Week Five Preview: East Carolina vs. SMU The 'Stangs try to regroup after the James Madison nightmare

It’s been a rough week for SMU athletics across the university (check out Joey’s breakdown of the men’s basketball sanctions here). ECU is coming off of a big win, and SMU is coming off of a big loss. This is only the sixth meeting between the teams, and ECU leads the series 3-2. Here are our thoughts and breakdown of this weeks game.

Beating a dead horse – no pun intended…

Jesse Carr: The inability of SMU’s secondary to play defense and guard receivers going into the game against JMU was laughable to say the least. At this point, I’m waiting for Coach Malone to host tryouts or maybe start scouting Dedman Rec flag football games for a couple of safeties and cornerbacks.

What does this mean when SMU hosts ECU? Well, ECU has a double headed threat in junior quarterbacks Blake Kemp and James Summers. Kemp is a first year starter with 1,011 yards through the air, 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Summers saw the majority of his playing time during ECU’s win at Virginia Tech when he rushed for 169 yards and 3 scores. The point is, ECU’s greatest strength on offense is SMU’s biggest weakness on defense – the passing game.

Keys for an SMU victory on defense? The defensive line has to play a bigger role this week than they did against JMU in the form of sacks and pressure on the QB. But for the love of God…The secondary has to figure out how to cover down field. Maybe someone should buy Coach Malone some crayons and coloring books so he can break down coverage Barney-style. At this point I am open to anything.

Reece Graham: Sorry Jesse, but I’m going to beat this horse some more. The horse deserves it. SMU’s defense is awful. The secondary’s inabiltity to keep the ball in front of them is really the only thing you need to takeaway from the JMU game. For the most part, the offense did its job by keeping the team in a position to win if the defense could hold. It didn’t hold.

You can say whatever you want about Davis leaving too much time on the clock during the final drive – yes, poor decision on his part, he’s young, he’ll learn, that’s not the point. The point is that SMU cannot continue to let opponents march the field. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I said the secondary would be the difference last week. I predicted SMU would beat JMU because I wanted to give the defense the benefit of the doubt – I wanted them to use the TCU game as motivation for improvement and we thought they would. I was wrong.

While JMU did outsize SMU by small margin, it wasn’t enough to make that much of a difference. The tackling was atrocious, the coverage wasn’t any better, and for the first time under Morris’ watch, I was starting to question their effort. It’s unfair to ask the D-line to pick up the slack, but if SMU has any chance of beating ECU, they have to get to the QB. Because once the ball leaves the hand, I have no faith it’ll be stopped before it reaches the other end of the field.

ECU beat Virginia Tech last week and was an interception away from taking Florida to overtime in Week 2 (but that interception led to a Gator tackling his teammate (again)…so at least ECU got some hilarious antics out of it).

For a team who lost their starting QB in August, ECU is a lot better than most thought they’d be. SMU’s defense needs to wake up before Saturday – the offense can’t do all the work anymore.

Home field advantage 

Jesse Carr: We raved about it after the Baylor game and even praised the fans after UNT, but against JMU, SMU fans fell flat on their face and should be ashamed. SMU athletics claims a total attendance number of 22,314.

How can fans expect SMU to win without support?

It’s been a rough week for SMU athletics with the sanctions on the basketball and golf programs, in normal SMU fashion expect Ford Stadium to be practically empty, probably even more empty than it was during last week’s heartbreaking loss. But if SMU fans are serious about Chad Morris and this school, Ford Stadium needs to be packed.

Reece Graham: I really don’t expect much of a turnout this week on part of the students. Everyone thought the JMU loss would be the worst part of their week, then Tuesday happened. Half of the reason students show up to football in the first place is to get Mob Points, and now that those points seemingly have less value, I’d imagine this week may be more of a “check-in and leave” or “not check-in at all” kind of week. The unfortunate events surrounding SMU Basketball will affect football negativly as well – the extra momentum created by the looming basketball season just won’t be there anymore.

Conference

Jesse Carr: It’s the first week of conference play and games really start to matter. This is the first year for the American’s new 12 team, 2 division format. Each team will play 8 conference games, 5 from their division and 3 from the other division. The American Championship game will be held December 5. The divisional champions will be determined by the team with the highest win percentage of conference games.

But don’t get too excited…The West division line up is Houston, Memphis, Navy, SMU, Tulane and Tulsa. Tulane and Memphis are possible wins for SMU, but against Navy, Tulsa, and Houston, SMU will be heavy under-dogs. It will be a long and uphill battle for SMU towards the American Championship and/or a bowl game this season.

SMU has gotten a taste of what Chad Morris’s new program is like, it isn’t a sprint, it is a marathon. I am interested to see if SMU fans can accept that reality.

Reece Graham: A win versus JMU could have been a drastic momentum shift for the Mustangs, even if the Dukes were just a FCS team. They lost. Entering conference play 1-3 rather than 2-2 makes getting to a bowl much more difficult. I can see SMU beating USF and Tulane, but everything else seems more like wishful thinking. Think ECU can throw? How about Memphis QB Paxton Lynch? If SMU can’t stop the Pirates, what makes us think the Memphis matchup would be any better?

Really, I’m not trying to be cyncial, but based on what I’ve seen from SMU so far, this is where the season may begin to tank. If the next two games go as predicted, the Ponies will be 1-5 by midseason. This means SMU will have to win 5 of their last 6 games to be bowl eligable. On top of that, two early losses won’t fair well for their conference championship aspirations either. This could get ugly fast, but I hope I’m wrong.

Reality

Jesse Carr: I would love to say that SMU pulls out the win in their first conference game, but I have to be realistic.

The secondary can’t cover, ECU can throw the ball. ECU is a program with an identity, SMU is still working through figuring out what kind of team they are. ECU is coming off of a big win at Virginia Tech and undoubtedly has their sights set on a conference championship this year. SMU is still trying to just win more than one game.

It is interesting to note that SMU is the only American Conference team to play two teams ranked in the top ten, #2 TCU and #4 Baylor.

Reece Graham: This game has loss written all over it. When the schedule first came out, I was like, “oh, ECU, that’s a loss.” And then, their QB got injured and I was like, “woah, maybe this is possible now. Maybe SMU could beat ECU?” And then SMU’s defense took a vacation for 4 weeks in a row and I was like, “on second thought, nevermind.”

ECU’s motto is “No Quarter,” and I wouldn’t expect them to show SMU’s 1-ply secondary any mercy. If I’m ECU’s head coach Ruffin McNeill (which let’s be real for a second, may just be the best football coaching name I’ve ever heard), I’m throwing the ball deep until the whistle blows. Not only is SMU’s secondary weak, there’s no depth. Once the Mustangs get tired, they will most certainly be plundered. Prepare to be boarded SMU. Matt Davis and Co. need to get their cannons ready, because if SMU’s defense leaves them on a deserted island again this week, that pretty red and blue “Lock Arms” flag may just be replaced by the jolly roger. If the secondary can’t get it together and fast, Van Malone may just find himself walking the plank.

Final Score

Jesse Carr: ECU 45, SMU 31

Reece Graham: ECU 52, SMU 38

Joey Hayden: SMU 34, ECU 32 (sue me, I still have faith)

Author
Published
1 year ago
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Football
Written by Jesse Carr
Jesse is journalism major at Southern Methodist University and co-founder of The Stable. A die hard Texan, Jesse loves Lonestar beer, tattoos, God, anything sports related, and contributes coverage of all SMU athletics.