The days of Eric Dickerson are a faint whisper in Southern Methodist circles.
As Trevor Woods pointed out earlier this week, the Mustangs have reached a bowl game only five time in 33 years, including a 51-10 pasting to Louisiana Tech in the Miami Beach Bowl.
Head coaches June Jones and Chad Morris created a minor uptick of success in the last decade, paving the way for Sonny Dykes. The early results paint an ugly picture.
They debuted by letting North Texas — another in-state program long removed from the “Mean” Joe Greene days — double them up 46-23. After leading 9-0 the next week over rival TCU, the Horned Frogs outscored them 42-3 the rest of the way.
All that occurred in the friendly confines of the former Republic of Texas. This might be a peak Jim Harbaugh “win with cruelty” game.
MOTO (Master of the Obvious)
Southern Methodist (0-2) at No. 19 Michigan (1-1), 3:30 p.m.
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: Michigan IMG Sports Network (TuneIn)
Line: -35.5 (Bovada)
Series history: Michigan opened the 1963 campaign with a 27-16 home victory over Hayden Fry’s Mustangs. This remains the only meeting until this Saturday.
Bellissima. Temperatures around 82 degrees, mostly sunny with a slight breeze.
Michigan offense vs SMU defense
THE PASSING GAME
When Michigan’s pass-blocking keeps the pocket clean, Shea Patterson has provided a deep passing threat that last year’s offense lacked. Both the Notre Dame and Western Michigan games featured accurate deep passes to Nico Collins.
Notice how Patterson barely feels any pressure here.
Pep Hamilton called for more max protect packages when dialing up deep shots against the Broncos, which led to the Collins touchdown just before halftime.
Michigan has the personnel mismatches to replicate this against SMU’s No. 110 ranked pass defense per raw NCAA stats. Seeing as the Mustangs rank No. 84 in sacks, as well, Patterson will feel comfortable slinging the ball to his burgeoning receiving corps.
Senior cornerback Jordan Wyatt was spotlighted during summer previews due to his 10 career interceptions. North Texas and TCU barely tested him, as he has just six tackles and no pass deflections so far in 2018.
Defensive tackle Harrison Loveless starts, and though he has yet to record a statistic, he has the same last name as the villain from Wild Wild West.
Expect a steady diet of play action deep passes set up by the running game. If those get bogged down, Michigan utilized the screen game for easy yardage against Notre Dame.
With Collins establishing himself as a weapon, this is a week for Donovan Peoples-Jones to build off his 10 catches for just 69 yards.
THE RUN GAME
While SMU’s run game ranks only No. 80 nationally, they held the Horned Frogs to just 83 yards in the first half — excluding the final drive that took advantage of a prevent defense. TCU finished with 239 yards as SMU faltered late.
They attack the line of scrimmage with an array of run blitzes and stunts, leading to a top 10 ranking in tackles for loss over the first two weeks.
Harbaugh and his offensive staff have found ways to attack overly aggressive defenses in the past with draws and quick traps. Against this defense, which averages far below 300 pounds up front, the Wolverines may just impose their size just like last week to open big lanes for Karan Higdon.
Higdon and the backs gained 183 yards from shotgun runs over the first three quarters, and only 79 on 12 attempts from under center. This is a week to continue building on concepts to create a diverse attack for the better defenses to come.
Michigan defense vs SMU offense
THE PASSING GAME
While Dykes rarely fields great defenses — never over No. 88 in scoring defense during his UC Berkeley days — his offense is also scuffling to less than 20 points a game and a near last place ranking in total offense.
Ben Hicks starts at quarterback, and his transition from Chad Morris’ balanced spread to Dykes’ air-raid scheme has been rough so far. He’s completing less than half of his throws for 363 yards (5.9 yards an attempt) and only two touchdowns.
He demonstrated ability last year by amassing 3,569 passing yards and 33 touchdowns to only 12 interceptions. With the departures of receivers Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn to the NFL, his only reliable target seems to be James Proche.
At 5-foot-11, Proche provided SMU a big-play threat from the slot in 2017. He gained 816 yards on 40 catches, including six touchdowns.
As an outside receiver this year, he only has eight catches for 127 yards, bolstered by a 59-yard score in garbage time against North Texas.
The other receiver is West Virginia transfer Reggie Robertson, Jr. He’s an inch taller, and has six catches for 75 yards.
Running back Braeden West — who appears on the Doak Walker and Paul Hornung Award watch lists — plays a Chris Evans-esque role out of the backfield. He actually is second on the team with 100 yards receiving.
Either Lavert Hill or David Long should be able to contain Proche’s speed, so the most likely thing to hurt Don Brown’s defense is a one-on-one matchup between one of his WILL linebackers and West. Devin Gil and Josh Ross occasionally had problems sideline-to-sideline with WMU’s LeVante Bellamy.
Outside of that, an inaccurate quarterback feeds right into Brown’s aggressive scheme, as the continued deployment of zone blitzes could force Hicks into turnovers.
THE RUN GAME
Dykes throws the ball five more times a game on average, though this is skewed by the sack numbers. West takes advantage of surprise run calls, gaining 5.5 yards an attempt for 104 total rushing yards.
As TCU discovered, he can rip off chunks of yardage, as he accumulated 78 yards on just 11 rushes.
Michigan regrouped after allowing Western’s Bellamy to gain 25 yards on the first play, allowing only three yards a clip. This comes after Notre Dame averaged less than three yards a carry, so spread rushing attacks aren’t faring too well against the Wolverines.
With the continued development of Carlo Kemp at 3-tech and a potentially immovable Bryan Mone, watch for Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson to attack the line of scrimmage until Hicks can punish them.
With the No. 125 rushing offense, plus a below 50 percent passer, don’t expect Brown to hold back his blitzes.
Michigan fine-tunes things before Scott Frost and Nebraska come to town.
Michigan 55, SMU 7