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1. You're welcome, SMU
Fresno State by 27. On paper, this game has the highest Steiner-vs-Holyfield potential of any bowl. I like June Jones, and I want this to be a game. But I don't see it. Prove me wrong, 'Stangs.
We're all wrong a lot. It's part of the fun of following sports: Every time you think you absolutely know what's going to happen, you get pantsed by an unfathomable (to you) outcome. It's especially true in football, with a pointy ball and 22 other moving parts on any given play. I guess I should consider myself lucky that I am rarely as wrong as I was in previewing last year's Hawaii Bowl, a game I said SMU would lose by 27 and a game the Mustangs won by 33. I'm not sure I wouldn't have still picked Fresno in a best-of-five series -- with a second chance, perhaps the Bulldogs would figure out a better plan for handling defensive end Margus Hunt, who had a stupid, ridiculous day, and wouldn't fall into a deep deficit early in the proceedings -- but football isn't best-of-five, and I was off by almost nine touchdowns. It was a good time.
In this sense, you're welcome, SMU, because I'm doubting you again in 2013. I like the talent in the pipeline, and despite the fact that June Jones just turned 60, I like the way this team could take shape in the future. But the receiving corps isn't good enough to do what it needs to do, the offensive line is now incredibly young, and the defensive front seven has to replace quite a few of the reasons for SMU's recent defensive success. This feels like a team in transition, one that could struggle to reach bowl eligibility before starting a decent run in 2014 or 2015.
That's an amazing thing to say, by the way. Jones seems to have hit a temporary ceiling around the seven- to eight-win mark and F/+ rankings in the 60s, but before he engineered a four-year streak of bowl bids, SMU had gone 25 years without a bowl, first stuck in NCAA purgatory, then struggling to rebuild. Program commitment was tenuous, and the Mustangs simply didn't make the right hires, either because they just swung and missed or because the right hires weren't willing to come to Dallas. Jones, on the other hand, was absolutely the right hire. SMU's won 30 games in four years (after winning 31 in the previous 10), has moved into a still-new stadium (Gerald J. Ford Stadium), and has succeeded just enough to pull off an upgrade form Conference USA to the AAC. (Yes, that's an upgrade, even if it isn't an amazing one.)
So yeah, things are looking good for the Mustangs heading into the future, at least compared to where things were five years ago. But that doesn't mean prospects for 2013 are very bright. Again, you're welcome.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 6-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 70|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|2-Sep||at Baylor||24-59||L||24.6 - 38.3||L|
|8-Sep||Stephen F. Austin||52-0||W||18.5 - 28.0||L|
|15-Sep||Texas A&M||3-48||L||16.8 - 24.7||L|
|29-Sep||TCU||16-24||L||15.1 - 4.0||W|
|6-Oct||at UTEP||17-0||W||18.8 - 16.0||W|
|13-Oct||at Tulane||26-27||L||24.9 - 43.4||L|
|18-Oct||Houston||72-42||W||31.3 - 26.8||W|
|27-Oct||Memphis||44-13||W||41.4 - 16.2||W|
|3-Nov||at Central Florida||17-42||L||25.3 - 38.3||L|
|10-Nov||Southern Miss||34-6||W||28.4 - 12.7||W|
|17-Nov||at Rice||14-36||L||24.7 - 29.1||L|
|24-Nov||Tulsa||35-27||W||27.8 - 29.1||L|
|24-Dec||vs. Fresno State||43-10||W||35.9 - 18.0||W|
|Points Per Game||30.5||53||25.7||54|
|Adj. Points Per Game||25.6||87||25.0||37|
2. The Mustangs were certainly better at the end, though
For the 2012 season as a whole, SMU was obviously rather mediocre. The defense held steady with above-average output (55th in Def. F/+ after ranking 41st in 2010 and 57th in 2011), but the offense fell apart, plummeting from average (61st in Off. F/+ in 2011) to bad (96th). But for all the naysaying I might want to do, SMU was certainly an above-average team over the last half of the season.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 6 games sans TCU): Opponent 30.1, SMU 20.7 (minus-9.4)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 7 games): SMU 30.7, Opponent 24.3 (plus-6.4)
The offense improved by 10 adjusted points, and the defense improved by nearly six. Granted, much of the offensive surge took place in two games (Memphis and Fresno State), and granted, players no longer in uniform were responsible for a lot of the strong performances in those games -- running back Zach Line rushed for 127 yards and receiver Darius Johnson caught nine passes for 141 yards against Memphis, while Johnson and Austin Fuller caught seven passes for 124 yards versus Fresno State -- but quarterback Garrett Gilbert looked great in those games (sacks aside). So there's that.
