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2007 SMU Mustangs

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jan 21, 2008


2007 SMU Mustangs Season Game-By-Game Recaps and More

2007 SMU Mustangs

Recap: What was billed as a bust out year for the Mustangs wound up being just a colossal bust that ended with a single win, a 10-game losing streak, and a vacancy at head coach.  Easily the biggest disappointment in Conference USA, SMU lost five times by a touchdown or less, and was never able to overcome a rebuilt defense that yielded almost 500 yards and 40 points a game.  Although the program severed ties with sixth-year coach Phil Bennett on Oct. 28, it took until early January before athletic director Steve Orsini pried June Jones away from Hawaii.         

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Justin Willis

Defensive Player of the Year: S Bryce Hudman

Biggest Surprise: With a lame duck coach and absolutely nothing but pride to play for in the finale, the Mustangs went toe-to-toe with 6-5 Memphis before falling, 55-52.  The defense was predictably feeble, but the offense cranked out a season-high 564 yards and seven touchdowns in the school’s third overtime loss of the year.    

Biggest Disappointment: In a season crammed with heartbreaking losses, the Oct. 27 loss at Tulsa was especially painful and poignant.  In the last straw for Bennett, the Mustangs failed to punch in the game-sealing score with two minutes left, and allowed the Hurricane to drive the length of the field for the winning touchdown.        

Looking Ahead: What now?  After coming so close to a bowl game in 2006, SMU regressed badly in 2007, finishing 1-11.  There’s hope with the arrival of Jones and the return of the multi-dimensional Willis, but if the Mustangs don’t get more help from the defense, their bowl drought will continue in 2008. 

- 2007 SMU Preview
- 2006 SMU Season

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
7-5
2007 Record:
1-11

Sept. 3 Texas Tech L 49-9
Sept. 8
North Texas W 45-31
Sept. 15 at Ark St L 45-28
Sept. 22 at TCU L 21-7
Sept. 29
UTEP L 48-45 OT
Oct. 13 at So Miss L 28-7
Oct. 20
Tulane L 41-34 OT
Oct. 27 at Tulsa L 29-23
Nov. 4 at Houston L 38-28
Nov. 10
Rice L 43-42
Nov. 17 UCF L 49-20
Nov. 24 at Memphis L 55-52 3OT

Nov. 24
Memphis 55 ... SMU 52 3OT
Memphis stuffed SMU on fourth and goal from the two in the third overtime, and then Matt Reagan ended the thriller with a 32-yard field goal. Reagan had a shot to win it in regulation, but a bobbled snap caused a 32-yard attempt to go wide. The two teams traded field goals in the first overtime, Memphis scored first in the second overtime on Martin Hankins' fourth touchdown pass of the game on a six-yard throw to Greg Hinds, but SMU answered with a one-yard Chris Butler scoring run. The two teams traded punches all game long with SMU's Justin Willis putting on a show with four touchdown passes and a 48-yard touchdown dash. The offenses combined for 1,103 yards of total offense and 49 first downs.
Player of the game: In a losing cause, SMU QB Justin Willis completed 35 of 48 passes for 375 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions, and ran 23 times for 114 yards and a touchdown.
Stat Leaders: SMU - Passing: Justin Willis, 35-48, 375 yds, 4 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Justin Willis, 23-114, 1 TD. Receiving: Emmanuel Sanders, 13-118, 3 TD
Memphis - Passing: Martin Hankins, 30-59, 336 yds, 4 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
T.J. Pitts, 19-110, 1 TD. Receiving: Steven Black, 12-112

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... SMU might have gone down in its final game, but it went down swinging. The offense wasn't a problem as the season went on, but the defense was awful from day one and there was a stunning inability to come up with a key late play in the close games. You don't lose five games by a touchdown or less without having a major fundamental flaw. The little things always proved costly, like 12 penalties against Memphis. If nothing else, Justin Willis showed against the Tigers what kind of a talent he is.

