Dallas Colleges: SMU Mustangs
There was president George W. Bush, a pitching wedge away from the library that bears his name, cheering from the front row with his wife, Laura, and daughter Jenna. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was there, too. So was Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, standing with quarterback Tony Romo and tight end Jason Witten on the baseline, soaking in the crowd.
That’s what Larry Brown, an A-lister himself, has done for the Southern Methodist Mustangs. His basketball team and its renovated arena have become a main attraction in Dallas.
SMU didn’t beat its fifth ranked opponent on Wednesday, falling 84-71 to Louisville. The fact that Brown was clearly disappointed about it to the point where he didn’t want to talk about how far his program has come or any big picture thoughts on the season shows where this program is headed.
“You see why they’re a championship team,” Brown said.
Brown blamed himself for SMU’s second-half struggles, though the real culprit was Louisville guard Russ Smith, who made just about everything he put up in the second half.
“Coaches are supposed to help kids handle adversity and I didn’t do a very good job of that,” Brown said.
But Brown’s done a terrific job of making SMU relevant again.
And Moody Coliseum was rocking on Wednesday. The students were especially rowdy, bouncing up and down and providing a plenty of decibels.
It was just a few years ago that Moody was a place you could go and carry on a pleasant conversation during the game while watching basketball. If you wanted to chat on Wednesday, you had to yell at the person beside you.
That’s how winning buildings are supposed to sound.
The smartest thing SMU did was take seats out. They put suites up at the top of the facility. But rather than have a 10,000-seat venue that might not get full consistently, SMU has people right up against the court. It’s loud and it’s crowded. Wednesday was the seventh sellout of the season.
Most fans wore white “Moody Magic” T-shirts provided by the school. And they acted as another defender, trying desperately to stop Smith with their words. For the first time at home all season, it didn’t work.
The fact that the loss gnawed enough at Brown that he wasn’t in any mood to talk big picture was telling. But he made it a point to share his appreciation for the fans.
“The crowd was phenomenal,” Brown said. “I’m so thankful that we’re in an environment where people are so supportive. We want to give more and we have to do a better job to see that happens.”
TCU is 10-2 under Gary Patterson in this Metroplex showdown. The second of those two losses came in 2011, in rather crazy circumstances.
That loss ended TCU’s 22-game home win streak, but it wasn’t easy. The No. 20-ranked Horned Frogs rallied with a 23-point fourth quarter to force overtime but still lost 40-33. That game marked only the second time in its post-Death Penalty history that SMU had defeated a ranked team.
The week after that game, Patterson -- angry both about how SMU coaches and players treated his team and how the game was officiated -- went on a tirade (and probably a deserved one) that added some fire to the rivalry.
"Don't look for any help coming from us ever again," Patterson said. "SMU got a lot of help from us over the last three or four years. They are not going to get any help about a game or a conference; they are going to get no help from Gary Patterson. Don't ask me about anything. We've bent over backwards to help them because that's what I believe in."
Patterson and June Jones have reportedly mended fences since then, but his speech did underscore just how much beating TCU has meant to SMU.
The other time the Ponies bested Patterson and TCU? That was in 2005, when SMU knocked off the No. 22 Frogs one week after their upset win over Oklahoma in Norman. It was the lone blemish in TCU’s 11-1 year, and the win was hailed as SMU’s most important victory since resuming football in 1989. The 2011 win is still considered one of the milestones of Jones’ tenure in Dallas.
The last five times TCU wins, however, haven’t been all that close. Those victories over the Mustangs have come by an average margin of three touchdowns.
The closest game of those five occurred last season. TCU came in with a 12-game win streak -- the Frogs hadn’t lost since that 2011 overtime stumble -- and held onto it with a 24-16 win in a heavy rainstorm.
That ended up being Casey Pachall’s final start of the season before being arrested the following week and suspended. TCU picked off Garrett Gilbert five times, including the first two interceptions of Jason Verrett’s career.
This time around, Pachall is injured and the Frogs are only worried about getting a win, no matter the score, after early-season losses to LSU and Texas Tech. SMU would love nothing more than to go back to Fort Worth and steal another win like in 2011.
