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Tale of the Tape: Southern Methodist 2018

The Mustangs always put up loads of points. Unfortunately for them, the defense cedes a ton, as well.

NCAA Football: North Texas at Southern Methodist Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to write off Southern Methodist University. The once-proud program hasn’t won more than eight games since the NCAA slapped them with the infamous “death penalty” in 1985.

If there’s one point of pride for the Mustangs, though, it’s an offense that ranked among the very best in college football in 2017.

S&P ranked Chad Morris’ offense No. 11 last year, just one slot behind Penn State. According to some metrics, this offense is nearly as good as the one that did this to Don Brown’s dudes.

Fortunately, first-year coach Sonny Dykes inherits one of the nation’s worst defenses, as well.


For S&P methodology, read here, here and here.


SMU’s offense

SMU switched from the balanced spread of Chad Morris to the Air Raid scheme deployed by Sonny Dykes. Regardless, the players they return did major damage against one of country’s better defenses.

Today’s comparison team is Gary Patterson’s TCU Horned Frogs.

TCU rallied for a 56-36 win in an early-September home tilt against SMU. Mustang quarterback Ben Hicks executed some creative play-calling early.

The play design here is beautiful. A pulling guard picks up a defensive end starting to run freely. Doak Walker candidate Xavier Jones takes the handoff and fills the gap deserted by the pulling guard. The defense flies upfield to stop Jones, which leaves seventh round draft pick Trey Quinn wide open for the score. Bellisima.

Hicks showed off some elusiveness in the pocket, as well, as he converted a third-and-seven to rarely used tight end Mitchell Kaufmann for 28 yards. (0:51)

One more bullet in the SMU passing game? James Proche, who torched the Horned Frogs’ secondary simply with speed. (2:47)

While Hicks threw for 305 yards and two scores, he also closed the door on a final comeback with a pick-six on an overthrown slant route (2:35) He demonstrated some errant accuracy, as well, completing only 17 of 37 throws.

Overall, the offense compiled 463 yards on the day, aided slightly by a 124-yard effort on the ground. They churned out four yards a pop, and found some early success up front.

At 5:30 of the following video, the Mustangs utilize a pre-snap shift to switch from a passing look to a short-yardage, very Harbaugh formation.

Ke’Mon Freeman, a talented back, frequently converted in these situations by leading the way with 57 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns.

He complements Jones’ shiftiness and speed with a dose of power.

Mustang blockers crippled an otherwise solid effort with missed assignments. At 16:12, above, six blockers are assigned for six defenders in the box. Despite this, the fullback unnecessarily blocks a lineman, allowing the linebacker a bee-line for the ball-carrier. A good call destined for a big run turns into a two-yard gain.

If you remove the two long Mustang runs — 34 and 18 yards — they mustered only 2.5 yards an attempt.

If Michigan maintains gap discipline, they can make SMU one-dimensional.

SMU’s defense

While TCU finished in the top 40 per S&P on offense, the stats for the run and pass game closely resembled Michigan.

Michigan’s passing game really tanked its final numbers last year, to no one’s surprise. However, many assume Shea Patterson can lift it to at least competent levels.

Mere competence is enough to run roughshod over Sonny Dykes’ defense.

Kenny “Trill” Hill ignited a 619-yard outburst, executing a simple slant to Shaun Nixon for an 11-yard touchdown.

0:29 for the touchdown.

Watch SMU’s now-graduated linebacker Anthony Rhone (#48). He’s supposed to bracket Nixon, utilizing help from the safety. He doesn’t stand a chance in space, failing to get a finger on the receiver.

Rhone had a bad day, as we’ll see later. Kyran Mitchell, his replacement, didn’t fare much better. On TCU’s lead-changing touchdown, he failed (0:37) his assignment.

Mitchell blitzes, and gets completely stoned by the TCU tackle. While he recorded 4.5 sacks on the year, none of them came in this contest. With Mitchell no longer in coverage, it’s up to WILL linebacker Jordon Williams to stick with the back. It’s an incredibly tough role, as he would have to stick with one of the fastest backs in the country in Kenedy Snell.

He hesitates, and it’s all Snell needs for the momentum-stealing score.

More linebacker failure occurs at 1:38, as Rhone gets washed out by a guard, and Williams whiffs on a tackle to allow another touchdown.

The Mustangs limped to a No. 92 ranking in rush defense last year, and while the defensive line isn’t helping, hesitancy from the linebackers is the main culprit, at least in this TCU blowout.

Karan Higdon’s decisiveness and Chris Evans’ escapability should pay dividends.

While Hill’s stats tell most of the story regarding the pass defense — 365 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions — this play says everything you need to know.

Nobody even attempts to swat the ball. This is the single-worst Hail Mary defense I have ever seen. At least Michael Westbrook caught if off a tip...

Wait a tic, you’re saying this team finished No. 100 in pass defense? You don’t say.

The raw numbers don’t tell a much better story, as they ceded nearly 270 yards a game. Let’s just say if Shea Patterson or even Brandon Peters can’t throw against this, Michigan has major problems on offense.

Final thoughts

The last time Michigan faced an Air Raid offense was probably in 2015, either against UNLV or BYU. In the Don Brown era, the closest approximation is probably Purdue last year.

Michigan allowed only 17 points in those three games combined.

With that said, SMU sports a wagon full of offensive weapons, from Hicks to Jones to Proche. They did pile on 36 points in Fort Worth, and competed all night against Scott Frost’s undefeated UCF squad.

While Lavert Hill and David Long should maintain their elite play, this game’s defensive performance rests on the safeties’ shoulders. Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus blew some assignments, particularly on slot fades against Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State.

They need to be well-drilled going into Sept. 15.

Despite the (very) mild sweating over the pass defense, Michigan’s offense will thrive behind a burgeoning run game and Shea Patterson’s talent. This seems like the type of game this is close for a quarter and a half, and then breaks open as Don Brown adjusts.

Michigan pull away 52-17.