Next up in this season’s football opponents preview, we take a look at the SMU Mustangs, who the Huskies will play at Pratt and Whitney Stadium on Saturday, November 10th.
This match-up will have UConn going up against former offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and new SMU coach Sonny Dykes. So expect to see the same high tempo no huddle offense Lashlee implemented at UConn.
But even though the Huskies coaching staff will have some familiarity with the Mustang offense, one might expect this game to not be too close. Last year, the Huskies lost to the Mustangs, 49-28. The hope this season is that the Huskies can keep the final score a little closer than it was last year.
The Mustangs finished 7-6 last year, and 67th in the S&P+ Overall Efficiency Rankings. The Mustangs also held one of the best offenses in the country. They finished the season averaging the 12th most points of all FBS teams, at an average of 37.8 points per game.
In every one of their wins, the Mustangs scored at least 31 points. The Mustang was so good that future NFL wide receivers Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn both topped the century mark in receiving yards every game. Running back Xavier Jones had a thousand-yard rushing season and quarterback Ben Hicks threw for over 3500 yards.
Surprisingly, the Mustangs almost beat American Athletic Conference champ UCF. They only lost to the Knights 24-31, in a game laden with turnovers and a big drop in the fourth quarter by Trey Quinn that could’ve led SMU to an upset.
For as much success as the offense had, the Mustang defense left their fans feeling upset for much of the season. Over the course of the season, the defense allowed about as many points—36.7 points per game—as the offense scored. In losses against TCU and Memphis, the defense gave up whopping 56 and 66 points, respectively.
Although, SMU lost their two top wide receivers to the NFL, they return leading rusher Xavier Jones and senior quarterback Ben Hicks.
SMU is also bringing in new coach Sonny Dykes, who was hired after their old coach Chad Morris left to coach Arkansas. Dykes formerly coached at Louisiana Tech, Cal, and was an offensive analyst at TCU before getting the job at SMU. Upon his hiring, Dykes stole offensive Rhett Lashlee from UConn to run the offense.
SMU will also bring in defensive coordinator Kevin Kane from Northern Illinois University. Last year, the Northern Illinois defense ranked 26th in the country. Under Kane, SMU will be undergoing a transition from a 4-2-5 defense to a 4-3. As UConn fans know all too well, these types of transitions take time. Expect SMU to struggle on this side of the ball initially.
UConn can win this game, especially if the Huskies’ running attack improves and the Huskies have the same success passing the ball as they did last year. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Bryant Shirreffs had a big passing game last year against year against SMU behind a shaky offensive line. If the offensive line is improved, we should expect quarterback David Pindell to have a big one too.
Along with that, don’t expect the SMU defense to be much improved while they’re undergoing a transition. It usually takes a while for coaches to get the personnel they want for their system they want.
On the other hand, there is something to be said for Lashlee knowing UConn well and knowing where to exploit the weaknesses.
UConn’s young defensive backs will need to step up or Lashlee will exploit them all game. This will be a good game to see how far along Billy Crocker’s 3-3-5 defense has come.
Prediction: UConn wins 31-28.