The rivalry that realignment couldn’t kill will continue into 2017, even though they’re no longer Southwest Conference and WAC foes. The two schools will keep trading home-and-aways for the next five years because they still consider the tradition important.
They’ve been playing this game for more than 90 years. Considering how close the last two years have been, and how desperate both teams are to avoid 1-3, we could be in for another classic on Saturday.
To read previous entries, click here.
Offensive opponent to watch: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. Ever hear of this guy? In case you haven't, he goes by the nickname Johnny Football. He won the Heisman Trophy last season as a redshirt freshman. He's been spotted seemingly everywhere and been hanging out with everyone in the offseason since. He hosts the Mustangs on Sept. 21, one week after facing two-time defending national champion Alabama, a team whose only loss last season came at the hands of … Manziel and the Aggies. Last year he led the Aggies to a 48-3 win at SMU, accounting for 418 total yards and six scores in three quarters while notching his first career win. All he did after was finish with 5,116 total yards and 47 touchdowns on the season while completing 68 percent of his passes.
Defensive opponent to watch: Devante Fields, DE, TCU. Field is banned from the season's first two games "due to a violation of university and team policy," meaning the SMU game on Sept. 28 will be his second game back. If he learns from the punishment, SMU and others need to watch out. The Horned Frogs' highest-rated recruit from 2012 burst onto the scene as a true freshman last fall, winning Big 12 defensive player of the year honors. He had four tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and two hurries in a 24-16 win at SMU last season, and he finished the year with 53 total tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, one pick, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles.
Strongest position: Defensive back.
Not only do the Mustangs return all their starters at defensive back, they have got plenty of talent behind those starters to form the best position on the field. Depth is so good, in fact, that top cornerback Kenneth Acker spent the spring taking reps at receiver to expand his repertoire. Acker should be one of the top receivers in the league in 2013, as he goes into his third year as the starter. Acker led the Mustangs last year with 15 passes defended and 12 pass breakups, while grabbing three interceptions. Chris Parks also is back at cornerback, and feeling much better after playing through a knee injury through a part of last season. Starting safety Jay Scott also returns, giving the Mustangs three senior starters in the secondary -- guys with a wealth of experience that should really take the lead on this defense. As for the other safety position, Shakiel Randolph returns after starting six games last year and being named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team.
Weakest position: Defensive line.
SMU is in rebuilding mode at positions across the field, as several spots have to replace key starters. But the position hit the hardest is the defensive line, which returns zero starters from a year ago. The biggest loss, of course, is defensive end Margus Hunt, a second-round NFL pick of the Cincinnati Bengals. He takes with him a team-leading eight sacks and a major pass-rush presence that is a huge priority for the Mustangs to replace. End Kevin Grenier also is gone, and so is the underrated Torlan Pittman, who manned the inside spot. Between the three of them, the Mustangs lose 92 tackles -- including 18.5 for loss. Coach June Jones believes he has some talented players ready to fill in. Darrian Wright will take over the nose tackle spot from Pittman. Zach Wood seems certain to start at one end spot; Beau Barnes and Andy McCleneghen are still competing for the other starting end job. Jones also is high on two youngsters -- true freshman Zelt Minor and redshirt freshman Elie Nabushosi. But while there may be talent, this group takes a hit in experience and size as well. How the Mustangs handle those two factors will go a long way in determining how they do in Year 1 in the AAC.
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To see previous entries, click here.
Most important game: Oct. 5 versus Rutgers
Why: SMU has a very challenging nonconference slate. The Mustangs open their season Friday, Aug. 30 against Texas Tech and new coach Kliff Kingsbury. Two games later they travel to College Station, Texas, where they will face either an Aggie team coming off the high of beating defending national Alabama for the second year in a row or an Aggie team hungry after suffering a tough loss to the nation's best. One week later, they travel to TCU.
Like we said, very challenging. At least they avoid conference favorite Louisville in Year 1 of a new league.
So that brings us to Oct. 5, with the nonconference slate in the rearview mirror. SMU has a home contest against a Rutgers team that has a lot of unknown parts heading into Kyle Flood's second year as head coach. The first month of the season should test the Mustangs physically and mentally, and if they respond the way most good teams should, they will be ready for their Big East debut against the Scarlet Knights, one of four defending champions.
