2012 SMU Preview – Offense
SMU RB Zach Line
SMU RB Zach Line
Posted Jun 3, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - SMU Mustang Offense

SMU Mustangs

Preview 2012 - Offense

- 2012 SMU Preview | 2012 SMU Offense
- 2012 SMU Defense | 2012 SMU Depth Chart

What You Need To Know:Having gone sideways in the last two years, head coach June Jones needs to find a way to ignite his inconsistent Run & Shoot attack on the Hilltop. His first move was to hire former Houston assistant Jason Phillips to be his new co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach. His next will be to decide on a quarterback, particularly important in this system. As spring closed, redshirt freshman Conner Preston held a lead on the competition. However, all bets are off until Garrett Gilbert gets his chance to audition in the summer in front of the staff. The Texas transfer, with the cathedral ceiling, is almost at full strength following last September’s shoulder surgery. Speaking of recoveries, RB Zach Line is on the mend after undergoing foot surgery. The bruising 230-pounder played in pain throughout 2011, yet still rumbled for a Conference USA-high 1,224 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns. While depth will be a worry at wide receiver, the Mustangs are comfortable with their starting four. Speedy Darius Johnson is an all-star, and Der’rikk Thompson showed an awful lot of promise in his first season. All the skill position talent in the world, though, won’t make a difference if SMU is unable to navigate a perilous situation in the trenches. All five of last season’s starters have graduated, forcing the staff to completely reshuffle the deck with a blend of reserves and newcomers.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Stephen Kaiser
0-1, 0 yds, 0 TDs, 0 INTs
Rushing: Zach Line
208 carries, 1,224 yds, 17 TDs
Receiving: Darius Johnson
79 catches, 1,118 yds, 8 TDs

Star of the offense: Senior RB Zach Line
Player who has to step up and become a star:Junior QB Garrett Gilbert or redshirt freshman Conner Preston
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Rishaad Wimbley
Best pro prospect: Line
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Line, 2) Senior WR Darius Johnson, 3) Gilbert
Strength of the offense: The power ground game, potential of Gilbert, the passing game
Weakness of the offense: Inexperience at quarterback, depth at receiver, rebuilt O-line, turnovers


The transfer of Kyle Padron and graduation of J.J. McDermott has the Mustangs essentially starting from scratch at the most important position on the field. Coming out of spring, the leader in the clubhouse was 6-0, 200-pound redshirt freshman Conner Preston, the 83rd-ranked quarterback of the 2011 class. He has a quick trigger, good arm strength and an improving knowledge of what it takes to succeed in this offense. The rookie improved as spring camp evolved, a trend that the staff hopes will continue throughout the summer.

For the time being, 6-3, 230-pound redshirt freshman Garrett Krstich has nudged ahead in the race to be the backup. However, he’ll need to elevate his overall play and grasp of the system in the summer in order to remain No. 2. Lightly recruited out of La Costa Canyon (Calif.) High School, he’s among the brightest and biggest of the Mustang hurlers.

Watch Out For … how quickly ballyhooed Texas transfer Garrett Gilbert can scale the depth chart. Although he’ll be behind, and won’t matriculate until June, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that the 6-4, 220-pound former five-star recruit from the 2009 class will win this job. He’s recovering nicely from last September’s shoulder surgery, and took 27 credits in order to graduate in time to avoid sitting out the 2012 season.
Strength: Gilbert. Assuming he wins the job, and assuming that right arm has healed following surgery, head coach June Jones will have access to the most talented quarterback of his five-year tenure on the Hilltop. Gilbert has two years of eligibility left, meaning the Mustangs might not have to break in a new starting quarterback again until 2014.
Weakness: Inexperience in the system. The leading returning passer, sophomore Stephen Kaiser, attempted one throw all year, an incomplete in the bowl victory over Pitt. Even with the addition of Gilbert, the Mustangs are going to be raw under center, needing to quickly master the nuances of a complex Run & Shoot attack.
Outlook: If the Mustangs are forced to go with one of the untested underclassmen, the offense is going to suffer the consequences. The key, without question, will be Gilbert, who must prove that his shoulder is fine, and that he can digest the playbook as quickly as he did those spring classes in Austin. The junior is a potential game-changer for Jones, who has been pining for a player of Gilbert’s potential.
Unit Rating: 6