Nov. 17
UCF 49 ... SMU 20
UCF clinched at least a tie for the East title as Khymest Williams took the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and then Kevin Smith did the rest with 177 yards with scoring runs from 22 and 80 yards out. SMU pulled within eight on a 33-yard Thomas Morstead field goal, and then the Knights ended it with a 28-point run highlighted by a 72-yard Johnell Neal interception return for a score. SMU turned it over four times.
Player of the game: UCF RB Kevin Smith ran 20 times for 177 yards and two touchdowns
Stat Leaders: UCF - Passing: Kyle Israel, 11-16, 173 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Kevin Smith, 20-177, 2 TD. Receiving: Rocky Ross, 4-92
SMU - Passing: Justin Willis, 11-24, 112 yds, 2 INT
Rushing:
Cedrick Dorsey, 13-62. Receiving: Columbus Givens, 5-53, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The lousy year just won't end. After coming so close to getting a win over Rice, the Mustangs stunk it up in a blowout loss to UCF with the big problem being the lack of consistent offensive pop. Justin Willis was so effective earlier in his career, and now he can't see to connect on the most basic passes. Playing a pumped up Memphis next week, who needs the win, won't help end the Phil Bennett era on a positive note.

Nov. 10
Rice 43 ... SMU 42
Rice got a 31-yard Clark Fangmeier field goal as time ran out to cap a wild game with 1,030 yards of total offense and 21 penalties. SMU went on a 28 point run with a Justin Willis touchdown run, two scoring passes, and a one-yard Chris Butler run for a 42-27 lead going into the fourth quarter. And then Chase Clement took over, running for scores from eight and six yards out and leading the offense 60 yards in nine plays to put Fanmeier in a position to win the game. Jarett Dillard was unstoppable for the Owls with 13 catches for 128 yards and touchdown catches from 13 and 25 yards out, while Brandon King and Andrew Sendejo each returned interceptions for touchdowns. Zack Sledge caught scoring passes from 21, 15 and six yards out for the Mustangs.
Player of the game: Rice QB Chase Clement completed 35 of 52 passes for 364 yards and two touchdowns and one interception, and ran 12 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns
Stat Leaders: Rice - Passing: Chase Clement, 35-52, 364 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Chase Clement, 12-124, 2 TD. Receiving: Jarett Dillard, 13-128, 2 TD
SMU - Passing: Justin Willis, 13-31, 165 yds, 4 TD, 2 INT
Rushing:
DeMyron Martin, 16-137. Receiving: Zack Sledge, 5-68, 3 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Can things get any worse for SMU? It appeared to have Rice beaten despite giving away two pick-sixes and committing 13 penalties, but even with the running game working, rumbling for 320 yards, the game couldn't be put away. With a fired coach, a 1-9 record, and everything going wrong, how can the season sink any lower? Coming up are UCF and Memphis, two  likely bowl teams. On the flip side, a win over either of the two would be a major plus at the end of a long year.

Nov. 4
Houston 38 ... SMU 28
Houston cranked out 554 yards of total offense, mostly thanks to the running game, overcoming an early 14-7 deficit to go on a 24-point second quarter run to take control of the game, at least for a half. Anthony Alridge ran for a two-yard score, and 36-yard touchdown, and three a 24-yard touchdown pass to Chaz Rodriguez, but the Cougars had to hold on as Justin Willis, who started off the scoring with a four-yard touchdown run, threw three touchdown passes including a 51-yarder and a 21-yarder to Zack Sledge in the third quarter to pull within three. Donnie Avery put it a away for the Cougars on a seven-yard scoring grab early in the fourth.
Player of the game: Houston RB Anthony Alridge ran 31 times for 154 yards and two touchdown and threw a pass for a 24-yard score.
Stat Leaders: SMU - Passing: Justin Willis, 19-32, 351 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Justin Willis, 16-51, 1 TD. Receiving: Emmanuel Sanders, 5-76
Houston - Passing: Case Keenum, 19-27, 264 yds, 2 TD
Rushing:
Anthony Alridge, 31-154, 2 TD. Receiving: Donnie Avery, 10-116, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Justin Willis did all he could do to will SMU into the game against Houston, but the lack of run defense and four turnovers proved to be too much to overcome. The Mustangs have control the clock to be effective, needing to give the defense as much of a break as possible, and Houston held on to the ball for close to 38 minutes. Once again, the Mustangs failed to get much from the running backs with Willis having to do everything. Expect more of the same in a likely shootout with Rice next week.

