SMU football gives reason to be proud
It’s Saturday morning in the Pacific Northwest and a Washington Huskies fan still angry from Friday night’s loss to Boise State picks up the newspaper off his doorstep. As he reads the box scores from Friday’s college football games, he stumbles across one: Baylor, 56, SMU 28.
“Wow, Baylor slapped SMU silly,” he says as he sees the 723 yards SMU allowed. “Poor Mustang fans, it looks like they’ll be in for a long year. I thought they had a new coach who was supposed to be good.”
That’s what the box score says to the uninformed eye. But it couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, 35 points is 35 points, but the stats don’t have a prayer of telling the whole story. What they miss is that SMU threw a punch at Baylor and made the Bears nervous. Even with all the hype around Chad Morris, no one expected SMU to score on its first offensive play, score three touchdowns in a quarter-plus and hold the Bears to negative yardage for nearly 20 minutes.
I’m not going to go down the “it was the closest 35-point game you’ll ever see” moral victory road, because moral victories are really just that. SMU doesn’t have an interest in them either.
“Moral victories don’t do me a whole lot of good,” Morris said. “We want to make sure these guys understand that we can win, and we’re going to win. And they’ve got to have that mentality and they have to believe first.”
But I can’t help but come back to that punch. Not just the punch itself, but the response to it. Usually, Twitter is full of sad and angry fans after a 35-point loss. But today? Pride. Even in the face of a 35-point loss, SMU fans were proud their team threw its best at Baylor, a year ago after the Mustangs threw the Bears their worst. Similarly, a proud coach walked into the press conference room after the game.
“I am very proud of our guys. Let’s get that straight right now. I’m extremely proud of the effort these guys played with,” Morris said.
That may sound like a moral victory quote, but Morris set the tone straight. He showed his unwavering pride in his players, but stressed lots of progress still needs to be made. After all, it was a loss. Losing isn’t fun, no matter the circumstance.
“We’ve really stressed and sold our culture, what we have to do and the accountability of what it’s going to take to get this done,” Morris said. “It starts with mentality. These young men are hurting…But this isn’t going to be a part of this program too much longer.”
On Friday morning, I wrote about the importance of processing the process of the turnaround. Morris’ quotes above sum that up perfectly. Of course, we knew he and his players had embraced the process long ago. Today was merely confirmation. Recognize the effort and progress, but stay focused on progress that needs to be made. Overreacting or underreacting won’t do much good. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it was still built. Morris has said before that his expectation is that his players will give their very best. He’s not focused on a set number of wins above all else.
Perhaps the most telling sign of a player giving his best came in came in the fourth quarter. SMU is down by 35 with less than three minutes to go. The Bears have their backups in with the ball deep in their own territory, so the threat of them reaching 60 points is minimal. But on third and 15, running back Terrence Williams bursts through the hole and turns on the jets. There’s the 60 poi – wait, who’s that coming from behind? That’s Horace Richardson – the SMU cornerback who’d been roasted earlier in the game – sprinting from behind to tackle Williams at the SMU 20-yard line. From there, SMU stopped the Bears four straight times.
But my concern was the fans’ ability to process the process, to look at a tough loss and stay positive about the program’s direction. As you probably guessed, they passed with flying colors. Morris wasn’t the only one who saw signs of progress. Fans saw a vastly improved offensive line mostly give Matt Davis a clean pocket (he completed his first eight passes, relatively pressure-free). They saw defense rebound from giving up 273 yards in the first quarter to give up just one yard in the second. They saw a heavy use of misdirection and option runs that kept Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett from calling an aggressive a game early on.
That’s a reason to be proud, as a coach and as a fan. It’s progress, and unexpected progress to some. There’s still lot to be made, though. SMU missed tackles in the secondary, struggled to keep up with Baylor’s receivers, and Matt Davis took a costly sack in the red zone to end the first half when he should have and could have thrown the ball away. A bigger and stronger Baylor offensive line wore SMU out in the second half with a heavy dose of power runs. That comes with the process. But so does being proud, even when the untrained eye of a fan in Washington would call you crazy for it.