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UConn Football Opponent Preview: SMU

A lot has changed since the last meeting between these two teams all the way back in 2015.

NCAA Football: Navy at Southern Methodist Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Last time UConn and SMU met, an interim head coach was on the sidelines for SMU after June Jones’ early-season departure and Bob Diaco was on the other wrapping up his rookie campaign. UConn only had two wins going into the season-ending contest at Gerald R. Ford Stadium while SMU had none. The Huskies took a 20-6 lead into the halftime break only to give up 21 unanswered in the second half to give the Mustangs their first and only win as Diaco’s first season ended with a disappointing 2-10 record.

The two teams, sitting in opposite divisions in the American Athletic Conference, took a two-year break from playing each other and both have hired new coaches since. The Huskies will return to Dallas on Sept. 30 to renew this storied rivalry.

2016 Season in Review

Second-year head coach Chad Morris led SMU to a 5-7 record, a three-win improvement from his first season at the helm. Beating No. 11 Houston at home was the unquestioned highlight, as the Mustangs handed the Cougars their second loss of the season in convincing fashion, 38-16.

SMU started freshman Ben Hicks at quarterback. Hicks took his lumps early but came on strong down the stretch and finished with a respectable 2,930 passing yards with 19 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. The offense was ranked 72nd in S&P efficiency while the defense finished 91st, with SMU landing at 90th overall.

Key Departures

Offensively, not a whole lot. Defensively, a number of key contributors have graduated from a defense which rotated players heavily. Five starters are gone and the front seven, in particular, will have question marks heading into the season.

Offensive Outlook

Hicks is competing for the starting quarterback job with transfers Rafe Peavy, a former three-star recruit from the University of Arkansas, and DJ Gillins, a former four-star recruit who went to Wisconsin out of high school and made his way to SMU via community college. Whoever ends up starting should be able to do a pretty good job, and will have a number of weapons to work with.

Last year’s top eight receivers return for SMU. 2016’s top two, junior Courtland Sutton (76 receptions, 1246 yards, 10 touchdowns) and sophomore James Proche (57 receptions, 709 yards, 6 touchdowns), did it as underclassmen. They will be joined by LSU transfer Trey Quinn.

Three talented running backs will be competing for playing time in the backfield while the offensive line should be improved with the return of most starters and the addition of a graduate transfer from Oregon State. This offense should be able to take a big step forward.

Defensive Outlook

The defense will most likely end up being slightly below average again. Two productive defensive linemen return in Justin Lawler and Demerick Gary and three out of four starters in the secondary are back. Pass defense was a strength for this team last year and likely will again. Up front, the defense could be vulnerable.

Matchup Against UConn

These previews are going to become a bit repetitive across the AAC-West portion of the schedule. Those opponents are all going to be good-to-great offensively but struggle defensively. UConn will need a stellar defensive performance to beat any of them and for the offense to be comfortable in a shootout. Luckily, if we know anything about UConn football, it’s that it can actually do the defensive part.

What level the Husky offense will be at remains to be seen. Though it’s on the road and expectations are high this season for SMU, this is one of the more winnable games on the schedule thanks to the matchup. UConn may be able to establish the run here with Arkeel Newsome and Texas native Nate Hopkins, which would really open things up for David Pindell in the passing game. SMU will be favored, but probably not by much. The Huskies could win this one, and it would actually be a pretty big deal if they did, especially if they can also come away with a win the week before at UVA.

Schedule Preview

Week 2 - South Florida

Week 3 - UVA