Oct. 27
Tulsa 29 ... SMU 23
Paul Smith connected with Charles Clay for a 51-yard touchdown pass with 43 seconds to play to go 99 yards in 1:13 for a Tulsa win. Smith threw three scoring passes in the second half, and ran for a seven-yard score in the first, to overcome a 20-7 SMU lead. The Mustangs got three Thomas Morstead field goals from 50, 32 and 52 yards away, and two Justin Willis touchdown passes, but couldn't convert drives into points when needed.
Player of the game: Tulsa QB Paul Smith completed 27 of 45 passes for 336 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions and ran nine times for 27 yards and a score
Stat Leaders: SMU - Passing: Justin Willis, 17-35, 192 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: James Mapps, 14-69. Receiving: Emmanuel Sanders, 6-57, 1 TD
Tulsa - Passing: Paul Smith, 27-45, 336 yds, 3 TD, 2 INT
Rushing:
Tarrion Adams, 16-69. Receiving: Trae Johnson, 11-158, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... And now the Phil Bennett era is over. The Mustangs couldn't come up with a close win this year, having their chances in three games in the last four weeks to pull off wins, but they always seemed to find ways to blow it. Giving up a big pass play for a score to lose to Tulsa was the final straw. The offense didn't get better as the year went on with little in the way of consistency and no running game whatsoever. QB Justin Willis is a great piece to build around, but more weapons need to emerge.

Oct. 20
Tulane 41 ... SMU 34 OT
Matt Forte ran for 342 yards and touchdowns from 77, nine, five yards out, and then in overtime, he scored for a fourth time on a nine-yard dash. SMU's overtime possession went nowhere, as Reggie Scott sacked Justin Willis on the first play, forcing a fumble recovered by the Green Wave. Willis had a huge day, throwing for 354 yards and three touchdowns, with a seven-yard strike to Zack Sledge with eight seconds to play to force overtime. The Green Wave outgained the Mustangs 521 yards to 438.
Player of the game: Tulane RB Matt Forte ran 39 times for 342 yards and four touchdowns
Stat Leaders: SMU - Passing: Justin Willis, 28-36, 354 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: James Mapps, 9-34. Receiving: Columbus Givens, 10-76
Tulane - Passing: Anthony Scelfo, 8-15, 102 yds, 1 TD
Rushing:
Matt Forte, 38-342, 4 TD. Receiving: Jeremy Williams, 5-74, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The Mustangs can't seem to buy a big defensive play. The running game, outside of anything Justin Willis does, continues to be non-existent, and while that's fine against Southern Miss, it's unacceptable against a defense like Tulane's. The Mustang defensive front was awful, getting ripped apart by Matt Forte for the biggest rushing day so far this year, 342 yards. It you liked this shootout, you'll love the next few weeks against Tulsa and Houston. Watch out for SMU to allow well over 1,000 yards in two games.

Oct. 13
Southern Miss 28 ... SMU 7
Southern Miss blew up in the second quarter with 21 points on a 28-yard Shawn Nelson catch, a 19-yard Chris Johnson run, and a three-yard Damion Fletcher score win with ease. Stephen Reaves added a seven-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter. SMU didn't get on the board until late with a 16-yard DeMyron Martin catch. 
Player of the game: Southern Miss RB Damion Fletcher ran 19 times for 108 yards and a touchdown
Stat Leaders: SMU - Passing: Justin Willis, 19-31, 191 yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Justin Willis, 20-85. Receiving: Emmanuel Sanders, 4-47
Southern Miss - Passing: Stephen Reaves, 18-26, 206 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Damion Fletcher, 19-108, 1 TD. Receiving: Shawn Nelson, 5-81, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The offense simply didn't work against Southern Miss. Justin Willis was efficient, but he didn't put any points on the board until it was too late, and he didn't get enough help from the running backs. Now on a four-game losing streak, a win over hapless Tulane is a must to settle things down a bit. At some point, the team has to be consistent. It hasn't had the same game twice in a row.

