Aldrick Robinson Nabs 41 Yard Touchdown Pass

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Aldrick Robinson nabs a 41-yard touchdown pass last Saturday.

DALLAS – SMU (6-5, 5-2) faces ECU on Friday, fresh off a 31-17 win over Marshall and perched atop C-USA’s West Division. Beat the Pirates (6-5, 5-2) and the Mustangs play in the league championship on December 4. SMU Assistant Head Coach Dan Morrison, linebacker Pete Fleps, safety Chris Banjo and running back Zach Line took questions after Wednesday’s practice. Banjo and Line were interviewed together; Fleps and Coach Morrison, each separately.

*What’s the team vibe been like this week, with such a big game approaching?

Line: “I think everyone is kind of excited. There were a couple of weeks there when we were on a rough spurt and everybody was kind of down. It goes throughout the whole staff, everybody. But this week has been upbeat, a lot of camaraderie in the locker room. … I think we’re ready to go.”

Coach Morrison: “They’ve been real excited all week long and they’ve been practicing hard. It’s been more a part of their discussions on the practice field and in the meetings, that they need to get after this thing and go get this thing. They’re making transitions from when we first arrived, first learning how to win and now learning how to win championships. That’s as much mental as it is anything else.”

Banjo: “It’s just business. There’s a lot of opportunity that we have here, some big-time opportunity. But you know we have to approach it like every game. It’s a business thing, first. Business first, pleasure second. It’s going to be road game, at ECU. Who knows, maybe a hostile environment.” Pete, as the only current Mustang who’s played at ECU, what do you recall about it? Fleps: “I remember it was a very electric, exciting atmosphere. Their fans come out, a big packed stadium. Just their whole game presentation is really exciting, like when we play at Texas Tech. With that, it presents a challenge and an opportunity, and it makes the game a lot more fun.”

*Coach, what have you heard about the atmosphere?

Morrison: “Only that it’s difficult. We’ve never been there. I’ve never been there. We’ve heard from other people, it’s a difficult place to play. We’ll have to experience that as we go into it, but the maturity of the teams, the more mature they get, the less that affects them.” Line: “I’ve heard a lot of fans show up and I’ve heard it’s pretty rowdy. Hopefully, Thanksgiving weekend plays in our favor and the students don’t show up.”

*ECU has given up lots of points, lots of yards. Is there a tendency to let up for that reason, and if so, how do you fight it?

Line: “Yeah, absolutely, there is that tendency. I think [ECU] is the worst in almost every category of defense. They know that. And they’re going to have to fix some things. We’re going to have to do what we do and hope they do the same thing they do.”

Coach Morrison: “You hope you don’t have to fight it, because really at this point, if they aren’t ready to go, then we haven’t done our job. And you really can’t judge anything off of what anybody else has done prior to this. You’ve got to go perform and you’ve got to do things right. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter what people have done prior. And I’m sure [ECU is] doing everything they can to clean up their side of the ball, too.”

*With such huge offensive performances this year from quarterback Kyle Padron, running back Zach Line and receiver Aldrick Robinson, how much is this starting to feel a little like what your staff did at Hawaii?

Coach Morrison: “It’s getting more and more like it every year. They’re getting more comfortable with the offense. The offense has to be something that you don’t just know, you become enmeshed in it. You and the offense become one in the same. Your responses are all instinctive, as opposed to thought process. We’re getting there slowly. It’s coming. It’s like Hawaii also, [in that] that no matter good they got, they always knew they could get better.”

*Where is Padron now in his progress with this offense?

Coach Morrison: “I think he’s exactly where he should be. He’s going through that sophomore year of really trying to absorb the offense and really starting to understand it. He makes his mistakes but he’s very, very good at making sure they don’t happen again. I think he does a great job in the film room and he does a great job out here. I think the next two years, he’s going to really start to light things up around here.” Buy SMU football tickets and browse the newly-expanded selection of SMU football apparel & merchandise available through CUSA Fans. Sterling Moore, right, works against Marshall’s Demetrius Evans.

*How concerned were you with Padron’s two second-half interceptions last week?

Coach Morrison: “You’re always concerned with picks but sometimes they’re not always on the quarterback. But he’s real good about that. He never points anybody out or whatever. He just takes it on the chin. They’re disappointing, not as much from Kyle, but from all of us as to why that occurred. So we’ll all try to correct those things.”

*Chris, what were you telling Richard Crawford on the bench after his first interception last Saturday?

Banjo: “‘Great play!’ He had been a little down on himself in terms of his technique. So we were just talking about, no matter what, just take care of your technique first and the plays will come. Fortunately, he was in position to make the play and he just electrified the team by making that play.”

Morrison: “I think they do. I think they’re all excited about this. This is all new to them. I think the additional practice really helped them last year, in the bowl game, preparing to go to Hawaii. I think they’re aware of that, that those extra 15 days were really critical to the development of the program.”

*Zach, did you ever imagine you’d have this kind of year, leading C-USA with over 1,100 yards rushing? What did you expect?

Line: “I expected a lot of major things from this team. I expected to almost go undefeated. That’s my mindset going into a season.”

*But your year, in particular?

Line: “That comes with work ethic. Not just my work ethic but the five guys in front of me, their work ethic. I get on ‘em in the weight room. I get on ‘em out here. They’re doing their part and I’m doing mine.”

*For what are you thankful this Thanksgiving?

Coach Morrison: “Just being around these kids and having family here in Dallas, which is so unusual. When we moved from Hawaii, our daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter are two minutes from us. … It’s extraordinary that that would take place.”

Banjo: “Just being able to come out here with my teammates on a daily basis, for God to provide us with our talents, being able to perform for the school, for our families, and just representing SMU as a whole. … We have a lot to be thankful for as a team and as individuals. I just thank God for putting us in this position. I just hope that we finish strong.” 

Line: “Coming from Michigan, this team has kind of been a family to me. So what better way to spend Thanksgiving than with the team – at ECU for [a shot at] the conference championship?” 

Fleps: “So many things. I’m thankful for the opportunity to play this game and be a part of this program and the success we’ve had. There are just so blessings to thank The Good Lord for.”

*What’s your favorite Thanksgiving food?

Banjo: “Of course, the turkey! Actually, make it the dessert. I’m a sweets kind of dude.”

Morrison: “I’m kind of on [Banjo’s] heels. We start with dessert, then we go to the main meal.”

Fleps: “I’m always a turkey and dressing kind of guy. That’s me.”

*What about Bryan McCann – former Mustang, now star rookie for the Dallas Cowboys?

Line: “McCann’s a beast. It’s awesome to know a guy like that. He’s doing what we all want to do one day.”

Fleps: “He’s tearing it up, representing SMU really well. It’s really exciting to see him perform and succeed the way he has.” 

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