|Q1 Rk||105||1st Down Rk||93|
|Q2 Rk||95||2nd Down Rk||90|
|Q3 Rk||51||3rd Down Rk||69|
June Jones thrilled the Internet nerds by bringing in Air Raid architect Hal Mumme as his new offensive coordinator. Hopefully that means, if nothing else, more interviews like this one.
BF: Hal's know as an Air Raid guy and June, you're known as a Run-and-Shoot guy. What are the biggest variations ...
JJ: I think I climbed the coaching ladder quickly because I was willing to do it. I think (Mumme) got the coaching job at Kentucky because he had some balls. Nobody was doing it and he's winning. All of a sudden you have these places that had never won and were looking for something different. They'd say, "We can't win the old-fashioned way." So I'm watching the variations of it and every coach has their own little something they put on. The correlation is you live by the pass and you get the run because you throw. Everybody else wants to run and get the pass because they run. With Hal, Mike (Leach) and I the big similarity is the philosophy, "Throw the football to get the run."
If you talk to the defense coaches who played us, they're starting to figure that out. Zach Line almost broke Eric Dickerson's rushing records over here. Then they said, "Damn, we gotta stop that running back."
HM: If you take the playbooks and lay them down, you'd see there's a lot more similarities than differences. I say this all the time in clinics, "Air Raid is an attitude, not a playbook."
BF: Well, you didn't have a playbook technically.
HM: Right, I've gone from having no playbook to the New York City phonebook over here. We have one now.
JJ: But we don't give it to the players.
HM: There really are a lot more similarities than differences. He ran Y-Sail. We ran Y-Sail. He ran Verticals. We ran Verticals.
JJ: The concept of reading the coverage, nobody did it. Even when I was a player in 1977, and every Monday they'd say look at the next team and tell us what you think will work. Well, I'd write a book on reading and how to read the routes and all that stuff. But nobody in the NFL back then allowed their receivers to read coverage. If you're running a curl, you're running a curl. That was it. There was no conversion.
Our belief is, give the kids as much as you can and give them a basis for why to do a certain thing and then let them make decisions on the run. I think that concept from what Hal did is what Mouse (Davis) did and what I've copied. Let the kids have freedom to do what the best thing to get open is, and that gets back to what (Mumme) said about the Air Raid. It's an attitude, a belief system. And once you get the belief in the kids, you win.
That was a hefty portion, but the Q&A is enormous. And totally worth it. Read it all.
4. What will this marriage mean?
In terms of the product on the field, it probably doesn't mean much. The air raid is an efficiency attack, content with forcing the defense to give up something, then taking whatever it gives. The run and shoot might have a bit more vertical capability, but not really. If there's a difference, add a few percentage points of completion percentage, subtract a little bit of yards per completion, and watch the average stay about the same. Regardless, SMU will pass. A lot. Just like it did last year.
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Garrett Gilbert||6'4, 223||Sr.||***** (6.1)||268||506||2,932||53.0%||15||15||33||6.1%||5.1|
|Conner Preston||6'0, 193||So.||*** (5.5)||5||10||127||50.0%||1||0||1||9.1%||11.0|
|Neal Burcham||6'3, 207||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Kolney Cassel||6'2, 205||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
5. Can SMU actually pass, though?
Fair question. Zach Line was in no way explosive, but he was incredibly consistent (despite seemingly countless knee injuries) and always moving forward. SMU's Stuff Rate (the rate of negative runs) was wonderfully low, and while the SMU's line's other run stats were also pretty good, I give Line a lot of credit for the lack of stuffs. Without both Line and three starters on the line (accounting for 74 career starts), the run game is starting over. Two redshirt freshmen battled for the starting job at right tackle in the spring, and only one senior finished the spring on the two-deep. That's young.
Still, even last year, with a decent run and awful pass, SMU was pass-first. That's just the way it's going to be. Is there any hope for improvement in that regard?
