After not making the impact he anticipated in two years at LSU, wide receiver Trey Quinn has more than made up for lost time in his first season as a transfer at SMU.
Quinn, a former top-100 recruit from Barbe in Lake Charles who still holds the national high school record for career yards receiving, leads the country with 100 catches through 11 games. He is a part of a three-headed receiving monster at SMU (6-5, 3-4 American Athletic Conference) that will present a formidable obstacle for Tulane (5-6, 3-4) as the resurgent Green Wave tries to snag a bowl bid Saturday in Dallas.
“They are really good, no doubt about it,” coach Willie Fritz said. “They are really talented. It’s going to be a challenge.”
Their numbers are nasty.
Quinn became the first college player this century with 15 or more catches in three consecutive games earlier this year, grabbing 15 for 116 yards against Connecticut, 17 for 156 yards against Houston and 17 for 186 yards against Cincinnati. He also has been dangerous in the red zone with 10 touchdowns and had a game-saving 28-yard catch on fourth-and-26 during overtime at Cincinnati.
Redshirt junior Courtland Sutton, a 6-foot-4, 218-pound deep threat who was considered a likely first-round pick if he had entered the 2017 draft, might be the best college player in Texas. He has a team-high 12 touchdown receptions, averaging 16.2 yards on his 56 catches despite drawing a ton of attention from defenses.
Sophomore James Proche, who torched Tulane for 164 yards on six catches a year ago, makes opponents pay when they concentrate too much on Sutton. Proche averages an eye-popping 20.5 yards on his 37 receptions and could become the Mustangs’ third 1,000-yard receiver with a strong finish.
“It’s a tremendous challenge,” safety Roderic Teamer said. “Their receivers have NFL talent, and they are averaging 40 points a game. It’s something we look forward to as a secondary and a defense as a whole. It gives us a chance to go out and see how we stack up against those guys.”
Quinn said he never received a full explanation for why he turned into a secondary target at LSU, following a 20-catch freshman season that included two key drops against Alabama with five receptions in a frustrating sophomore year, but he does not regret his time in Baton Rouge. He stayed in Louisiana because he was addicted to his mom’s cooking, choosing LSU in a close call over Clemson, and he left for SMU because Chad Morris, the offensive coordinator who had recruited him to Clemson, became coach there.
“I really just wanted to have an opportunity to make an impact in a very prolific offense,” Quinn said. “It’s really a dream come true, more than I could ask for. It’s all worked out in the grand scheme of things.”
SMU has moved the ball on every team it faced, even hanging 36 points on TCU’s 14th-ranked defense in a 56-36 loss. The Mustangs have scored at least 30 in nine of their 11 games while gaining at least 426 yards in all of them.
Sophomore quarterback Ben Hicks has thrown for 3,067 yards with 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Running backs Xavier Jones (981 yards, 6.1 average per carry) and Braeden West (505 yards, 8.0) are dangerous, too.
“We have playmakers everywhere who can do things with the ball once they get it,” Quinn said. “If you start focusing on the passing game, we’ll run it down your throat. It’s just one of those things the defense is going to have a hard time regardless of what they focus on.”
Tulane’s No. 1 priority is keeping Hicks from getting comfortable in the pocket. His completion percentage of 57.5 is pedestrian, and the Wave put itself in good position to beat the Mustangs last year with four sacks before giving up two late touchdown passes in a 35-31 loss.
After a four-game losing streak with zero sacks, Tulane has notched one in each of the past two games.
“We have to make the guy not pat the ball and get him off his mark,” Fritz said. “Like all quarterbacks, if he’s moved off his spot, the percentage of completions goes down. We’ve got to do a good job of getting some guys up in his face.“
It could come down to a competition between SMU’s receivers and Tulane’s resurgent defensive backs. Senior cornerback Parry Nickerson (five interceptions) has been strong all year, but junior Donnie Lewis broke up six passes at East Carolina two weeks ago and did not give up any big plays against Houston last Saturday.
“This is the best group of receivers we’ve played this year, but we feel like we match up with them pretty nice on the back end,” Lewis said. “We’re looking forward to stepping up and accepting the challenge. We’ve put it on ourselves. If we lock these receivers down and make them one-dimensional, we’ll have a pretty good game.”
SMU makes it tougher by using multiple formations with motions and shifts, rarely giving opponents the same look. Quinn does not always line up in the slot as the Mustangs seek constant mismatches.
“He’s got great speed, and he’s Houdini catching the ball,” Tulane defensive coordinator Jack Curtis said. “Anything that’s close to him, he comes down with. He’s made some very acrobatic catches.”
The trick is not getting frustrated in a track meet with the Mustangs. Their defense, vulnerable at its best, has struggled to stop anything in the last three weeks.
“We’ve got to do whatever it takes to win the game,” Fritz said. “Whether that’s holding them down or scoring a bunch of points. We only need to score one more than they do.”