2013 SMU Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - SMU Mustang Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: What is wrong with the Run N' Shoot? By now, shouldn't head coach June Jones have the Mustangs among the nation's most prolific offenses? He hasn't. In fact, SMU has been ranked in the top 50 nationally in total offense just once in the last five years, and was an unacceptable No. 90 in 2012. In an effort to find answers, Jones hired pioneering "Air Raid" mastermind Hal Mumme as an assistant coach. The Mustangs had occasional outbursts in 2012, such as the 72-42 rout of Houston, but they were largely inconsistent. The cover boy of that inconsistency was Texas transfer QB Garrett Gilbert, who was a flop in his Dallas debut. He threw as many picks as touchdowns, stalled in the red zone and didn't click with an up-and-down corps of receivers. Yet another former Longhorn has entered the discussion on the Hilltop. RB Traylon Shead has shown the power and the quickness to not just start, but also ably replace departed star back Zach Line.
Star of the offense: Senior WR Jeremy Johnson
Passing: Garrett Gilbert
268-506, 2,932 yds, 15 TDs, 15 INTs
Rushing: Garrett Gilbert
94 carries, 346 yds, 8 TDs
Receiving: Jeremy Johnson
67 catches, 679 yds, 3 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior QB Garrett Gilbert
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore C Taylor Lasecki
Best pro prospect: Johnson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Johnson, 2) Junior RB Traylon Shead, 3) Gilbert
Strength of the offense: The passing game, power backs
Weakness of the offense: Inefficiency at quarterback, inconsistency of receivers, rebuilt O-line, red-zone scoring
Garrett Gilbert wasn't right in Austin. So far, he hasn't been especially crisp in Dallas either. It seemed like a match made in fantasy football heaven. The 6-4, 223-pound former five-star Texas transfer teaming up with the mastermind of the Run N' Shoot offense—fail-proof, right? Uh-uh. Not if the triggerman doesn't execute. And Gilbert didn't execute in his first season on the Hilltop. In fact, he was downright shaky with his throws, finishing 268-of-506 for 2,932 yards, 15 touchdowns and 15 picks. A passer rating of 105 is wholly unacceptable, especially for head coach June Jones. Gilbert did rush for 346 yards and eight scores, which went somewhat overlooked. And he went the final five regular-season games without throwing an interception, so there's hope that the system is gradually sinking in.
The Ponies are excited about the future of 6-3, 207-pound redshirt freshman Neal Burcham, one of the gems of the 2012 recruiting class. The projected backup came to Dallas off of an ACL tear suffered in high school, and took it slow last fall. This past spring, he began flashing some of the sharp throwing skills that helped earn him co-MVP of the Elite 11 camp two years ago.
Watch Out For … Burcham to lurk behind Gilbert like a dark shadow. The former is the future at the controls of the pass-happy attack, while the latter has spent the offseason working hard on his accuracy. If Gilbert fails to evolve properly in the first half of the year, Jones is liable to get a head start on the Burcham era during the second half of the season.
Strength: Experience. The Mustangs are in better shape behind center, mainly because Gilbert now has a full year running the offense, and because Burcham is no longer a rookie coming off a knee injury. Oh, and strong-armed JUCO transfer Austin Kent adds even more depth to the quarterback picture.
Weakness: Accuracy. Gilbert is the starter until Jones says otherwise, and the quarterback did a poor job of finding his receivers in 2012. He completed just 53% of his passes, and threw as many picks as touchdowns, largely against Conference USA defenses. How will Gilbert stack up now that the level of competition is increasing?
Outlook: Gilbert was supposed to ignite the passing game last year, his first since leaving the Longhorns. It just never happened. Now that it's Year 2 in the system, he'll have no more excuses. Gilbert has to operate the offenses with more efficiency, delivering the ball on the mark to the Mustangs' receivers. If he fails to rebound, SMU won't hesitate to give Burcham his first opportunity to declare that the future at quarterback has arrived.
Unit Rating: 5.5
SMU is without Zach Line, the reigning Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year and one of the best backs in school history. Yet, there's hope that the running game won't skip a beat in 2013. Junior Traylon Shead, the former four-star recruit of Texas and Navarro (Tex.) College transfer, has already ascended to the top of the depth chart. The 6-2, 230-pounder is drawing comparisons to the bullish Line since both are powerful, deceptively quick and versatile enough to remain on the field on third downs. This is the end of the line for Shead, who desperately wants to prove that he's not a bust from the 2010 class.
One Line, Zach, is in Minnesota, trying to make the Vikings squad. But another, Prescott, remains in Dallas. Redshirt freshman Prescott Line, Zach's younger brother, is charging hard toward the backup job with the Mustangs. Blue-collar, no-nonsense backs apparently run in the family, because the 6-0, 233-pound rookie motors on the ground as if he's looking for a defender to bury.
Watch Out For … Shead to make the most of his new lease on life. The junior has the talent and the motivation to reintroduce himself to fans who lost track of his whereabouts. He's also playing in a system that affords its backs wide running lanes with which to navigate.
Strength: Power backs. Zach Line may be gone, but the Mustangs are still going to extremely tough to stop in short yardage. Shead and Prescott Line both weigh at least 230 pounds, with the attitude and the leg drive to drag opposing tacklers closer to the first-down markers.
Weakness: A breakaway back. No disrespect to Shead or Line, but neither is going to win a lot of foot races with defensive backs en route to the end zone. While both are quality between-the-tackles runners, SMU still lacks that one back who can take a handoff or a short toss and turn it into an electrifying gallop for six.
