SMU 101: Cougs eye repeat vs. new-look Stangs

GRASU WON IT IN OT LAST YEAR

THE COUGS WERE lucky to come away with the victory against SMU last season, but there were reasons why fortune wasn't shining on the club from Conference USA. Teams that run the ball and avoid turnovers give WSU all kinds of fits. The Mustangs didn't fit that bill a year ago. Alas, June Jones has learned those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

The Mustangs come into this Dallas rematch looking far more balanced than they did last season. They're by no means equally balanced, but they are more balanced. In last week's 28-7 win over UAB, the Mustangs passed for 153 yards and rush for 108. The week before, in a 35-27 loss to Texas Tech they passed for 218 and ran for 109.

  Cougars (1-1) vs Mustangs (1-1)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
12:30 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Gerald Ford Stadium (32,500)

TELEVISION:
CBS College Sports

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
SMU by 20

LAST MEETING:
In Pullman last season, WSU won 30-27 in OT.

THE SERIES:
WSU leads 1-0

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougs 14, SMU 35

  THE MUSTANGS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Kyle Padron, QB: He has good command of Jones' system but still gets careless with the football and has only adequate arm strength. He tends to float his deeper throws. Padron can also scamper if the protection breaks down.

Zach Line, RB: SMU's version of Toby Gerhart. The 235-pound converted linebacker ran for 122 yards against UAB last week, suddenly adding the "run" option to Jones' run-n-shoot ...

Altrick Robinson and Cole Beasley, WRs: Robinson is the deep- threat burner WSU will need to respect. Beasley is the short-route slot target who will see lots of swing passes and slants.

  Overview
The run-and-shoot differs from the spread offense in its emphasis on short controlled passing and the liberty it gives the receivers to vary their routes based on the gaps in the defense. Think of the slot receivers more like additional running backs, getting yards normally obtained from laterals and stretch plays.  The quarterback still throws the ball a ton but there are far fewer reads and audibles necessary on his part.

  Strategy
The addition of Line's running ability suddenly makes this offense much more dynamic. Shutting down the run was never a thought last season. Now the Cougs have to keep Line under control. Turnovers are essential so the Cougs need to ensure that Padron is the trying to beat them. Keep the receivers in front of you and don't let the defense get stretched vertically. Linebackers have to think like safeties. Look for deflections and interceptions at every opportunity in mixed short zone coverages. Ninty percent of the throws will be 10 yards or shorter so don't waste the safeties in deep coverage. Padron should be encouraged to hold the ball and air it out anyway, as he has a tendency to underthrow, so the corners need to watch for the ball even when they get beat.

  THE MUSTANGS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Margus Hunt, DE: The native Estonian has become an urban legend at SMU. He is still growing as a defender but at 6-8, his kick blocking ability is incredible. He blocked 7 kicks last year as a freshman, one block shy of the NCAA record. He already has another one this season.
Chris Banjo, S: One of several hard hitting defensive backs for the Mustangs

  Overview
SMU uses a varied defense with a lot of emphasis on speed and blitzing. They will often use three man fronts to force short throws and interior runs; then swarm to the ball with speed, hitting receivers hard.

  Strategy
Running the ball is always a must, but quick play action pass should be offered with regularity.  Mustangs secondary is strong but the linebackers can be mistake prone in their aggressiveness.  Better pass protection will be essential as SMU's three man fronts often disguise multi-linebacker blitzes.  Screen passes seem to work very well for WSU as opponents appear to have trouble diagnosing when their penetration is merely a trap.

  THE MUSTANGS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The Mustangs led the nation in blocked kicks last season and are well on their way again this year, blocking both field goal attempts they faced against Texas Tech. SMU kicker Matt Szymanski on the other hand remains perfect on the year including an impressive 61-yarder against Texas Tech.  With that kind of leg it is no surprise that he also doubles on punting duties.

  FINAL THOUGHTS
  • Jones has found no shortage of players that want to be a part of his system. The athleticism on this squad is light-years ahead of where it was just two years ago.
  • So much of the Cougars chances hinge on the defensive side of the football. The Cougs need a low-scoring affair with a heavy turnover advantage to win. The good news is that SMU is very capable of accommodating them. The Cougs need to help themselves first by not turning it over early for a change.
  • The loss last season was blemish on an otherwise successful, bowl-going season for SMU. Jones has the excuse, personality, and system to run up the score on WSU if they give him the opportunity.  
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