New season looking up for Mustang Football
Published: Saturday, June 4, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 17:11
A cultural change was what SMU expected when they hired former NFL and Hawaii head football coach, June Jones, in 2008. Considered by many as the potential savior of Mustang football, Jones' first season definitely did not go as planned as SMU posted a woeful 1-11 record.
But three years later it's all finally starting to come together. SMU is coming off consecutive bowl game appearances for the first time since 1984, and Jones and his stampede of Mustangs finally have students, the city of Dallas and the nation believing that there is life after death.
With 10 starters returning on offense including junior quarterback Kyle Padron, Jones' pass-happy run-n-shoot scheme has all the essential pieces required to have this offense firing on all cylinders. After two years of learning and mastering the system, Padron is ready to step up as the true leader of this team.
The Southlake, Texas native took over as SMU's starting field general as a true freshman in the eighth game of the 2009 season and led the Mustangs to a 5-1 record down the stretch including a 45-10 thrashing of Nevada in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, where he was named MVP after passing for 460 yards and two touchdowns. Padron's first season as a full-time starter last year saw him set school-records in passing yards (3828), total yards (4072), touchdowns (31), completions (302) and attempts (508), which earned him All-Conference USA honorable mention honors.
Padron is loaded with a plethora of talented receivers led by junior Darius Johnson, who is the leading candidate to step up as SMU's big play wide out.
Johnson will be filling the big shoes left behind by his mentor Aldrick Robinson, who was selected by the Washington Redskins in the sixth round of this year's NFL draft. Johnson is embracing the role after a solid sophomore campaign that featured a season-high 152 receiving yards in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Returning alongside Johnson is senior Cole Beasley, who was a lethal weapon out of the slot last season. The pair teamed up to haul in 165 receptions, a single-season tandem record.
In 2010, SMU bolstered its offensive production by adding a facet of the game previously unheard of in Jones' pass-first offenses, the run. The ground game came in the form of bulldozing running back Zach Line. The junior finished ranked 11th in the country with 1,494 yards rushing and added 10 touchdowns en route to earning first-team Conference USA accolades.
Line can expect to have an even better season in 2011 as the Mustangs return all five starters on the offensive line. The big boys up front are perhaps the strongest position group SMU has to offer and are anchored by seniors Kelvin Beachum Jr. and Blake McJunkin. McJunkin was recently named to the watch list for the 2011 Rimington Trophy, which is presented annually to the most outstanding center in college football.
Defensively, the Mustangs return eight starters and are led by senior safety Chris Banjo. Banjo totaled 92 tackles and two interceptions while sporting the number 23, which is presented to a deserving student-athlete in honor of SMU's Jerry LeVias, the first African-American scholarship athlete in the Southwest Conference.
Surprisingly, the strength of the SMU defense is not the secondary but rather the defensive line. The trio of Taylor Thompson, Marquis Frazier and Margus Hunt has become an unstoppable force up front in the Mustangs' base 3-4 alignment.
The biggest change on the defensive side of the ball will come at linebacker, where the Mustangs lost senior leaders Youri Yenga and Pete Fleps to graduation. Nevertheless, SMU does bring back Taylor "Tank" Reed and Ja'Gared Davis, who led the team in tackles (145) and sacks (9), respectively.
With tons of experience coming back on both sides of the ball, a coaching staff that is second to none and the signing of their finest recruiting class this century, the Mustangs are completely capable of winning their first conference title since 1984 as well as making a third straight bowl game appearance.
SMU will take on Texas A&M in the 2011 season opener on Sept. 4 in College Station. The game will be broadcast live at 6:30 p.m. in front of a national television audience on Fox Sports Net.