Outlook: Although Line will certainly be missed, the signing of Shead will help make for a smoother transition, as SMU begins life with an ex-Longhorn dominated backfield. The bruising junior is in the right situation to shine immediately as the complement to the passing game. Depth is something that ought to be watched, especially since Shead hasn't had to carry the load for a full season since his senior year of high school in 2009.
Unit Rating: 6
With two of last year's top three pass-catchers returning, the Mustangs are hoping that a seasoned corps of wide receivers can help elevate the play of the quarterbacks. The cover boy at "Y" is senior Jeremy Johnson, who caught a team-high 67 balls for 679 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-0, 179-pound former high school quarterback has evolved into a dangerous slot receiver, using his speed and quickness in the open field to maximize short routes. Johnson is QB Garrett Gilbert's safety net, the player he's most likely to target when he's in trouble.
Johnson has the slot covered, but SMU is looking for more production from the outside receivers. Enter 5-11, 190-pound junior Der'rikk Thompson, who's hoping to assert himself after being underutilized for much of 2012. Yeah, part of the poor showing was his doing, but the Mustangs need to find new ways to get the ball in the hands of one of their fastest players. With a monster season predicted last fall, he only caught 41 balls for 535 yards and four touchdowns. As long as Thompson can press the wrinkles of his game, the staff will work to increase his output.
At the offense's other outside position, "Z", senior Keenan Holman is on the verge of locking down the job. He's played a lot of football for the Mustangs, starting at least three games in each of the last three seasons, yet he's still not as polished as the team would like. Fast and well-sized at 6-1, 185 pounds, he only managed to catch 25 balls for 311 yards and two scores in 2012.
Sophomore Darius Joseph is attempting to become the youngest member of the starting lineup, the complement to Johnson in the slot at "H" receiver. The 6-0, 195-pound playmaker appeared in 10 games off the bench last season, collecting the first seven catches of his career for 70 yards.
Watch Out For … Kenneth Acker to continue his quest to become a two-way player. Better known as an all-star cornerback, Acker made cameos at "Y" receiver this spring in an effort to help the troops. He's got plenty to learn, but he's also smart and so athletic that he's capable of pulling off this moonlighting thing in the summer.
Strength: Speed. Purely in terms of the jets and straight-line speed, SMU could have the fastest corps of receivers in the American Athletic Conference in 2013. All of the projected can fly, and most of them have stints as track men in their past. The Mustangs don't do a lot of deep drops, but if the quarterbacks get time in the pocket, they're liable to find one of their targets streaking behind the secondary.
Weakness: General inconsistency. From drops, bad routes and poor communication with the quarterback, the wide receivers had a rough year in 2012. Change is possible, but not likely when most of the parts are the same. This group has ample physical ability, but now needs to couple it with improved execution.
Outlook: Now that June Jones and his Run N' Shoot system have grown deep roots, shouldn't SMU be more reliable in the receiving corps? Last season was a major disappointment, one that needs to go in the rear view mirror as quickly as possible. The Mustangs are raw and lack depth, meaning incoming rookies, such as Jeremiah Gaines will get a chance to play right away. Yeah, Gilbert needs to sharpen his passing skills, but it'll help immensely if he can get more support from his targets.
Unit Rating: 5.5
SMU did not have a good year up front in 2012. And now it's rebuilding around just a pair of returning starters. One of those returning regulars is 6-5, 293-pound senior Ben Gottschalk, the team's left tackle. After doing a respectable job of keeping the pocket clean in his first season as a regular, he's being counted on for improved blocking and more vocal leadership.
The Mustangs' other returning starter is 6-3, 296-pound sophomore Tyler Lasecki, who's showing signs of someday becoming a rare four-year starter in the trenches. The key recruit from the 2011 class is feisty at the point of contact, adding weight and strength during each of the last two offseasons. Lasecki started every game of 2012, growing in confidence and skill as the campaign unfolded.
It looks as if the staff will go with a first-timer at the other tackle opening on the right side. Redshirt freshman Seaver Myers held a lead on 6-6, 286-pound classmate Chase Walling at the close of spring. Myers is a 6-6, 290-pound riser, with the potential to start in 2013 before supplanting Gottschalk at left tackle in 2014. The coveted 2012 recruit played in practice well toward the end of his first season, though the staff held off burning his redshirt.
On the inside, SMU is growing increasingly confident in 6-4, 287-pound Sam Rice at left guard. He flashed steady growth as a true freshman in 2012, almost cracking the lineup once injuries occurred.
In order to fill the opening at right guard, the staff has decided to shift 6-5, 310-pound Kris Weeks inside for the first time in his brief Mustangs career. The sophomore was a backup left tackle in 2012, starting the Week 2 win over Stephen F. Austin. However, while he looks like a tackle, he's better suited to having help on both sides.
Watch Out For … the role of newcomer Thomas Ashcraft. The 6-5, 315-pound guard announced in early June that he'd be leaving Texas for SMU for one final chance to start. Highly-regarded coming out of high school, he played in 35 games for the Longhorns, but never made much of an impact on offense.
Strength: The future. The staff has recruited the position well, and expects to reap the benefits in 2013 and beyond. The two-deep is brimming with young and athletic blockers, all of whom expects to continue blossoming as they add weight and gain more experience on Saturdays.
Weakness: Overall talent and experience. Two returning starters. No obvious all-star candidates. And the memory of last year's squad, which ranked 93rd nationally in rushing offense and 97th in sacks allowed. The line's future may be bright, but the present is going to be somewhat shaky at the line of scrimmage.
Outlook: The offensive line will need to mature in a hurry, because it'll face a higher level of competition in the AAC than it did in Conference USA. The good news is that the Mustangs' two returning starters play integral positions, left tackle and center. The concern, of course, is that seven members of the two-deep could be underclassmen in 2013, including a bunch of raw freshmen.
Unit Rating: 5
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