7:00 PM EST, ESPN2 – Line: SMU -19.5, Over/Under: 57.5
American Athletic Conference foes battle in this Friday Night clash of teams heading in very different directions, as the SMU Mustangs travel to Lincoln Financial Field to face the struggling Temple Owls. Following the exit of (former Head Coach) Sonny Dykes, SMU (4-2, 2-0 in AAC) was due to take a step back last Fall as they made the transition to (current HC) Rhett Lashlee, who had finally earned his first head gig after a string of successful stints as Offensive Coordinator for the likes of Miami (FL), UConn, Auburn, Arkansas State, and of course, SMU (where he worked under Dykes). A protege of Gus Malzahn, the 40-year-old is a two-time finalist for the Broyles Award, which goes to the nation’s top assistant coach, and given his ties to the program, he was a natural selection to succeed the 2022 AP Coach of the Year. In his first season in Dallas, Lashlee had just ten returning starters from Dykes’ 8-4 team and proceeded to right the proverbial ship following a disappointing 2-3 start, winning five of their last seven games to become bowl eligible, before eventually losing to BYU on a failed two-point conversion in last December’s New Mexico Bowl. This Fall, he has sixteen returning starters (including eight on each side of the football) and appear to be headed to what would be just their second 10-win campaign since 1984, thanks to vast improvement across the board. Offensively, Lashlee and (OC) Casey Woods have overseen a unit that may not be as prolific as they were a year ago, averaging 33.3 points (38th in FBS) on 417.0 total yards, but that is to be expected given the transition under Center to (highly rated Sophomore Quarterback) Preston Stone. After redshirting in 2020, Stone (pictured below) participated in six games last Fall behind Tanner Mordecai, though has made the job his own this season, completing 57.1% of his passes for 1,467 yards on 7.4 yards per attempt, with fourteen touchdowns opposed to five interceptions. Granted, consistency has been an issue for the soph, who has tossed all but one of those scores in four games, while turning it over at least once in all but two contests. With that being said, the biggest surprise coming out of SMU has been the transformation of the defense under (Defensive Coordinator) Scott Symons. Last year, the Mustangs yielded 33.8 points per game (119th in FBS) on 431.2 total yards, including 227.5 through the air and another 203.6 on the ground. However, through six games they have performed a complete about-face, relegating their opponents to just 17.0 points (17th in FBS) on 311.3 total yards, including 183.5 versus the pass and another 127.8 against the run. Experience has had a lot to do with the turnaround, as Lashlee added seven transfers in the Secondary alone, including (former Stanford Safety) Jonathan McGill and a variety of Defensive Backs from West Virginia, LSU, and Liberty respectively. When we last saw them, this side of the football made their presence felt in a major way as Southern Methodist trampled all over East Carolina in a 31-10 midweek victory in Greenville, racing out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Granted, the hosts managed to cut the deficit to four points heading into intermission, but it was the Mustangs that owned the second half, running off seventeen unanswered points, highlighted by a 34-yard interception return to the house courtesy of McGill. In the end, the visitors’ defense handled the Pirates with relative ease, allowing just 290 total yards, including ninety-seven of the rushing variety despite thirty-eight attempts from the hosts, while (Temple transfer) Kobe Wilson forced and recovered a fumble to go along with his team-high seven tackles. As for Stone, he completed 19-of-38 of his throws for 276 yards, three touchdowns and zero turnovers, with six different targets catching multiple passes. All three scores were huge plays of 20+ yards, including the last one, a 43-yard strike to (Sophomore Tight End) R.J. Maryland, who hauled in three passes for fifty-one yards. Sure, being held to a pedestrian fifty-eight rushing yards was a bit troubling for the Mustangs, but the fact that they enjoyed such passing success while playing a clean game was another sign that they are finding their stride under Lashlee.
From a betting perspective, SMU may be 4-2 straight-up, but they are a middling 3-3 against the spread thus far, snapping a two-game losing streak in that latter regard with the aforementioned midweek drubbing of ECU (+11.5). Since Lashlee was hired last Fall, the Mustangs are 8-11 against the spread overall, though are a perfect 4-0 when it comes to being favored away from Dallas which was the case last week as well as this week. Dating back to last season, this is a team that has covered four of their last ten outings overall, though have managed to flip that record in their past ten outings as a favorite (6-4 ATS). They are also 5-1 versus the spread over their last six contests after rushing for less than 100 yards, which is also the case tonight. With that being said, there are also a pair of worrying trends that are relevant for this matchup; betting on Southern Methodist has NOT paid off following blowouts, as they have failed to cover EIGHT consecutive games after winning by twenty or more points, while Fridays in general have proven to be vexing, with five straight ATS defeats on this particular day of the week. Hell, last season saw them lose both of their weekday road games outright and against the spread, as they were outscored by FIFTY-SEVEN points! Looking at this matchup, this is their sixth meeting with Temple dating back to 2013, with the ponies winning three of them, including each of the last two encounters. Their most recent affair, a 47-23 victory in Philadelphia, saw SMU (-17) put their foot on the gas in the fourth quarter, running off TWENTY-SEVEN unanswered points after leading 20-16 at the end of three. On the injury front, these ponies are largely healthy, with the only notable absence being that of (Sophomore Tailback) Camar Wheaton, who missed last Thursday’s trip to East Carolina with a lingering hamstring strain. The Alabama transfer was dogged by injuries last season, his first in Dallas, and has yet to really find any semblance of a rhythm this Fall, rushing for 148 yards and a pair of touchdowns in just two games. Looking ahead, Lashlee & Co will return to Gerald Ford Stadium for homecoming against Tulsa next Saturday, before performing what should be an easy Texas two-step at Rice and North Texas, with those three opponents carrying a cumulative win percentage of .500, which means a spot in the AAC Championship Game should be well within their reach come late November.
