SMU deploys its run-n-shoot against TCU in Dallas Saturday night. Regarding that attack, it’ll be the same old story for the fourth year—the passing game just isn’t up to the standard Pony fans have hoped to see since paying to bring in June Jones from Hawaii.
Garrett Gilbert and the receivers have been working overtime to improve their passing game.
"It’s all about timing. It’s about being on the same page and communicating. We’re out here having fun, trying to get better acquainted with each other." And getting acquainted better is probably the most important thing SMU must do to improve its chances of beating TCU Saturday, and going bowling for the fourth consecutive year. Coach Jones doesn’t sound perturbed. "The more he's in it, the more comfortable he's going feel," Jones said of his quarterback. "And we've got to get better around him too. Even though the quarterback is key in any offense, it's not totally on him."
The receivers Gilbert throws to the most—Keenan Holman (27 times, 48.1% successfully), Darius Johnson (23, 52.2%) and Jeremy Johnson (22, 68.2%) do not make as much hay as they want, or need, when they have the ball. Keenan Holman averages 12 yards per catch, which is decent. But Jeremy Johnson (9.1) and Darius Johnson (7.9) simply do not do enough when the ball is in their hands.
Compare the potency of Pachall’s connection with Boyce, Carter, Brown, and Dawson:
he throws to them less often, but completes more passes, for a lot more yardage. Pachall has passed to Josh Boyce 22 times, completing 63.6% of those passes, averaging 14.6 yards per completion. Brandon Carter: 16 passes, 81.3% completed, for 20.7 yards on average. Skye Dawson: 8 passes, 77.8% complete, for 13.3 yards, on average. LaDarius Brown: 8 passes, 87.5% complete, for 13.7 yards, on average.
So it’s SMU’s secondary that is going to be tested more severely on Saturday, even though SMU runs the run-n-shoot.
SMU has been pretty successful on the ground, again. Zach Line has gained at least 100 yards in 10 of his last 13 starts, including against Texas A&M two weeks ago. He’s averaging 5.0 yards per carry. That’s remarkable, considering how new and banged-up the o-line is he’s working behind.
That line, LT Gottschalk, LG Jordan Free, C Taylor Lasecki, RG Blake McJunkin, and RT Bryan Collins, has only one underclassman on it—center Lasecki, a redshirt freshman. But none of the upperclassmen were starters before this season. Left tackle Ben Gottschalk is playing through a shoulder injury.
"We're far from a finished product, but we're getting better in every single game, and that's encouraging. It's kind of deceptive, maybe, when you play teams like Baylor and Texas A&M, because their talent is so good, but when you watch the film, it's obvious that we're blocking better each week."
RT Collins can't say enough about Stansly Maponga.
SMU may get to play with short fields, however, on Saturday. The most newsworthy player on the team in defensive end Margus Hunt, the Estonian kick-blocking specialist who has to be licking his chops when he watches Ethan Perry’s slow action kicking. Hunt is close to setting the NCAA records for blocked extra points and total kicks blocked; he already has the most blocked field goals. When not on special teams, he’ll line up against Big V, who’ll be in for some high-grade competition at the line of scrimmage.
Otherwise, the defense is not doing well. It has played a couple of pretty good teams—Baylor and Texas A&M—but ranks in the three digits in scoring defense and total defense. It was supposed to have a pretty salty line; Baylor and A&M didn’t notice that. TCU will be a good test case, with its very young offensive line and depleted backfield. SMU’s defensive coordinator says (at the end of this interview) that getting pressure on Pachall is the key to the game.
That makes sense, because Pachall and his receivers have been in pretty good synch to date.
Look for TCU to give up points on special teams, but otherwise to smother the Mustangs, almost beat the spread, but not quite. TCU 33, SMU 17.