December 19, 2017
By Brian Edwards
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Louisiana Tech and Southern Methodist are poised to collide Wednesday night in the DXL Frisco Bowl at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN. This game will be played at Toyota Stadium, the home to FC Dallas of Major League Soccer in Frisco, TX.
As of Tuesday morning, most betting shops had SMU (7-5 straight up, 6-6 against the spread) installed as a 4.5-point favorite with a total of 70. The Bulldogs were +160 on the money line (risk $100 to win $160).
Many postseason games feature teams who have lost their head coach. Usually in this scenario, you’ll see a team go with an interim coach from the departed head coach’s staff of assistants. In those cases, you often have a staff with individuals coaching a team in its bowl while simultaneously looking for their next job.
That’s actually not the case here for SMU, which saw its third-year head coach Chad Morris leave to take the Arkansas job. The Mustangs moved quickly and made an excellent hire in Sonny Dykes, who is actually the former head coach at Louisiana Tech. He left Louisiana. Tech to become the head coach at California, but he was fired by the Golden Bears after the 2016 season and spent ’17 as a consultant for Gary Patterson’s TCU program.
In what is quite rare, Dykes moves immediately into his role of head coach for this bowl game. Jeff Traylor, Morris’s associate head coach who was initially named the interim head coach, had accepted a job on Morris’s staff at Arkansas. Therefore, he went ahead and took off for Fayetteville when Dykes was hired.
According to remarks made by SMU Athletics Director Rick Hart at Dykes’s intro presser, the new coach will “bring in a few staff members to supplement the remaining staff” in what Dykes admitted will be a “crazy” week prepping for the Bulldogs.
Dykes said, “I’ve got to hire a football staff and try to get three or four coaches here with some current staff members and go figure out a way to win a football game.”
SMU is in the postseason for only the fifth time since the school was infamously issued the death penalty in the mid-1980s. In those four consecutive bowl games under former HC June Jones from 2009-2012, the Mustangs went 3-1 both SU and ATS with all three victories coming in blowout fashion from the role as underdogs. In fact, they beat Nevada (45-10 at the ’09 Hawaii Bowl, +12.5) and Fresno St. (43-10, ’12 Hawaii Bowl, +13) as double-digit ‘dogs.
Dykes indicated that he’ll lean on starting QB Ben Hicks to teach him the offense that’s been utilized all season. Hicks enjoyed an excellent third-year sophomore campaign, completing 58.7 percent of his passes for 3,442 yards with a 32/9 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Hicks has a pair of 1,000-yard receivers at his disposal in junior Trey Quinn and junior Courtland Sutton. Quinn has snared 106 receptions for 1,191 yards and 12 TDs, while Sutton has 62 catches for 1,017 yards and 12 TDs. Sophomore WR James Proche is also a reliable target, hauling in 40 receptions for 816 yards and six TDs.
SMU is ranked 12th in the country in total offense, 16th in passing yards and eighth in scoring (40.2 points per game). This unit is balanced, though, with a trio of RBs who eclipsed the 500-yard rushing mark.
Junior Xavier Jones ran for a team-best 1,019 yards and nine TDs while averaging 6.0 yards per carry. KeMon Freeman, a true sophomore rushed for 527 yards and 11 TDs with a 4.2 YPC average, while Braeden West rushed for 512 yards and two TDs with a 7.9 YPC average.
Proche is listed as ‘questionable’ with a hamstring injury. Starting junior CB Jordan Wyatt is ‘out’ with a knee injury. This is a huge loss for the SMU secondary. Wyatt recorded 49 tackles, one sack, 3.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions for 165 return yards and two TDs, eight passes broken up and three forced fumbles.
The SMU defense will also with without starting senior DE Dimarya Mixon, who went down with a season-ending injury in late October. Mixon had 15 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one TFL and one QB hurry in the Mustangs’ first six games. The team’s leading tackler, safety Mikial Onu, is ‘questionable’ due to a concussion. Onu produced 93 tackles, two interceptions, one TFL, six PBU and one forced fumble.
Even if SMU’s defense was healthy, it’s a unit that has plenty of issues anyway. The Mustangs are ranked No. 122 in the nation in total defense, 121st in pass defense, 113th in run ‘D’ and 113th in scoring ‘D’ (35.5 PPG).
SMU was a single-digit favorite three times during the regular season, going 3-0 SU and 1-2 ATS.