Running Backs

Zach is back, and all is right with the SMU ground game heading into 2012. After missing the final three games of 2011 to a toe injury, senior Zach Line is healthy again. The 6-1, 230-pound battering ram has rumbled for more than 2,700 yards on the ground over the past two seasons, while racking up 34 career touchdowns. He has a thick frame, particularly in the lower body, which he uses to shed tacklers en route to yards after contact. Like a smaller, quicker version of former Purdue great Mike Alstott, Line doesn’t make people miss often, but he hits the hole so quickly that he often doesn’t absorb contact until getting to the second level. If he can improve his pass-catching skills, there might be a job for him in the NFL.

It takes a big man to make Line look small. Sophomore Rishaad Wimbley is a very big man, especially as running backs go. The 6-0, 260-pound converted defensive tackle has actually slimmed down in the offseason in preparation for an increased workload this fall. He’s actually far nimble than his measurables might indicate, running for 178 yards and four scores on 40 carries in 2011.

Watch Out For … Wimbley to visit an awful lot of pain on opposing defenders this season. Yes, this is Line’s running game, but the Mustangs are very intrigued by the potential and unique skill set of their super-sized sophomore. Not only will his number of touches increase, but he also has value as a blocker in pass protection.
Strength: Power backs. Line is an assertive 230-pounder who gets through the hole quickly, and is especially difficult to bring down when he gets a head of steam. Wimbley is even more of a load, giving the Mustangs two north-south backs who are almost impossible to turn back in short-yardage situations.
Weakness: A game-breaker. No disrespect to Line or Wimbley, but neither is going to unnerve opponents with their wiggle or wheels. A couple of bruisers, they can be caught from behind and strung out to the sidelines. Now that Jared Williams is unlikely to make it back from January’s gruesome broken leg, SMU lacks a homerun hitter out of the backfield, who can get to the edge and really do damage on dump-offs in the passing game.
Outlook: Line is more than just a very good Conference USA back, as some would have you believe. The senior is a terrific offensive weapon, regardless of the league. He keeps the chains moving, and keeps defenses guessing by exploiting wide running lanes when the Mustangs spread things out. Sprinkle in a little Wimbley, and SMU has a powerful running game that nicely complements the quick-hitting passing game.
Unit Rating: 8


The graduations of two of last season’s top three pass-catchers will force the Mustangs to do some quick rebuilding in the receiving corps. The quarterbacks will, however, take solace in the return of senior Darius Johnson, the star at “H”, one of the slot positions. He followed up a breakout sophomore season with an even better junior campaign, catching 79 passes for 1,118 yards and eight touchdowns to earn a spot on the All-Conference USA First Team. Speedy and elusive in the open field, the two-time bowl MVP also has the ball skills to turn an errant throw into an acrobatic and improbable catch.

Joining Johnson on the inside at “Y” will be 6-0, 175-pound junior Jeremy Johnson, who’ll be looking to build on his first season of action. He earned a letter in 2011, mostly off the bench, catching 16 balls for 146 yards and a game-winning touchdown against TCU. A quarterback in high school, he’s still learning the finer points of being on the other end of the passing game.

From “X” receiver, 5-11, 185-pound sophomore Der’rikk Thompson is working to become SMU’s most dangerous weapon on the outside. He was a very pleasant surprise in his first season of action, nudging his way into the rotation to make 30 receptions for 411 yards and three touchdowns. Fueled by track speed, he’ll be doubly tough to corral once he improves his route running, and eliminates his number of drops.

On the opposite flank will be 6-1, 185-pound junior Keenan Holman, a two-time letterwinner. He’s been a little slow to develop on the Hilltop, despite being given opportunities to make plays. He’s actually started seven games—and played in 22—over the last two seasons, but boasts just 14 career receptions for 210 yards and two touchdowns.

The staff is holding its collective breath that some of the untested kids, like sophomore Darius Joseph and redshirt freshmen Ronnell Sims and Arrius Holleman can give the offense some valuable reps off the bench.