Sept. 29
UTEP 48 ... SMU 45 OT
UTEP answered SMU's overtime field goal with the third Marcus Thomas touchdown run of the day barreling in from ten yards out to complete the comeback. Down 42-28 in the fourth, the Miners got two Trevor Vittatoe touchdown passes, the second coming on a nine-yard strike to Jake Sears with seven seconds to play to force overtime. This was the second major Miner comeback of the game, with Lorne Sam running for two third quarter touchdowns, and Thomas running it in from 11 yards out, as part of a 21-point run to overcome an early 28-7 deficit. SMU got two James Mapps touchdown runs, a 50-yard Cedrick Dorsey dash, and a 23-yard interception return for a touchdown from Wilton McCray, but the defense couldn't hold down the UTEP running game. The two teams combined for 1,074 yards of total offense, with UTEP running for 308.
Player of the game: UTEP RB Marcus Thomas rushed for 207 yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries.
Stat Leaders: UTEP - Passing: Trevor Vittatoe, 17-33, 255 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Rushing: Marcus Thomas, 35-207, 3 TDs. Receiving: Lorne Sam, 5-88
SMU - Passing: Justin Willis, 15-28, 259 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Rushing:
James Mapps, 26-149, 2 TDs. Receiving: Emmanuel Sanders, 6-95
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... A week after a nice defensive performance in the loss to TCU, the SMU D went into the tank against UTEP, failing to hold two big leads, and doing nothing to slow down the Miner ground game. The Mustangs were able to move the ball, as well, but UTEP was able to go on the bigger, time-killing drives, especially in the second half, with no one from the SMU defense making a big play to stop the momentum. The season is quickly becoming a disaster, and now a trip to Southern Miss is up next.

Sept. 22
TCU 21 ... SMU 7
The TCU offense only managed 250 yards, but the defense and special teams came through, as Bart Johnson returned a blocked punt for a first quarter touchdown and Robert Henson took a Justin Willis pass 58 yards for a score. The Horned Frog offense had one good drive, going 78 yards in 16 plays with Marcus Jackson hitting Derek Moore for a 15-yard score, but that was it. SMU scored first on a DeMyron Martin 15- yard touchdown run, but wasn't able to get on the board the rest of the way.
Player of the game: TCU DE Chase Ortiz made seven tackles with two sacks.
Stat Leaders: TCU - Passing: Marcus Jackson, 6-12, 68 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Aaron Brown, 11-92. Receiving: Jimmy Young, 3-25
SMU - Passing: Justin Willis, 19-34, 203 yds, 1 INT
Rushing:
DeMyron Martin, 19-100, 1 TD. Receiving: Emmanuel Sanders, 7-98
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Positive sign time. SMU might have lost to TCU, but the defense came up with its best performance of the year by far, and DeMyron Martin and the running game finally got going. Only cranking out seven points isn't a plus, and there should be more production after holding on to the ball for over 36 minutes, but this wasn't as bad a loss as it might seem. Now the team has to right the ship and come up with a win over UTEP to kick the Conference USA season off right.

Sept. 15
Arkansas State 45 ... SMU 28
Arkansas State exploded for 21 first quarter points on two Corey Leonard touchdown runs and a Reggie Arnold score from one yard out. SMU bounced back with two Justin Willis touchdown passes in the second quarter, but spent the rest of the game trying to play catchup. Leonard connected with Chris Miller for a six-yard touchdown on the first drive of the second half, but SMU kept it close with a Willis ten-yard scoring pass to Emmanuel Sanders. Then ASU was able to overcome its mistakes and put it away with a 17-point run helped by a third Leonard rushing touchdown and a 12-yard catch from David Johnson.
Player of the game: Arkansas State QB Corey Leonard completed 22 of 34 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns with an interception and ran 20 times for 52 yards and three scores
Stat Leaders: SMU - Passing: Justin Willis, 21-40, 251 yds, 4 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Justin Willis, 14-88 yds. Receiving: Emmanuel Sanders, 8-100, 1 TD
Arkansas State - Passing: Corey Leonard, 22-34, 266 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Reggie Arnold, 19-156, 1 TD. Receiving: Levi Dejohnette, 6-77

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... SMU is falling into the same patterns over and over again. The running game and defense are each failing at the same time, so the offense has to constantly rely on Justin Willis to throw the ball, and the ground attack is never able to be established. The D hasn't been even close so far despite generating excellent pressure on Arkansas State last week. Eventually, someone will have to help Justin Willis, and the defense will have to figure out a way to slow down teams that can hit the short to midrange pass. Otherwise, things will get far, far worse as the schedule gets tougher.