SMU's offense should be fascinating to watch with Hal Mumme joining head coach June Jones to tutor Garrett Gilbert. Rutgers is breaking in three new starters in the secondary. A bye follows the Rutgers game, and then come games against Memphis and Temple, two programs widely expected to finish at or near the bottom of the conference in 2013.
You look at the tough first month and what it could spell for SMU moving forward, and you look at games against the Tigers and Owls soon afterward, and you cannot help but think of what a win over Rutgers could do for this program in its first game in the Big East. A 3-0 start going into Cincinnati on Nov. 9? UConn awaits after that. A 4-1 start in conference play is very much possible, not to mention the chance of winning one or more of the aforementioned tough early-season games against its Texas brethren.
The possibilities could be there for a strong Big East debut for the Mustangs. But a lot of that only looks realistic if they can beat Rutgers on Oct. 5.
The Big East has four players on the 44-man list, which is led by nine SEC players and five each from the Pac-12 and the Mountain West Conference.
Houston's Bryce Redman, Rutgers' Betim Bujari, SMU's Taylor Lasecki, USF's Austin Reiter make up the Big East contingent.
The Rimington Trophy committee uses the AFCA, Walter Camp, Sporting News and FWAA All-American teams to determine a winner. The winner will be honored Jan. 11, 2014 at the Rimington Trophy Presentation banquet at the Rocco Theater in Lincoln, Neb.
Former Louisville center Mario Benavides was one of six finalists for the award last season.
2012 record: 7-6
2012 conference record: 5-3, C-USA West
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 2
QB Garrett Gilbert, WR Der'rikk Thompson, DB Kenneth Acker, LB Randall Joyner
RB Zach Line, WR Darius Johnson, DE Margus Hunt, LB Ja’Gared Davis
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Line (1,278 yards, 13 TDs)
Passing: Gilbert* (268-of-506 for 2,932 yards, 15 TDs, 15 INTs)
Receiving: Jeremy Johnson* (679 yards, 3 TDs)
Tackles: Taylor Reed (97)
Sacks: Hunt (eight)
Interceptions: Acker*, Joyner* Reed (three each)
1. Garrett Gilbert looks sharp. Coach June Jones said after spring practice wrapped up that he was pleased with the way Garrett looked and improved in the biggest area of all -- accuracy. Gilbert only completed 53 percent of his passes last year but has a better grasp of the offense now and more chemistry with his receivers. It probably helps that he had Hal Mumme working with him, too.
2. Traylon Shead steps up. The Mustangs lost their best offensive player in Zach Line, but Shead stole the show this spring as he worked his way up to the first team. Jones called the Texas transfer “the real deal,” and is confident the running game will be just fine with Line gone.
3. Linebacker depth. Reed and Davis are gone, but there is depth at this position and some veterans returning to the starting lineup, too, in Joyner and Kevin Pope. Jones said Joyner had a great camp, and so did Lincoln Richard. Rishaad Wimbley moved over from running back as well.
1. Pass-rush specialist. Defensive end Margus Hunt proved just how special a talent he is this past weekend, when he was drafted in the second round. So how do the Mustangs go about replacing him and their other starting end, Kevin Grenier? Finding another pass-rush specialist takes on even greater importance now that the team is moving to a new league.
2. Offensive line depth. The Mustangs have to replace three starters and are going to be much more inexperienced at this position. Though Jones feels confident with his starting five, depth still has to be built in the fall. True freshmen may have to be relied on this season.
3. Receiver rotation. Jeremy Johnson and Thompson are back, along with Keenan Holman but otherwise, there are some young faces that are going to find themselves getting much more playing time. Line was also a big part of the pass game. Can Shead fill that role now?
The Mustangs are intriguing, first and foremost, because they brought Hal Mumme aboard as their assistant head coach and passing game coordinator. Pairing the Air Raid curator with head coach June Jones and his run 'n' shoot pedigree is a fascinating experiment in and of itself.