Watch Out For … Thompson to gradually emerge into the deep threat that the Mustangs are seeking on the outside. He began to scratch the surface of his potential, feeling his way through an up-and down debut. However, now that he has that season in the vault, and the confidence of the staff, he’s liable to bust out with a 50-catch encore.
Strength: System retention. Now that the Run & Shoot has been in place for five years in Dallas, all of the receivers have been recruited to explicitly fit within the confines of it. All of the receivers should have the playbook and their responsibilities down to a science by now. Whoever doesn’t won’t get on the field.
Weakness: Inconsistency. Yes, the wide receivers have come a long way over the years at SMU, but they still drop too many passes and need to keep improving on their route-running. A lack of consistency was a problem a year ago, but it’s even worse now that the unit sports such a dearth of experience on the two-deep.
Outlook: While Johnson is a sure-thing, this offense requires a lot more than just one receiver to deliver on a consistent basis. The Mustangs will need at least two other pass-catchers to step up, make plays and take some of the pressure off the headliner. Cole Beasley and Terrance Wilkerson served that role a year ago, but neither has any eligibility left. Since SMU is also breaking in a new quarterback as well, chemistry in the passing game might be elusive in the early stages of the season.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Offensive Line

Five up. Five down. If the SMU offense is going to move forward without a hitch, it’ll need to successfully replace each of last year’s starters up front, including two NFL Drafty picks, a daunting task for new assistant Bob Palcic. The coach will have a few veterans with which to work, especially on the right side. RG Blake McJunkin is going to be a very important cog in the rebuilt unit, a three-time letterman, and a veteran of more than two dozen starts. The hard-working 6-2, 300-pounder, though, has a new zip after moving out from center, and must shake off a layer of rust after missing most of 2011 to an ankle injury.

The group’s other three-time letterwinner is RT Bryan Collins, a steady presence off the bench throughout his career. The 6-3, 313-pound senior has started at least two games in each of the last three seasons, showing off the footwork of a quality all-around athlete.

So far, the staff has felt comfortable enough with 6-3, 296-pound redshirt freshman Tyler Lasecki at the pivot to relocate McJunkin, an attempt to get the five best Mustangs on the field. The key recruit from the 2011 class is nasty at the point of contact, adding weight and strength during the offseason to prepare for his promotion.

To the left of Lasecki will be a tale of two very different experience levels. Guard Jordan Free is a senior, and no stranger to the huddle. He’s appeared in 25 games, starting for the first time in 2010 versus Tulane. However, the 6-2, 302-pounder will be asked to do far more this season than at any point in his career.

Left tackle, on the other hand, looks as if it’ll be the responsibility of a youngster, 6-5, 285-pound redshirt freshman Kris Weeks. He’s one of those Mustangs who has a considerable ceiling, but needs someone, like Palcic, to make sure that he reaches it as early in his career as possible.

Off the bench, the only Mustangs with any game experience are 6-4, 275-pound sophomore Ben Hughes and 6-2, 280-pound Jordan Favreau, a converted defensive lineman. Neither player, however, was in on a snap in 2011.

Watch Out For … Lasecki’s snaps. Considering the amount of time that SMU spends in the shotgun formation, the exchange from the center to the quarterback is going to be an underrated component of each play during the season. This process must go smoothly or else the Mustangs’ quest to reverse their turnover woes could go up in smoke.
Strength: The right side. In McJunkin and Collins, SMU can rally around its two seniors up front, both of whom have played a fair amount of football at this level. The Mustangs need a steady hand and veteran leadership from their upperclassmen, and McJunkin and Collins are poised to provide it.
Weakness: Overall talent and experience. No returning starters. No obvious all-star candidates. And no chance that the Mustangs can approach last year’s level of consistency in the trenches. It looks as if SMU will be starting a pair of rookies, which is exciting for the future, but more than a little distressing for the season at hand.
Outlook: Palcic isn’t as important as June Jones this season, but it’s awfully close. The O-line coach was brought over from UCLA to restore some order to a unit that shapes up as the Achilles’ heel of the entire offense. A decline in performance here is inevitable, especially after losing five longtime starters. Plus, depth is a worry that could crop up if injuries begin to mount. The Mustangs will need McJunkin and Collins to provide the leadership as the young kids gradually get comfortable in their new roles.
Unit Rating: 4.5

- 2012 SMU Preview | 2012 SMU Offense
- 2012 SMU Defense | 2012 SMU Depth Chart