Sept. 8
SMU 45 ... North Texas 31
In a wild game with the two teams combining for 954 passing yards and 1,147 yards of total offense, North Texas QB Daniel Meager threw for 601 yards and three touchdowns, with Casey Fitzgerald catching 18 passes for 327 yards and two touchdowns and Brandon Jackson catching ten passes for 133 yards and a touchdown ... in a loss. SMU's Justin Willis was unstoppable with two touchdown passes and 82 rushing yards, with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Zack Sledge breaking a 31-31 tie late in the fourth quarter. North Texas had one last shot and was driving, but Bryce Hudman picked off a Meager pass and took it 49 yards for a score. The two teams traded long, quick scoring drives all game long, with UNT getting touchdown grabs from 25 and 26 yards out from Fitzgerald, and SMU getting help from two James Mapps touchdown runs along with a one-yard DeMyron Martin dash.
Player of the game ... SMU QB Justin Willis completed 30 of 42 passes for 353 yards and two touchdowns with an interception and ran ten times for 82 yards
Stat Leaders: North Texas - Passing: Daniel Meager, 46-64, 601 yds, 3 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Micah Mosley, 12-39, 1 TD  Receiving: Casey Fitzgerald, 18-327, 2 TD
SMU - Passing: Justin Willis, 30-42, 353 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Justin Willis, 10-82   Receiving: Emmanuel Sanders, 10-72, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... O.K., so SMU is going to have problems against the pass. After being bombed on by Texas Tech, North Texas cranked out 601 yards of passing offense, but Justin Willis was steady enough to keep the Mustang offense moving, and the defense came up with the one clutch stop it had to have to seal the win. The running game has to be more than just Willis. DeMyron Martin had his moments, but for the second straight game, there weren't enough of them.

Sept. 1
Texas Tech 49 ... SMU 9
SMU had no hope of stopping the Red Raider offense as Graham Harrell started off the scoring with a one yard run and threw four touchdown passes on the way to a 35-6 lead after three quarters. Michael Crabtree scored from one, 42, and two yards out, while Shannon Woods ran for two short scores in the fourth quarter. The Mustangs were only able to manage three Thomas Morestead field goals.
Player of the game ... Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell completed 44 of 59 passes for 419 yards and four touchdowns and ran one time for a one-yard score
Stat Leaders: Texas Tech - Passing: Graham Harrell, 44-59, 419 yds, 4 TD
Rushing: Shannon Woods, 10-45, 2 TD  Receiving: Michael Crabtree, 12-106, 3 TD
SMU - Passing: Justin Wilis, 15-33, 135 yds, 2 INT
Rushing:
Justin Willis, 14-40   Receiving: Zack Sledge, 4-64

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... SMU didn't have a prayer of beating Texas Tech after it was established early on that it didn't have any sort of a pass rush. Tech QB Graham Harrell got ten days to throw, and he picked the Mustangs apart. Offensively, SMU was totally unable to push the passing game deep, while Justin Willis wasn't consistent enough on short to midrange passes. Fortunately, North Texas and Arkansas State are up next to tune things up.

