy’s triple op­tion at times since the start of pre­sea­son. How­ever, he ac­knowl­edged it’s im­pos­si­ble to repli­cate the speed and pre­ci­sion at which the Mids run the unique at­tack.

“It comes down to ex­e­cu­tion. When you can ex­e­cute at a high level like Navy does, you’re go­ing to be suc­cess­ful,” Mor­ris said.

BRAN­DON WADE/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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