Kenneth Acker, who is coming off a second-team All-Conference USA season in the secondary, is another experiment this spring, with the staff splitting the cornerback wide to catch some passes with the offense.
Defensively, the Mustangs are replacing a bulk of their production from last season, with Margus Hunt, Ja'Gared Davis and Taylor Reed all gone. Kevin Pope and Robert Seals must step up at linebacker.
But Shead never really got his career going with the Longhorns. After two seasons, he decided to transfer. His stat line when he left? Empty.
Shead landed at Navarro Junior College and vowed to himself that he would prove all his doubters wrong when he got his next shot in Division I.
Now here he is, with his next shot.
"Because I have high expectations here, the biggest transition is to come in and try to have a big impact because, to live up to those expectations," Shead said in a recent phone interview. "That means I have to work a lot harder, study the playbook and be a good student.
"Being compared to Zach, it’s an honor. But also there’s a lot of pressure. If you don’t live up to it, you have a lot of criticism. In the back of my mind, this is my last go around in D-I and I really need to buckle down and prove all those doubters wrong and prove to everybody who gave me a chance that they gave the opportunity to the right person."
The comparisons between Line and Shead are easy to make. Both are bigger backs with deceptive speed. (Line is 6-foot-1, 230 pounds; Shead is 6-2, 225 pounds). Both excel at catching passes out of the backfield. Both are also good blockers. Shead, however, comes into SMU with much bigger expectations. Line was recruited to SMU as a linebacker. Shead was a Parade All-American.
Things just did not work out for him at Texas. When asked for his reasons behind transferring, Shead mentioned wanting to be closer to his daughter, Aniya, who turns 2 next month. Dallas is much closer to his hometown of Cayuga, Texas, than Austin. Shead saw that Line was about to end his SMU career so he had it in his mind that he wanted to play for the Mustangs after spending a year in junior college.
What a year it was. Shead ran for 1,194 yards and 17 touchdowns for Navarro in 2012. He signed with SMU in December and has been taking first-team reps for the past several weeks of spring practice, alternating with Prescott Line -- Zach's brother. Aniya and her mom -- Shead's girlfriend -- stay with Shead in Dallas for a majority of the week.
When asked for how he looks back on what happened at Texas, Shead said, "I take it as a learning experience but I appreciate the coaches for giving me the opportunity to come there and to leave in such a good way. Just not being able to play much there, I have a lot of doubters here and there. That’s my mentality since I was at Navarro, to get back to D-I and I appreciate SMU for giving me the opportunity. Now that I’m here, it’s time to prove those doubters wrong and prove I can play at D-I even though I came from a small school in East Texas. That and going home and seeing my daughter, are the two biggest factors that motivate me."
Shead says he feels as if he has picked up the offense well this spring, but has plenty more work to do in the offseason. He wants to work on his pad level, stamina and footwork, all while trying to pattern his game after Falcons running back Steven Jackson.
"Seeing how big of an impact he had in college and in the NFL -- that’s what I’m trying to work toward," Shead said. "He has speed and power, and he’s also a big back. We’re similar in size so that’s what I’m trying to get my game level to."
SMU begins Year 1 in a new conference under sixth-year head coach June Jones, who made a big-name addition to his staff two weeks ago.
McGee says Hal Mumme is the reason to watch, with the former Division II McMurry (Texas) head coach coming aboard to be the Mustangs' assistant head coach and passing game coordinator. The addition of Mumme, the proprietor of the Air Raid offense, places him with a boss in Jones who is considered a founding father of the Run 'n' Shoot offense. Three of the top seven signal callers in career passing yards per game were coached by either Mumme or Jones, making for an intriguing dynamic in Dallas.
"This might not work at all," a fellow Big East offensive coordinator told McGee. "But if it does, the results might be scary. If anything, this is one of those experiments where coaches all over the country will be pulling film just to see what these two come up with together."
To read the full story about all five off-the-radar teams to watch this spring, click here.
While the soon-to-be-former Big East is entering its last season as a BCS school, before the four-team college football playoff takes into effect in the 2014-15 season, aggressive scheduling is one way to keep the league on the national radar.