Sept. 3 - Texas Tech
Offense: On the surface, there might appear to be a world of problems. The quarterback situation is allegedly up for grabs, the star running back practiced like he was too secure and got booted to third string, almost all the top receivers are gone, and four starters have to be replaced on the line. Don't shed too many tears. Graham Harrell had a great spring and will be the staring quarterback once again, Shannon Woods will get back in everyone's good graces this fall and be a top back, and Michael Crabtree might be the best receiver the program has had in several years. Of course, it all goes kaput if the line doesn't come together quickly, but Mike Leach and his coaching staff have dealt with worse. There might be question marks, but there's also a whole bunch of talented prospects. This will be one of the nation's five best passing offenses once again, but it might not be consistent.
Defense: This D will be a major part in several shootouts, and not in a good way. The secondary will be the strength, and it's not even close, with a pair of all-star safeties in Darcel McBath and Joe Garcia, along with star corner Chris Parker. The front seven is a major problem, especially the defensive line, with no depth and only one starter returning. The linebacking corps isn't all that big, but it's fast and should be good in time. Expect good running teams to be able to rumble at will.

Sept. 8 - North Texas
Offense: The offense hasn't moved the ball in two years finishing 117th in the nation last season in yards and 115th in scoring. The look of the attack will change dramatically as new head coach Todd Dodge will incorporate his spread attack in an attempt to get something going. The backfield is solid with RB Jamario Thomas leading the way and a slew of veteran, yet mediocre quarterbacks returning. The receiving corps will need a while to jell with all the talent in the incoming freshman class, while the line will be a major problem early on.
Defense: The defense improved dramatically after making a drastic move to the 3-4. Now it'll go back to a traditional 4-3 and hope the overall experience and depth will pay off with more big plays after forcing just 14 turnovers. The linebackers will be solid with the return of Maurice Holman, Brandon Monroe and Derek Mendoza, while Aaron Weathers anchors a secondary that should be better in time. Generating a pass rush from the front four is a must, but Jeremiah Chapman will be a good end to work around.


Sept. 15 – at Arkansas State
Offense: Run, run and run some more. At least that's what ASU has done over the last several years, and it has the talent in the backfield to do it again with speedy quarterback Corey Leonard leading a loaded group of runners with several great backs to hand off to. Reggie Arnold is the best of the bunch, but he's one of just four good options to carry the load. Two problems with what ASU likes to do. 1. The line needs major revamping losing three key players and 2) the receiving corps might be the team's second biggest strength behind the running backs. The underutilized corps has speed to burn, but Leonard couldn't get them the ball on a consistent basis last season. That has to quickly change.
Defense: It's all up to the defensive line. The linebacking corps, despite some huge losses, will be surprisingly solid with Koby McKinnon returning with plenty of help around him. The safeties are tremendous with Tyrell Johnson and Khayyam Burns each on the fast track to All-Sun Belt honors. The corners are deep and potentially a major strength of the defense. And then there's the line, which has to figure out how to get to the quarterback at some point. The return of Brian Flagg and Brandon Rollins from injuries will be a huge boost. The 4-3 alignment works, and it should produce the league's best statistical pass defense.


Sept. 22 – at TCU
Offense: This won't be the offense of last year that finished second in the Mountain West in yards and scoring, but it won't be bad as long as there isn't a major injury problem among the starters. The line should be the strength with three returning starters and experience to count on at the other spots. Aaron Brown is about to shine now that he doesn't have to split carries. He'll be the do-it-all back who'll be the offense until the passing game, which struggled mightily in spring, comes around. The receiving corps has potential, but it needs Donald Massey to become a number one target, and it needs the quarterback situation to be settled with Marcus Jackson, who'll likely win the job, battling with Andy Dalton.
Defense:
The Horned Frogs finished second in the nation in total defense, third in scoring defense, and led the Mountain West in several top categories. It'll be a total shock if they weren't even better. The only possible problems will come if injuries strike. Nine starters return, led by all-star ends Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz, who make life easy for everyone else on the defense with the pressure they provide. The 4-2-5 has four good linebackers, an amazing group of safeties, rising stars at corner, and a good, active line. The only potential issue is a lack of raw bulk at tackle, but that's looking for a problem.

