Texas Tech head man Kliff Kingsbury coached against SMU five straight years before coming home to West Texas, so he’s very familiar with this team. While addressing the assembled media on Monday morning, the first-year head coach offered up a little bit of detail on what it’s like to prepare for this game.
“We know the type of challenge we’re up against.”
Ok, so maybe that isn’t very much information, but Kingsbury isn’t exactly a talker. For now, let’s look at what we know about SMU.
Kingsbury also talked about how good the SMU defense is at taking the ball away. Not only that, but taking it away and scoring touchdowns.
“Coach Mason’s an incredible defensive coordinator; he’s always given us trouble with his schemes,” Kingsbury said. “We’ll attack what the defense gives us. If we can run it that first drive we’ll run it, if we have to throw it we’ll throw it.”
Last year, defensive coordinator Tom Mason put together a great defense. The Mustangs completely shut out their opponent on two different occasions, thanks in large part to six interceptions returned for touchdowns. But the Mustangs have to replace four of their five best defenders from a year ago, the one leftover being Kenneth Acker, arguably one of the best cornerbacks in the country. The real concern is with the front seven, where former standouts like Margus Hunt, Torlan Pittman and Taylor Reed are absent due to graduation. But if SMU can reload and the coaching hits home, they’ll be tough on guys like Tech’s Bradley Marquez.
“They play with great technique, they’re not going to beat themselves, so we’ve got to go out their a really execute our plays,” Marquez said.
If I’m SMU, I’m playing to the strength of the defense, which is forcing turnovers in the secondary. I think the emphasis will be on taking away Tech’s ability to run the ball, and I think coach Mason stacks the tackle box and brings five or six guys at a time on any given play, forcing a true freshman to beat them with his arm. If the Mustangs have enough talent in the secondary to go one-on-one with guys like Eric Ward and Jace Amaro, then it’ll be a very long night for Baker/Davis.
SMU could do a couple different things on offense this season. Hal Mumme, passing game coordinator for SMU and Air Raid innovator, likes to put the emphasis on the quarterback, allowing him to go through read progressions and find the open receiver among several. June Jones, sixth-year head coach of the Mustangs is a proponent of the run and shoot, where receivers are allowed several different options in route running. The receiver and the quarterback read the same coverage, both make adjustments accordingly, and the quarterback gets the ball out quickly. Regardless of style, two-year starter for the Mustangs and former UT five-star recruit Garrett Gilbert, much maligned to this point in his career, is once again the quarterback for SMU.
“He’s a good quarterback,” said Kerry Hyder, Texas Tech defensive lineman.” He’s a big guy, and surprisingly he’s a good runner.”
I appreciate Hyder’s endorsement, but up till now Gilbert hasn’t merited that kind of praise. Simply looking at numbers, it’s clear he’s what you might call a “bust” in terms of expectations. In a four-year career at both UT and SMU, Gilbert has 6,233 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and 38 interceptions. Now, most of that is squarely on Gilbert’s shoulders, but it can’t be understated how bad his offensive line was last year, giving up 33 sacks on him alone.
This year, just like Tech, SMU has a young, light offensive line. The lone senior is left tackle Ben Gottschalk, 6-5/293, and the rest of the starting lineup are sophomores and redshirt freshmen. If this group can come together and keep guys like Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush off of Gilbert, then the ponies might have a fighter’s chance; but, that’s a tall order.
However, if the offensive line can block at all, I think SMU tries to run the ball against Tech. Taking over for the legendary Zach Line, who graduated after last season and plays for the Minnesota Vikings, is former four-star recruit and transfer from UT (seeing a trend?), Traylon Shead. At 6-2/230, people compare Shead to Line, because the sheer size of these two running backs alone draws comparison. However, just like Line, Shead is quick on his feet and can do a lot of different things in different situations. Shead’s also a junior, and he’s running out of chances to prove something on the field before he’s labeled another Texas bust. That kind of motivation can turn a sleeping giant (literally) into a real beast. What concerns me is SMU once again running with a power back, and no other type of player gives Tech defenders more trouble.