The slates will provide several opportunities for big national upsets in the coming years, so here's a look at some of the notable future opponents for SMU.
SMU: The Mustangs have quite the in-state home-and-home lineup. They canceled this season's home game with Baylor, and while it is unknown if the 2013 game will be made up or bought-out completely, the schools still have a home-and-home scheduled through 2019. The Battlle for the Iron Skillet with TCU will continue through 2017, with the Horned Frogs playing host this season. SMU will go to Texas A&M this year and host the Aggies in 2014, closing out a four-year home-and-home. They begin this season with a Friday night home contest against Texas Tech.
But now that Acker is going into his senior season, the Mustangs are going to try to get one of their best players on the field as much as possible. Acker is lining up at receiver this spring in the hopes of being able to continue as a starting cornerback while moonlighting as a pass catcher once the season begins.
Acker was dynamic with the ball in his hands at high school, racking up nearly 3,000 all-purpose yards his senior year, playing at the same high school Jones played at in Portland, Ore. But when he arrived in Dallas, coaches wanted him to focus on the defensive side of the ball and play cornerback, a position he was not as skilled at.
He has worked hard to become one of the top players at his position, earning second-team All-Conference USA honors this past season. Jones wants to look at some of the younger cornerbacks on his team this spring, and he has some holes to fill at receiver so he figured he would give Acker a shot on offense.
In describing how the conversation went down, Jones said with a laugh, "I told him, and I didn’t care if he was happy."
Acker is happy.
"A lot of schools out of high school were talking to me about playing both ways, but as my college career went on, it went out of my head," Acker said in a recent phone interview. "Coach Jones had already brought it up last spring that he was going to have me do some stuff and then we had a couple guys go down so then he backed off that.
A couple months ago he brought me into his office, I went in there checking up with him and he just told me he was going to have me go out for receiver in spring. I was thankful for the opportunity."
Acker worked with the receivers before spring practice started, and focused mainly on how they ran routes. Specifically -- where they lined up to start their routes.
"If you’re not lined up in the right spot the whole play is messed up," Acker said. "I was relying on the little stuff so when I got on the field with the coaches I would look like I was in the right spot, so the beginning part that some people would have to learn, I could just go past that so I could go right into learning the scheme instead of having to learn little stuff and falling behind. I tried to get myself ahead and not come in here as a rookie or a new guy."
His first goal was not to drop a pass on Day 1. Mission accomplished.
"I’m trying to build on that," Acker said. "If I don’t drop any balls, that’s a good day in my eyes."
The next question, of course, is whether Acker could start both ways.
"I’m anxious to see if he can," Jones said. "I think he has the talent to start for us. He helps us the most at corner, and if he played 10-15 plays on offense, then that makes us better, too."
|Brett McMurphy joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss college football's national championship game coming to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
You are losing so many starters. How do you envision the spring playing out for you, knowing you have to replace your productive guys while moving into a new conference?
JJ: There’s definitely a lot of unknowns. The competition we’re playing -- everybody’s getting better. The Big East plays a very good brand of football, the schools that are left in there are pretty good. We have some positions to replace, but we think we have on campus a lot of good, young players who have been waiting for an opportunity. We have some kids that maybe, two or three of the freshmen kids will be an upgrade from what we’ve had the last four or five years, too. I think we’ll be OK.
The other question on offense surrounds your quarterback, Garrett Gilbert. How are you going to work with him to improve on his accuracy?
JJ: Any time you’re in a system more than one year you get better, you just get more comfortable with it. I think that will help Garrett. I really was happy with his competitiveness as a player. He did a lot of different things for us, running the ball, competing that way when things broke down to get first downs, things like that. He showed that he’s a competitive winner. So as long as he keeps getting better in the passing game, he’s got a shot to be a step up from where he was last year. We have a kid on campus, Neal Burcham, who is very accurate passer and will compete with Garrett. Both Garrett will make Neal better and Neal will make Garrett better. Competition does that.
Along the same lines, how are you going to work on just being a more consistent offense this spring?
