Saturday, July 17, 2010

Opponent Preview: SMU

This was supposed to be the (first in a long time) year the Ponies could sit back and relax during the off-season: the depthchart was filled with underclassmen who managed 8 wins in 2009, and there was little reason to expect they couldn't do at least 7 in 2010. Kyle Padron was back, with a good bevy of receivers. Knowing June Jones's offense like they now do, and with a slowly improving defense, hadn't the Mustangs finally found the golden road to repeating bowl eligibility?

And then came the sucker punch.

One, then two, three, and now four would-be starters will not be on the field in 2010. McNeal (RB) went pro (that wasn't too surprising), taking with him nearly all of the '09 SMU ground game. Josh LeRibeus (LG), and Terrance Wilkerson (WR) and Torlan Pittman (DT) are the others, having missed academic eligibility or had other (legal) problems. How these absences among the ones will hurt SMU has suddenly become the headline on the Hilltop. (or, in the sports information department's ploy to distract, "Look at our offensive tackles!")

The offensive line was supposed to be a strength for the team-- and it still may be. But the element of uncertainty that accompanies inexperience has reared its ugly head again in the offseason. Perhaps redshirt freshman Jordan Favreau (zero career starts) will replace Josh LeRibeus. Favreau (or whoever starts now at LG) will play next to an experienced tackle, Kelvin Beachum, and center Bryce Tennison (above, right), who moves over from the RG position. J.T. Brook returns at RT. Both starters at guard will be deterimed in the fall; it appears the line will have three returners, with a decent 54 starts between them. They're still undersized, averaging 6-3, 293.

Kyle Padron (left) leads the show, backed up by transfer J.J. McDermott, who sat out last season, but practiced well in the spring. Padron is the most visible player on the team, and (barring injury) will keep the Mustangs competitive. If his connection with the receivers gets hot, SMU may be much more than competitive.

About those receivers: with Emmanuel Sanders' graduation, McNeal's turn pro, and Terrance Wilkerson's ineligibility, SMU finds itself looking for ways to replace 60% of last season's catches, and fully two-thirds of last season's receiving yards. June Jones is high on sophomore Darius Johnson (right); Aldrick Robinson appears poised to become the doyen of the corps. Two receivers named Cole (Beasley and Loftin) are poised to have big years, and young Bradley Haynes and Chayse Joubert showed very well in the spring.

June Jones has always maintained that his run and shoot air attack requires a steady ground game, and for the first time at SMU in a long time, the Mustangs had one in 2009, in the form of Miami transfer Shawnbrey McNeal. This season his production will have to be replaced by a largely untested group of players, incoming freshmen Daryl Fields and Kevin Pope most likely to get the majority of the snaps. Here, more than anywhere else on the team, uncertainty reigns.

Across the trench, the defensive line appears poised for improvement. Taylor Thompason and Marquis Frazier return at ends, unless Frazier moves inside, due to the lack of depth there. Thompson, at 6-6, 276, isn't even the largest end on the team, though he is the best. Margus Hunt-- perhaps the only Estonian in D-1A ball-- is 6-8, and closer to 300 lbs., (shown left in his discus-throwing getup) and is developing into a very good end, as well. Inside, small sophomore Aaron Davis may not be able to keep early-enrolled freshman Mike O'Guin, who is 6-3, 321 lbs. from starting.

Any improvement in production on the line is gravy for SMU, because the real heart of the defense is in the four linebackers. Three of the four from last season return-- Yenga, Felps, and Reed. Reed (below, right)appears to have inherited the leadership mantle filled by Chase Kennemer, who graduated. The new starter will be Ja'Gared Davis, who came on strong as a true freshman (as did Reed) last season, and is expected to shine in 2010.

Behind them CB Sterling Moore and S Chris Banjo lead the secondary. The two-deep remains unsettled at the other safety spot (Ryan Smith v. Jay Scott) and corner (Keivon Gamble v. Bennie Thomas).

Expect the defense to improve, as the number of freshmen on the field continues to drop. In 2009, SMU allowed nearly 400 yards per game-- and that was an improvement. That trend wil continue, especially because the Mustang offense will consume more time than it has in the past.

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