Honestly, it's hard to know what to make of Garrett Gilbert at this point. He's a pretty mobile guy who (like a lot of mobile QBs) takes a few too many sacks. But while he does throw some balls away, there's just no excuse for completing 53 percent of your passes but only averaging 10.9 yards per completion. Three of Gilbert's four primary wideouts had catch rates of 51 percent or lower, which is just too damn low for an efficiency offense. Granted, there is a lot of new blood in the mix this year, from three-star freshmen to, evidently, part-timer Kenneth Acker (also the starting cornerback), who might not actually be a part-timer. And maybe that makes a big difference.
But even at Texas, Gilbert was not a high-efficiency quarterback. He has upside (nowhere near five stars, obviously, but that's in the past), but he doesn't necessarily appear to be a great efficiency guy. The candidates to take over in 2014 are interesting (and probably more system-appropriate), but we'll save that discussion for 2014.
|Garrett Gilbert||QB||6'4, 223||Sr.||***** (6.1)||61||521||8.5||7.0||8||+20.1|
|Luke Seeker||RB||5'11, 186||So.||NR||12||60||5.0||2.0||0||-0.4|
|Rishaad Wimbley||RB||6'0, 260||Jr.||*** (5.5)||10||27||2.7||0.8||1||-1.5|
|Prescot Line||RB||6'0, 233||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Collin LaGasse||RB||5'11, 197||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Traylon Shead||RB||6'2, 230||Jr.||*** (5.7)|
6. No pressure, Traylon
Traylon Shead scored more touchdowns than anybody in Texas high school history and gained fewer yards than just one person. A small-school legend, he committed to Texas very early on in the recruiting process (five and a half years ago, actually), couldn't crack the depth chart and eventually ended up at Navarro College. He rushed for 1,200 yards in 2012, then signed with SMU. It's looking more and more like he'll be in the starting 'Stang backfield alongside another former Longhorn, Gilbert. Word is that SMU fans' expectations are sky high for the 230-pounder.
And that's good because there are no other obvious candidates for serious playing time. Shead will carry as much of the load he can handle, and he'll do so behind a green line, complemented by an inefficient passing game. Good luck, Traylon.
|Jeremy Johnson||WR-Y||6'0, 179||Sr.||*** (5.6)||105||67||679||63.8%||6.5||21.5%||61.0%||6.5||69.3|
|Der'rikk Thompson||WR-X||5'11, 190||Jr.||*** (5.5)||81||41||535||50.6%||6.6||16.6%||65.4%||6.5||54.6|
|Keenan Holman||WR-Z||6'1, 185||Sr.||** (5.4)||49||25||311||51.0%||6.3||10.0%||57.1%||6.4||31.7|
|Darius Joseph||WR-H||6'0, 195||So.||*** (5.5)||13||7||70||53.8%||5.4||2.7%||53.8%||5.3||7.1|
|Kenneth Acker||WR-Y||6'0, 195||Sr.||*** (5.6)|
|Stephen Nelson||WR-X||6'0, 185||Jr.||NR|
|Arrius Holleman||WR-Z||6'3, 220||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Daljuan Stewart||WR||5'10, 165||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|JaBryce Taylor||WR||6'2, 205||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
|Jeremiah Gaines||WR||6'2, 235||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
|Everett Dickerson||WR||6'0, 205||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|Nate Halverson||WR-Z||5'11, 178||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Bryan Collins||RT||22 career starts; 2012 2nd All-CUSA|
|Blake McJunkin||RG||39 career starts|
|Jordan Free||LG||13 career starts|
|Taylor Lasecki||C||6'3, 296||So.||*** (5.5)||13 career starts|
|Ben Gottschalk||LT||6'5, 293||Sr.||*** (5.6)||12 career starts|
|Kris Weeks||RG||6'5, 310||So.||*** (5.5)||1 career start|
|Ashton Duhe||LG||1 career start|
|Sam Rice||LG||6'4, 287||So.||** (5.3)|
|Ben Hughes||C||6'4, 291||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Christian Miller||RG||6'4, 275||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|Seaver Myers||RT||6'6, 290||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Chase Walling||RT||6'6, 286||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Chauncey Briggs||LT||6'5, 295||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Christian Chamagua||LG||6'6, 295||RSFr.||** (5.3)|
|Q1 Rk||19||1st Down Rk||33|
|Q2 Rk||48||2nd Down Rk||54|
|Q3 Rk||72||3rd Down Rk||67|
7. False impressions
The odds are decent that, if you saw one SMU game in 2012, it was the Hawaii Bowl. That game showed us not only a competent offense with a nice, mobile quarterback; it also showed us what appeared to be one of the best pass rushes and, consequently, pass defenses in the country. Margus Hunt had one of the best games you'll ever see from a defensive end, logging three tackles for loss, two sacks, three hurries, and two forced fumbles and playing a key role in a goal line stand late in the first half. He absolutely destroyed Fresno State's freshman right tackle, repeatedly. He and the SMU defense also gave a completely false impression.