JJ: You have to be or you’re not going to be very good. We have to be able to throw the ball more effectively. I’m not really worried about the run part of it. We will get the runs when we have them. The thing we have to be able to do if we’re going to be able to be successful, we have to throw the ball effectively. We’re in a pass offense. If you’re not completing 68 to 72 percent of your passes, that’s probably not getting the job done. That’s what we have to be able to do.
Defensively, you have to replace guys like Margus Hunt, Taylor Reed and Ja'Gared Davis. Who are the next guys up?
JJ: We have some kids on campus that played pretty well last year for us. We have a kid named Zach Wood and Beau Barnes that split time with Margus, they rotated in. Probably the most underrated guy we had was a guy name Torlan Pittman, and Darrian Wright will replace him. Darrian played as a true freshman and really played pretty well for us. We have some depth and we have some really good kids coming in. The best lineman we ever recruited named Zelt Minor from Lamar will compete right away for a starting job. He’s one of those kids that we’ve never had come to our school, since I’ve been here anyway, from a talent standpoint. We have some guys here, we have another kid, Elie Nabushosi that I think may be really, really great d-lineman. He redshirted last year. We couldn’t block him in practice.
We’re replacing two pretty productive linebackers in Taylor Reed and Ja'Gared Davis but we have some kids who might be bigger and more talented than them on campus right now, in a kid named Jarvis Pruitt and Lincoln Richard being the other guy. We’re going to be OK but they’ve got to learn the defense and play on game day. They’ll make mistakes but talent wise I think we’re going to be pretty good.
It sounds like you’ve got a lot of talent there, but you're young.
JJ: Everybody’s young. We open up with Texas Tech so obviously you better play pretty good to beat them, but at the same time I think once these kids get to Game 3 and 4 where they have a little game experience -- they’ll make plays while they’re learning -- but at the same time how you minimize your mistakes is really how you win the games. Who screws it up less is who wins games early so when you’ve got young kids, you’re making mistakes. We’ll make some big plays in there, too, because they are very talented.
What do you think when people say this is a rebuilding year and they’re not quite sure what they’re going to see out of you guys this year?
JJ: I don’t really pay too much attention to that. We were told when I was in Hawaii we were the worst team in the conference and we went 12-0. I think sometimes when people don’t expect you to be what you are, you have your best seasons. That’s just me. But I don’t worry. You’re coaching the kids up. You prepare them to win and they’ll learn how to win. We just have to hang together until they do. That’s how you turn it around.
Offensive guru June Jones has hired offensive guru Hal Mumme as assistant head coach/passing game coordinator at SMU, the school announced Tuesday.
Both coaches have done their share to expand and enhance passing games. Jones has been known for his Run and Shoot concepts that allowed Colt Brennan and Timmy Chang to each pass for over 35,000 yards in three seasons at Hawaii; Mumme is known as the man behind the "Air Raid" offense, versions of which Mike Leach, Dana Holgorsen and a host of others now run.
One of the biggest areas that has to be improved this spring in Dallas is consistency in the passing game. Garrett Gilbert threw for 2,932 yards, with 15 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions last year as the Mustangs posted their lowest passing total since Jones arrived in 2008.
Mumme has had offensive success at all his stops. He comes to SMU after spending the past four years as head coach at McMurry, which just completed its first season as a Division II independent. During his time there, he led McMurry to a 27-16 record and three consecutive winning seasons.
Mumme has also served as head coach at Kentucky, New Mexico State, Southeastern Louisiana, Valdosta State and Iowa Wesleyan.
Why: The Mustangs lose Ja'Gared Davis and Taylor Reed following a 2012 campaign that saw the former notch first-team All-Conference USA honors and the latter garner second-team honors. That's 174 total tackles, 25.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, five interceptions, four fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles between the two that are gone from last year's team. Kevin Pope and Robert Seals figure to be the next in line to replace the two, with Pope playing in all 13 games as a junior last season and recovering three fumbles, forcing another and blocking a kick. Seals, meanwhile, saw limited action as a redshirt freshman in 2012, recording three tackles and a quarterback hurry in eight games. SMU is replacing five starters up front from a defense that led Conference USA against the run last season, and coach June Jones will be tasked with quite the reloading job heading into Year 1 of the Big East era.
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