Meanwhile, Temple (2-5, 0-3 in AAC) also finds themselves midway through the second season of a new coaching regime, though have yet to enjoy the success that their counterparts have thus far. As we’ve seen throughout their history, this a program that has served as a platform for many coaches, with a number of them performing impressive turnarounds following disappointing first years in charge. In 2006, Al Golden took over a winless team, and after a slow start (1-11), eventually led them to 9-win and 8-win campaigns, including just their third bowl game in school history. Then in 2013, Matt Rhule turned over a team that had floundered under Steve Addazio, posting back-to-back 10-win seasons (2015 & 2016) for the first time ever. He was succeeded by Geoff Collins, who in two years kept the momentum rolling with a pair of bowls, before following in the footsteps of Golden (Miami-FL) and Rhule (Baylor) in making the leap to a Power-5 school (Georgia Tech). Now, it is (Head Coach) Stan Drayton’s turn in Philadelphia, with the Allegheny College alum looking to bring some consistency to a program that has now seen six different leading men in seven years. So, with seven games in the books, how have these birds fared, you ask? Well, Drayton has won just five of his first nineteen games thus far (.263), so that should give you an idea as to what is going on… Simply put, this is a team that has yet to make the expected leap in their development, particularly given the experience they have returned to Philly this Fall. Last season, Temple relinquished 29.2 points per game (96th in FBS) on 391.2 total yards with twelve takeaways and thirty-eight sacks. That came with just six returning starters from the previous regime. However, now with NINE starters back on this side of the football, the Owls have been markedly worse, yielding 35.6 points (125th in FBS) on 438.4 total yards, with a scant TWO takeaways and eleven sacks. Granted, the biggest issue has been turnover differential, with the offense committing too many and the defense not forcing nearly enough. Last year, Drayton’s troops logged a dismal differential of -11, with the attack responsible for TWENTY-THREE turnovers. This Fall, they are on track to meet that figure, having already committed THIRTEEN through seven games. (Sophomore Quarterback) E.J. Warner hasn’t benefitted from strong protection, with Drayton opting go with (Hall of Fame QB) Kurt’s son due in large part to his quick release, which has helped compensate for a struggling Offensive Line. Like his father, Warner (pictured below) gets the ball out of his hands swiftly, though has nonetheless found himself under persistent pressure, completing just 56.5% of his throws for an average of 290.1 yards per game on a mere 6.4 yards per attempt, with twelve touchdowns opposed to five interceptions. Given the volume of yardage per pass, you can see that this is a unit that has resorted to dinking and dunking down the field, with the run game virtually nonexistent in terms of providing balance. Temple has rushed for just 112.3 yards per game, though that number is misleading, for in five of their games they have been held to seventy or fewer rushing yards and well under 3.0 yards per carry. That wasn’t the case in last weekend’s 14-45 loss at North Texas, where they actually rushed for 242 yards and two scores on FIFTY carries despite eventually losing by thirty-one points. This one was actually competitive through two quarters, as the visitors trailed 14-21 before the home side tacked on a field goal to extend their lead to ten points heading into halftime. However, the second half saw the Mean Green blank the Owls 21-0, highlighted by three touchdowns of 20+ yards. With Warner nursing an undisclosed injury, (Senior QB) Quincy Patterson got the nod to start and proceeded to struggle mightily, completing just 12-of-30 passes for 105 yards and THREE interceptions. Granted, Patterson is much more of a rusher, which he did in compiling 113 yards and a score on twenty-four carries, but once this game got away from them, he was simply unequipped to bring them back with his arm. Again, the defense had a ROUGH day at the office, shipping 527 total yards, including 220 yards on the ground and another 307 through the air, as UNT’s Chandler Rogers torched them for FOUR touchdowns. Patience may not be something that is regular associated with the denizens of Philadelphia, but as we’ve seen in the past, this is a university that has been remarkably patient with their coaches, with many of them repaying that virtue in kind. However, if Drayton & Co don’t begin to show signs of growth soon, then one is left to wonder if his seat is getting warm…
From a betting perspective, Temple may be 2-5 straight-up, but they have yet to cover the spread this season, racking up six losses and one push thus far. After going 0-2-1 against the spread in their first three games, the Owls have failed to either win or cover any of their last four outings, including that loss to the Mean Green, who were 9.5-point favorites. Since Drayton was hired last Fall, his troops are 8-10-1 versus the spread, including a 4-3 mark as an underdog at Lincoln Financial Field. Dating back to last season, this is a team that has covered just TWO of their last ten contests overall, including five of their past ten in Philadelphia. Furthermore, they have struggled to rebound from blowout losses, riding a 5-game losing streak against the spread after relinquishing 40+ points. With that being said, they have also been a shrewd play when coming off an affair in which they were held below twenty points (4-1 ATS), which is the case tonight. These birds are 3-2 all-time against the Mustangs, though managed to hang tight with them (for at least three quarters) in their most recent encounter, that 23-47 defeat three years ago; the hosts actually led the (No. 18) ponies 13-10 at halftime, only to be outflanked 37-10 post intermission. On the injury front, these Owls have a bit more on their plate than their opponent tonight, as (Junior Inside Linebacker) D.J. Woodbury was lost for the season to an unspecified malady following a 34-49 loss to Texas-San Antonio two weeks ago, while Warner is listed as questionable after sitting out the trip to North Texas with an undisclosed ailment of his own. It also appears that it will be at least two more weeks before Drayton will see the return of (Michigan State transfer) Ian Stewart, who has been sidelined since the opener with a broken foot. Looking ahead, Temple will enjoy a long-awaited bye week before entering the home stretch of the schedule, with home games against Navy and Memphis bookending trips to South Florida and Alabama-Birmingham.