It's not that the Mustangs didn't have a good defense; they were in fact one of the better units in Conference USA. It's that SMU spent most of the year dominating against the run and showing a few glitches against the pass. SMU ranked just 87th in Adj. Sack Rate but 18th in Adj. Line Yards, 56th in Passing S&P+ but ninth in Rushing S&P+. Opponents threw more than 50 percent of the time on standard downs, partially because that's what Conference USA teams tended to do, and partially because there was no point in trying to run on the Mustangs. Though iffy in short-yardage situations, the SMU 3-4 defense was incredibly stout, preventing run opportunities with swarming linebacker play and playing some of the most efficient ground-based defense in the country. And against teams not named Fresno State, Hunt had only 8.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, and no forced fumbles. He was good, but he wasn't that good. (You know this, of course, because if he were always that good, he'd have been the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.)
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Beau Barnes||DE||6'5, 241||Jr.||NR||11||12.5||1.7%||2||1||0||0||0||0|
|Darrian Wright||NT||6'2, 280||Jr.||*** (5.5)||13||9.0||1.3%||0.5||0||1||0||0||0|
|Zach Wood||DE||6'3, 258||So.||*** (5.5)||9||7.0||1.0%||0.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Gareth Riley-Ayers||DT||5'11, 276||So.||NR||6||4.0||0.6%||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Spencer Conley||DE||6'4, 257||So.||NR||5||2.5||0.3%||1.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Andy McCleneghen||DE||6'6, 262||So.||NR||10||1.5||0.2%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jarrett Spencer||DE||6'4, 255||So.||** (5.4)|
|Elie Nabushosi||DE||6'4, 262||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Nick Reed||NT||6'1, 296||RSFr.||** (5.3)|
|Zelt Minor||DE||6'3, 275||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Randall Joyner||BUCK||5'10, 236||Sr.||** (5.2)||13||72.5||10.1%||3||0||3||5||2||2|
|Stephon Sanders||SAM||6'3, 250||Jr.||*** (5.6)||13||39.0||5.4%||5.5||1||1||5||0||0|
|Kevin Pope||MIKE||5'10, 225||Sr.||** (5.4)||13||15.0||2.1%||0||0||0||0||1||3|
|Jonathan Yenga||MIKE||6'2, 215||So.||*** (5.6)||13||8.0||1.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Brandon Henderson||BUCK||6'2, 233||Sr.||** (5.3)||13||3.5||0.5%||2||1||0||0||0||0|
|Robert Seals||WILL||6'3, 225||So.||** (5.4)||8||2.5||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|John Bordano||LB||6'2, 235||Jr.||*** (5.5)||4||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Derek Longoria||SAM||6'2, 230||So.||*** (5.5)||8||1.0||0.1%||0.5||0||0||0||0||1|
|Lincoln Richard||LB||6'3, 225||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Jarvis Pruitt||WILL||6'3, 252||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
8. Some terrifying turnover
SMU attacked you from all angles from its 3-4 structure. In all, eight Mustangs recorded at least 2.5 tackles for loss and three recorded at least 11. The problem for 2013: All three members of the 11 Club are gone, and only two of the eight 2.5'ers return. The line had incredible production for a three-man, occupy-your-blockers front, but almost all of that production is out the door, as are a pair of stellar play-makers at linebacker, Taylor Reed and Ja'Gared Davis.
The linebacking corps still has a good amount of potential; Stephon Sanders is exciting, and players like Jonathan Yenga and Lincoln Richard were pretty highly touted (relatively speaking) in high school. But almost all of the proven disruptors up front are gone, and that has to be scary. Even if the offense improves a bit, will it be enough to offset defensive regression?
