View from the other side
Billy Embody covers SMU for PonyStampede.com (he also covers LSU for Geaux247.com). He breaks down the Mustangs for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Saturday’s Michigan-SMU game at Michigan Stadium. You can follow him on Twitter at @BillyEmbody.
1. SMU quarterback Ben Hicks is completing 48 percent of his passes through two games and the offensive line has given up eight sacks. what are his chances against this aggressive Michigan defense?
Embody: Things aren't looking bright for SMU's offense heading into Saturday's game. Not only has Ben Hicks and the protection been poor this season, two of the team's leading receivers, Reggie Roberson and CJ Sanders, are highly questionable to play. SMU's best bet is to attempt to pound the rock against Michigan's tough front, then hit a couple shots off play-action, something SMU hasn't done much of this year. The offense looked lost in the first two games and it won't be easy getting back on track.
2. The Mustangs’ defense has allowed 88 points through two games and is ranked near the bottom nationally in most defensive categories. What should people expect to see from their defense?
Embody: The defense actually has played well for how badly the offense has set them up. Against North Texas, the defense was on the field for over 100 plays and against TCU, the defense only gave up 28 points. SMU's offense has turned the ball over for a defensive touchdown in both games and special teams have given up a touchdown in each game. The defense plays hard, is aggressive and will give Michigan a lot of different looks.
3. Braeden West is a versatile weapon at running back. Who else should Michigan fans keep an eye on Saturday?
Embody: Braeden West has been the lone bright spot offensively for SMU so far this year. If Roberson and Sanders can't go, keep an eye on James Proche. He's one of the most explosive players on the team, but has had trouble getting going so far this year. If Xavier Jones is healthy, he'll be another one to watch at running back as he piled up 1,000 yards a year ago.
4. What are reasonable expectations for SMU this season?
Embody: Right now, expectations are low, after they were high going into the season. Three or four wins the rest of the way might be all SMU gets with its tough American Athletic Conference schedule.
5. Do you get a sense the SMU players think it’s a big deal to play at Michigan Stadium? Will they be intimidated by the Big House?
Embody: It's probably a game that we won't see again in our lifetime, the way scheduling goes. So it's SMU's rare chance to play in the Big House, but I don't think they're intimidated by it. Granted, it's a lot of people that are going to be in there, but the way the stadium is built, it's not like fans are right on top of you like Texas A&M is, or the Baylor student section behind the opposing team's bench. I think SMU will struggle overall, but it won't be because of the intimidation factor
Players to watch
Braeden West, RB: West is one of only four FBS players to post rushing and reception touchdowns of over 50 yards, and he is one of only 15 active players to have 1,000-plus all-purpose yards in each of the last two seasons. The 5-10, 170-pound senior had 112 all-purpose yards in the opener. Against No. 16 TCU last week, West had a 51-yard touchdown run, giving him his second 50-plus-yard touchdown of the season. West played in 12 games for the Mustangs in 2017, finishing second on the team with 568 rushing yards on 73 carries and added a pair of rushing touchdowns. West also had 18 catches for 185 yards, and 423 yards on 23 kick returns. West has six 100-plus-yard rushing games in his career and sits 13th on SMU’s all-time list at 2,034 yards. He has 3,676 career all-purpose yards, including 1,091 kick return yards (seventh at SMU). Among the AAC, West leads active players in rushing yards.
Ben Hicks, QB: The 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior hasn’t had a stellar two games so far this season. He is 30-of-62 – just more than 48 percent – and he has two touchdowns and one interception. He set the SMU single-season (33) and career (52) passing touchdown records in 2017, with 276 completions for 3,569 yards. In the season opener against North Texas, Hicks threw for two touchdowns, bringing his career total to 54, tied for the most all-time at SMU. He did not throw a touchdown pass against TCU last week. Hicks is fourth in total offense at 6,802 yards. He is seventh among FBS active leaders in career passing TDs (54) and 10th for career passing yards (6,862). He leads active AAC quarterbacks in completions (540), TDs (54) and yards (6,862).
James Proche, WR: The 5-11, 185-pound redshirt sophomore is the Mustangs leading returning receiver. In the opener against North Texas he had two receptions for 77 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown. In 13 games last season, Proche caught 40 passes for 816 yards (11th AAC) and six touchdowns (12th AAC) and earned a spot on the preseason Biletnikoff Award Watch List. He also spent time on special teams for the Mustangs and finished with 872 all-purpose yards. He led Mustang receivers with six catches for 50 yards against TCU. He ranked 12th nationally last year at 20.40 yards per reception.
Facts and figures
One and only: SMU is the only team in the country to face two current AP Top-20 teams during the non-conference schedule the first three weeks. The Mustangs faced No. 16 TCU last week and lost 42-12 in the 98th meeting of the Battle for the Iron Skillet.
Anyone remember this? The last time Michigan and SMU played was Sept. 28, 1963 at Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines held a 21-point lead at halftime and went on to win 27-16.
Legend says: According to SMU, when Ford Motor Company was preparing to introduce the sports car that would gain fame as the Mustang, it was considering other names such as Cougar, Bronco, Cheetah and Colt. But during the 1963 football season when the Mustangs last played in Ann Arbor, SMU was undersized but quick and made a late-game charge in the 27-16 loss. Ford’s Lee Iacocca, according to the SMU media notes, entered the SMU locker room and addressed the team. “Today,” Iacocca said, “After watching the SMU Mustangs play with such flair, we reached a decision. We will call our new car the Mustang. Because it will be light, like your team. It will be quick, like your team. And it will be sporty.”