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Pony Up?: A Q&A with SMU

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Nikki Chavanelle of SMU’s Rivals Hill Topics filled us in on just what the Ponies have been up to this season.

NCAA Football: Liberty at Southern Methodist
I love this sassy pony so much.
Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Nikki Chavanelle, SMU Rivals site publisher, was kind enough to answer a few questions about SMU, the TCU rivalry, and why the Mustangs deserve to be a Big 12 member, ahead of tonight’s matchup with the Frogs in Dallas.

SMU has their first winning record in a while, opening up with victories over UNT and Liberty, with a tough road loss to Baylor mixed in. It seems the players have bought in, and the culture Chad Morris has instilled has been overwhelmingly positive. What has been the biggest difference maker for the Ponies so far this year: talent, culture, or something else entirely?

It’s definitely been a mixture of both elevated talent level and a united sense of culture. Before Chad Morris came to SMU, the football team was an after thought to the highly successful basketball team so Morris comes in and asks a simple question, “Why can’t football be just as supported as basketball?” But it all starts with the Mustangs putting points up on the board and at least being entertaining, if not winning.

The loss of Matt Davis is obviously a big cloud over the offense to start the season, but there's no question that Ben Hicks is a talent - just very young and inexperienced. How are opposing coaches attacking him defensively, and what has Morris done to adjust the game plan to his very different style?

I’m not entirely sure that opposing coaches have had to adjust their game plan for Ben Hicks much. When Matt Davis was playing there was always the option that he would run away with the ball but with Hicks, he’s your classic stand up and throw in the pocket type of guy. Hicks has made enough trouble for himself so far that the opposing defenses aren’t doing anything very special. In terms of adjusting to Hicks at quarterback, Morris is really going to rotate in the running backs to get them plenty of carries and he’s going to plan out some effective end zone plays so SMU can finally start punching in touchdowns.

Gary Patterson called Courtland Sutton his favorite non-TCU player in his Tuesday media call, raving about his combination of size and speed and the way he's improved with age. TCU fans are all too familiar with the big-bodied talent, as he destroyed the Frogs' D a season ago. What is a reasonable expectation for Sutton Friday night and for the season, and how does the loss of Davis impact those expectations?

Sutton’s productivity won’t change because Matt Davis is out for the season. If anything, Sutton is going to be relied upon more heavily than last season. Against Liberty he dropped a huge long ball and it was a shock to most SMU fans so I don’t expect to see many mistakes this week. Expect to see Sutton going over the top of defensive backs just like last season.

The SMU defense has played a bend but don't break style to this point this season, and has shown a knack for coming up with a big turnover at the most opportune times. Can they slow down an explosive TCU offense enough to win? Who are the guys they are most concerned about from that group?

The SMU defense has been, in a word, fantastic so far this season but TCU will definitely be a huge test. Stopping the run game could be an issue for the Mustangs linebackers who’ve really improved on tackling but are still not the quickest group of guys. SMU’s defensive backs have been playing with a lot of concentration but like we saw against Liberty and Baylor where they gave up one or two big scoring plays, it’s going to require more consistent play to lock down the Frogs’ receivers.

What needs to go right for SMU to pull off their first win against TCU since 2011? What has gone wrong if they lose?

If the Mustangs lose it’s going to be because they can’t finish offensively. The culture around the program has changed so much so don’t expect SMU to fall too far behind points-wise because no part of their mentality includes giving up. To win, the defense has to apply pressure to Kenny Hill and come up with turnovers. The running backs also have to really secure the ball because silly fumbles will surely come back to punish them on the scoreboard.

What are your thoughts on the TCU/SMU rivalry? Should it continue in perpetuity or has it run its course?

The SMU/TCU rivalry will continue on as long as the schools exist in my opinion. The rivalry stems from so much more than just football. Each school envisions itself as the dominant private university in the area and football is just one way that that innate rivalry manifests itself. Unluckily for SMU, football is the one aspect that’s fallen behind in recent years.

Let's say you are granted an audience with the powers that be for the Big 12 Conference in regards to expansion; what pitch are you selling them on behalf of SMU as an expansion candidate?

Dallas, Dallas and Dallas. SMU is in a prime market for Big12 football action. They’ve got the academics, the rivalries and history, the star power and of course, the money. All that’s missing is the long-awaited IPF and some W’s on the board.

Thanks to Nikki for taking the time and we look forward to a good matchup at the Ponies’ home field!