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jay Scott||SS||6'1, 210||Sr.||*** (5.5)||13||62.5||8.7%||2||0||1||10||1||1|
|Kenneth Acker||CB||6'0, 195||Sr.||*** (5.6)||13||45.5||6.3%||2||0||3||12||0||0|
|Chris Parks||CB||6'1, 190||Sr.||** (5.4)||13||43.5||6.1%||0.5||0||0||7||0||0|
|Hayden Greenbauer||FS||6'0, 205||Jr.||*** (5.5)||13||22.0||3.1%||0.5||0||1||2||2||0|
|Shakiel Randolph||SS||6'5, 201||So.||*** (5.6)||8||14.5||2.0%||0||0||0||4||0||2|
|Jeremy Gray||CB||5'11, 195||Sr.||NR||13||9.5||1.3%||0||0||1||1||1||0|
|Blake Poston||CB||5'9, 180||So.||NR||9||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Daniel Roundtree||FS||6'2, 195||Sr.||*** (5.5)||6||1.0||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|J.R. Richardson||CB||5'9, 182||So.||*** (5.5)|
|A.J. Justice||DB||6'2, 202||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Horace Richardson||CB||6'0, 190||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Ajee Montes||CB||5'11, 187||RSFr.||** (5.2)|
|Cedric Lancaster||DB||5'8, 165||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|Ty Law||CB||5'10, 180||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
9. The secondary should be great, but does that matter?
The secondary can only thrive if the front seven isn't a complete sieve, but if SMU can get things patched up near the line of scrimmage, the Mustangs' defensive backs can take it from there. Assuming he isn't exhausted from playing both ways, Kenneth Acker is part of one of the better corner combos around; Acker and Christ Parks, both seniors, combined for 22 passes defensed in 2012, and safety Jay Scott (also a senior) threw in 11 more. In safeties Hayden Greenbauer and big Shakiel Randolph, SMU has lovely potential in a nickel look. Throw in any number of three-star freshmen and redshirt freshmen, and you've got one of the best secondaries in the AAC. They did a lot without the help of a pass rush last year (and then did even more when the pass rush arrived), but that only helps if the opponent has to pass.
|Mike Loftus||6'1, 200||Jr.||52||41.9||2||11||12||44.2%|
|Chase Hover||6'2, 185||Sr.||18||39.4||1||3||2||27.8%|
|Mike Loftus||6'1, 200||Jr.||77||62.8||29||37.7%|
|Chase Hover||6'2, 185||Sr.||47-49||15-19||78.9%||3-10||30.0%|
|Der'rikk Thompson||KR||5'11, 190||Jr.||16||25.7||0|
|Blake Poston||PR||5'9, 180||So.||7||4.9||0|
|Kenneth Acker||PR||6'0, 195||Sr.||6||14.0||0|
|Special Teams F/+||39|
|Field Goal Pct||100|
|Kick Returns Avg||40|
|Punt Returns Avg||47|
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|21-Sep||at Texas A&M||15|
|23-Nov||at South Florida||67|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||75|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||71|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||+14 / +5.7|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||12 (6, 6)|
10. Short-term vs. long-term
Again, I do like what June Jones is building in Dallas. The secondary is incredibly experienced but potentially has more young talent than any other unit. The front seven is going to take some hits this year but will be wonderfully experienced in 2014 and 2015. The same goes for the offensive line. And while I'm still not sure there are answers in the receiving corps, Traylon Shead is only a junior, and a more system-specific quarterback will take the reins next year. This could be a strong AAC squad in 2014, and really, it should still expect to rank between about 65th and 75th in 2013, too. The problem is that 75th would only make SMU better than two teams on its schedule (Montana State and Memphis).
The Mustangs could fall victim to the fact that there is a glut of AAC teams likely to finish between 50th and 60th; to get ahead of that glut, not only does the offense need to improve, but the defense needs to avoid solid regression. The difference between about third and eighth in the AAC will be minimal this year, and unfortunately, SMU has more question marks than most of the other teams in the race. Home games versus Texas Tech, Rutgers, Temple, UConn, and UCF are all winnable, but the Mustangs won't win them all. A 6-6 record is conceivable, but I'm feeling more comfortable predicting about five this year.
So to prove me wrong, June Jones will win 10.