Sept. 29 - UTEP
Offense: The offense continued to be one-sided finishing fifth in the nation in passing and 116th in rushing, and now things will make a shift back the other way, although not necessarily for the positive. A battle for the quarterback job will continue until the fall, but the running game should be set with Marcus Thomas ready to break out as on of Conference USA's best backs. However, he needs room to move behind a line that has to be night-and-day better than last year when it struggled to pound away.
Defense:
The Miners melted down over the second half of last season and needs to be far more productive with nine starters returning. Don't expect miracles, but unlike previous years, the D should be better as the season goes on. The defense was miserable last season despite getting a consistent pass rush from the front seven. Now the whole line needs to find replacements while the linebacking corps has to hope for Jeremy Jones to be healthy after a knee injury. The secondary should be a strength after a rough year with safeties Quintin Demps and Braxton Amy potential all-stars, while Josh Ferguson is a solid corner.

Oct. 13 – at Southern Miss
Offense: While it’s become fashionable for programs across the country to switch to some fancy derivative of the spread offense, Southern Miss is content to pound the ball on the ground, control the clock and let its defense win games.  Sure, the Eagles prefer balance, but in Hattiesburg, the run continues to set up the pass.  Last year’s league-leading rusher, sophomore Damion Fletcher, is back for an encore, and this time, he brought friends.  Southern Miss is deep in the backfield, which will take pressure off versatile, yet erratic, senior quarterback Jeremy Young.  His favorite target will again be tight end Shawn Nelson, a future pro with All-America potential.  For a change, there are restless moments about an offensive line that’s replacing three starters, two of which were First Team All-Conference USA in 2006.
Defense: The “Nasty Bunch” defense that’s become the trademark of Southern Miss football under Jeff Bower should be one of the nation’s top ranked units in 2007.  It’s fast and experienced, and if Bower gets his way, about to become as physical as his vintage teams of the late 1990s.  The Eagles return nine starters, including the entire front seven and five players that earned all-Conference USA recognition in 2006.  Good luck moving the ball on this veteran group.  If there’s a weak link on defense it’s in the secondary, where two new starting corners will be broken in.  One way to help rookies Eddie Willingham and Michael McGee will be to get more pressure on the quarterback than last year, when USM was No. 81 in the country in sacks.

Oct. 20 - Tulane
Offense: New head coach Bob Toledo would like to get vertical get the passing game moving, but it's not going to happen at the expense of the ground attack. With a good back in Matt Forte to work with, the Green Wave will try to run the ball to create some semblance of balance, but the offensive line might not be in place to do it. Scott Elliott is the odds-on favorite to win the starting quarterback job in a four-man race, and he has some decent young receivers to work with.
Defense: Tulane hasn't played consistent defense in a few years, and it needs to count on experience, especially up front, to change things around. Eight starters return led by senior tackles Frank Morton and Avery Williams. The secondary needs to be far better after allowing over 250 passing yards a game, but that could be a bit of an issue with two new starting corners being broken in. The new coaching staff will use a variety of formations and schemes to try to get more production, and while the overall defense should be better, there will still be times when it'll get bombed on.


Oct. 27 – at Tulsa
Offense: Can Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense really work at this level … take two.  All the buzz about Malzahn’s fancy playbook fizzled in Fayetteville last year, but unlike at Arkansas, Tulsa coach Tood Graham is on board and prepared to see all of the offense’s bell and whistles.  The system aims to control the tempo, physically and mentally wear out opponents, and sort of run a two-minute offense for four quarters.  Senior quarterback Paul Smith is liable to go berserk running this offense, but a makeshift offensive line and a whole new set of receivers will be two major stumbling blocks.  When the Hurricane runs the ball, it’ll turn to senior Courtney Tennial and junior Tarrion Adams, arguably the best running duo in Conference USA.   
Defense: Head coach Todd Graham brings the 3-3-5 and a very aggressive style back to Tulsa, where he led the defense from 2003-2005.  The fact that he coached and recruited many of this year’s players should make for a smoother-than-expected transition.  Graham will showcase a swarming unit that brings turnovers back to Tulsa.  In his final season as the defensive coordinator, the Hurricane had 36 takeaways.  Without him last year? 14.  The strength is at linebacker, which features three senior starters and Nelson Coleman, one of the nation’s best middle linebackers you’ve never seen play.  With so much over pursuing going on in 2007, a retooled secondary could give up as many big plays this year as it has in the last two combined.

