SMU Already Better, Now Faces Challenge At No. 23 Baylor

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WACO (AP) – SMU coach Chad Morris believes his team is already better than at any point in his first season with the Mustangs. Now they get a big challenge at 23rd-ranked Baylor.

“Just building the program and changing the culture,” Morris said. “It was great to get the first win underneath us. I knew we were better coming into this season. I didn’t know how much better. But I definitely feel like we’ve improved in a lot of areas, defense being the main one.”

After going 2-10 last year, SMU opened this season with a 34-21 win at North Texas, the first time since 2009 to be 1-0.

The young Mustangs, who have already played 31 of Morris’ 47 signees, go into Saturday’s matchup of former Southwest Conference rivals and against a Top 25 team as more than four-touchdown underdogs.

Baylor is down to about 70 scholarship players, but still has plenty of talent on offense. Senior quarterback Seth Russell , who played only seven games last season before a neck injury, returned to throw for 163 yards and four touchdowns in less than a half in the opening 55-7 win over FCS team Northwestern State.

That was the most points ever scored in a game for Baylor acting head coach Jim Grobe, who is in his 20th season as a head coach. He previously spent 13 seasons at Wake Forest and six at Ohio before taking over the Bears in the wake of the offseason turmoil that led the departure of Art Briles.

“I thought our kids had fun. I thought they were excited to be out there,” Grobe said. “I didn’t see a lot of selfishness. … Our guys were focused on the team.”

Some other things to know about the SWC reunion, which also includes Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett facing the team for which he went 18-51 as head coach from 2002-07.

SHOCK THE RECORD
While Baylor has become known for its big passing numbers, senior running back Shock Linwood is coming off consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons and goes into Saturday only 107 yards shy of becoming the school’s career rushing leader. Walter Abercrombie’s record of 3,665 yards has stood for 35 years. Linwood had nine carries for 97 yards playing only in the first half of the opener.

SMU SIGNAL CALLERS
Senior quarterback Matt Davis started the SMU opener at North Texas, and threw for 155 yards with two touchdowns before getting hurt in the third quarter. Redshirt freshman Ben Hicks had already gotten a few snaps before then, including an 88-yard TD pass, and finished 5-of-9 for 145 yards. “Ben is a guy that we think really high of,” Morris said. “He doesn’t move as well as Matt as we all know, but he can definitely make some plays with his arm and his feet. If he’s the guy, then he’ll be ready to go. If it’s Matt, he’ll be ready.”

ALL OF A SUTTON
SMU sophomore Courtland Sutton had four catches at North Texas for 162 yards and three touchdowns. Sutton’s scores included an 88-yard catch-and-run and a 46-yarder on a third-and-45 play. As a freshman last season, Sutton led the Mustangs with 49 catches for 862 yards and nine touchdowns, the first coming against Baylor.

BAYLOR BACKUP
When Jarrett Stidham decided to leave Baylor this summer, true freshman Zach Smith became senior Seth Russell’s backup. Smith, who went through spring drills after graduating high school early, got to play in the season opener and completed 5 of 7 passes for 60 yards with at a touchdown. While Grobe wishes the Bears had gotten Smith a few more snaps, the coach said he feels “much better about having him back up Seth right now after watching him.”

TWO-TIMERS
SMU was the first opponent when Baylor opened its new campus stadium along the banks of the Brazos River two years ago. Baylor won that 2014 season opener 45-0. But the Mustangs aren’t the first two-time visitor to McLane Stadium. Baylor opened this season with a 55-7 win over Northwestern State, the FCS team the Bears beat 70-6 in the second week of the 2014 season.

(© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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