Louisiana Tech (6-6 SU, 6-6 ATS) is bowling for a fourth straight year in the fifth season of Skip Holtz’s tenure. The Bulldogs started 4-6 but won back-to-back games both SU and ATS to garner postseason eligibility, including a 20-6 win over UTSA in a pick ‘em affair in the regular-season finale in Ruston.
Boston Scott was the catalyst against the Roadrunners, rushing for 138 yards and one TD on 20 carries. His 35-yard dash to paydirt with 2:23 remaining put the game on ice. The LT defense limited UTSA to just 201 yards of total offense and forced a pair of turnovers.
Louisiana. Tech is 3-0 SU and 2-1 ATS in three postseason appearances on Holtz’s watch, including a 48-45 non-covering win over Navy as a seven-point ‘chalk.’
Louisiana. Tech lost three games by three combined points, including a 17-16 loss at South Carolina when the Gamecocks rallied from a 16-0 deficit in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs also dropped a 23-22 decision at UAB and lost 24-23 to North Texas at home. They defeated only one opponent that made the postseason, winning 23-22 at Western Kentucky.
Holtz’s team has been an underdog five times, compiling a 2-3 spread record with one outright victory. One of those non-covers was a fourth heartbreaker for SU purposes, a 34-27 loss to Southern Miss in overtime as a one-point home underdog. We’ll also note that five of LT’s six wins came by margins of at least 14 points.
QB J’mar Smith, a third-year sophomore just like Hicks, has completed 55.4 percent of his passes for 2,758 yards with a 13/5 TD-INT ratio. Smith has also rushed for 356 yards and a pair of TDs.
Junior WR Teddy Veal has a team-high 69 receptions for 832 yards and five TDs. Rhashid Bonnette has 32 catches for 574 yards and two TDs. Scott has rushed for a team-best 937 yards and eight TDs while averaging 5.7 YPC, and Jarred Craft has run for 516 yards and three TDs with a 4.6 YPC average. Scott also has 20 catches for 181 yards and one TD, while Craft has 13 receptions for 74 yards and a pair of TDs.
Louisiana. Tech’s defense has an elite pass rusher in junior DE Jaylon Ferguson, who had six sacks, 2.5 TFL’s, 38 tackles, five QB hurries and a pair of blocked kicks this season. Ferguson had 14.5 sacks in 2016.
Junior LB Dae’Von Washington recorded a team-high 66 tackles, two interceptions, 0.5 sacks, 4.5 TFL’s, one PBU, one forced fumble and two QB hurries. Junior LB Brandon Durman has missed four games in a row and is listed as ‘questionable’ vs. SMU due to an undisclosed injury. In the team’s first seven games, he had 36 tackles, one sack and two TFL’s.
The ‘over’ is 7-5 overall for the Mustangs after cashing in their last three regular-season games. They’ve seen their games average combined scores of 75.7 PPG.
The ‘over’ is on a 4-2 run for the Bulldogs, but totals have been an overall wash (6-6) for them on the season. They’ve watched their games average combined scores of 55.4 PPG.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
-- West Virginia WR David Sills V has announced that he’ll return to school for the 2018 campaign. QB Will Grier announced the same thing last week. Sills had 60 receptions for 980 yards and 18 TDs during the regular season.
-- Oregon ponied up big money to keep DC Jim Leavitt around on Mario Cristobal’s new staff.
-- South Carolina flipped Tennessee commit Jaycee Horn on Monday and he’ll sign with the Gamecocks on Wednesday. Horn is the son of Saints’ legendary WR Joe and is a 4-star CB out of Alpharetta, just outside of Atlanta.
-- According to an AL.com report on Tuesday, 5-star recruit and true freshman MLB Dylan Moses sustained a foot injury at Alabama’s practice on Monday. The injury has put Moses’s status for the New Year’s Day CFP semifinal game vs. Clemson in doubt. With MLB Shaun Dion Hamilton out for the season, Moses had 21 tackles and one interception as the starter in the Crimson Tide’s last two games.
-- Florida pulled a major coup on Tuesday when Ole Miss WR Van Jefferson announced he will be transferring to play for the Gators. Jefferson, a rising fourth-year junior, will have to seek a waiver from the NCAA to be eligible to play right away. However, this waiver is expected to be granted to Jefferson and QB Shea Patterson, who is transferring to Michigan. All Ole Miss rising seniors are eligible right away at their new schools, while others have to get a waiver. In two seasons with the Rebels, Jefferson started 15 games and had 87 receptions for 967 yards and four TDs.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.
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