Nov. 4 – at Houston
Offense: The graduation of four-year starting quarterback Kevin Kolb signals a new era in Houston, but it doesn’t mean the Cougars will be inept on offense in 2007.  There’s too much explosiveness and veteran leadership for that to happen.  Last year’s backup, sophomore Blake Joseph, is expected to get the nod at quarterback.  He’s got a huge arm and about as much fear as he does experience.  Surrounding Joseph will be a half-dozen players that earned all-league honors last year, headed by senior running back Anthony Alridge, one of the nation’s fastest players.
Defense: Defensive coordinator Alan Weddell’s goal is to bring pressure from every angle and invent ways to get as much speed as possible on the field.  With that in mind, he’ll be installing some elements of a 4-2-5 package in 2007 to periodically get an athletic rover into the mix.  The personnel is deep and reliable, especially with a front seven that includes dynamic junior end Phillip Hunt and a couple of all-league linebackers in junior Cody Lubojasky and senior Trent Allen.  If senior safety Rocky Schwartz is all the way back from knee surgery and the corners hold up, the pieces are in place for this to be Conference USA’s stingiest defense.

Nov. 10 - Rice
Offense: Todd Graham and his staff are gone, but the spread attack is alive and well at Rice, good news for an offense that returns its starting quarterback and All-American wide receiver.  Although Chase Clement to Jarett Dillard will be a familiar phrase this fall, the Owls are also developing a bunch of good-looking, young pass-catchers that are ready to contribute.  The quest for offensive balance, however, won’t be so easy now that underappreciated running back Quinton Smith has exhausted his eligibility.  Last year was a painful transition for the offensive line, but with four starters back and a full year in the system, there are no excuses for not being much better in pass protection.   
Defense: In an attempt to bolster a run defense that allowed more than 300 yards to five straight opponents in 2006, Rice is shifting from the 3-3-5 to the 4-2-5.  The move puts another big body in the box, but also puts an enormous burden on a line that lost three of last year’s best linemen to graduation.  The new scheme encourages constant pressure from a back seven that boasts the young athletes, such as junior linebacker Brian Raines and sophomore safety Andrew Sendejo, to create havoc for opposing quarterbacks.  Lost in last year’s statistically awful season was the fact that the opportunistic Owls paced Conference USA in turnovers and sacks.

Nov. 17 - UCF
Offense: Quarterback Steven Moffett and premier receiver Mike Walker have graduated, so logic dictates the Knights will lean on junior Kevin Smith for a while.  He’s as good as any back in the league when he’s healthy, and has the luxury of four starting linemen returning.  Don’t expect any drop-off from Moffett to senior Kyle Israel.  In fact, the veteran of 16 games and five starts was so sharp down the stretch in 2006, some around the program feel he could be even better running the pro-style offense if a couple of the young receivers emerge.
Defense: Nothing typified UCF’s collapse in 2006 more than the shoddy play of the defense, which finished 106th nationally and allowed almost 30 points a game.  The secondary was a particular mess, prompting George O’Leary to open up the competition at every spot, despite the return of four starters.  The coach had a chance to take the wrappers off some of his young kids late last year, which will benefit players, such as tackles Torrell Johnson and Travis Timmons and end Jared Kirksey, this season.  More than anything else, the Knights are looking to improve their team speed after looking a step slow throughout the 2006 season.

Nov. 24 – at Memphis
Offense: The offense had its moments, but it was consistently mediocre and not nearly explosive enough. The ground game struggled behind a bad offensive line, and now the hope fill be for Joseph Doss to get more room behind a more experienced front five. The passing attack should shine, led by veteran quarterback Martin Hankins and the usual array of tall, athletic Tiger receivers. Duke Calhoun is a rising star touchdown maker, while Earnest Williams is a solid target to keep the chains moving.
Defense: A disaster last year, especially against the pass and at getting into the backfield, the defense is undergoing an almost complete overhaul with several newcomers taking over for established veterans. The 4-3 needs to start making more big plays behind the line, and the hope will be for a steady rotation of players to keep everyone fresh and be more productive. The key will be the play of corners LaKeitharun Ford and Michael Grandberry, who need to beef up a secondary that allowed 231 yards per game and finished 116th in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

 

 

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