The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Cross your fingers

Jones, team determined to defy expectations in upcoming season, starting this Saturday

The arrival of head coach June Jones in 2008 breathed a renewed sense of optimism into the SMU Mustangs football program. After a 1-11 season in 2007, players and fans alike hoped that Jones would turn around the SMU program like he did Hawaii’s program in 1999.

The 2008 season brought more disappointment as the Mustangs failed to win a game after their home opening win against Texas State. In 2009, the narrative for the Mustangs has a different ring. This year, the players’ ambitions are driving speculation of a turnaround.

When asked about his goals for the season, junior linebacker Peter Fleps did not have any hesitation in his answer.

“What I really want to do is get the team to a bowl game. That is my primary concern,” Fleps said.

In 2008, Fleps led the Mustangs defensive unit with 106 tackles, which ranked fourth in Conference USA for tackle per game. Fleps is not the only defensive standout returning to the squad this year. The defense returns six of the top seven leading tacklers from 2008. The list includes Fleps, Justin Smart, Youri Yenga, Chris Banjo, Rock Dennis, and Derrius Bell.

In addition to being the Mustangs third leading tackler, the versatile Youri Yenga led the Mustangs in sacks. Listed at 6 feet 1 inches and 223 pounds, Yenga led the Mustangs with 6.5 sacks while playing at defensive end and outside linebacker. His return, along with that of interception leader Bryann McCann, should provide more experience for the Mustangs defensive unit.

The amount of experience on the defensive end of the ball has prompted players to set their expectation high for the 2009 season. Fleps explained how “One of our [the defense’s] goals is to get into the top 50.”

There are multiple reasons for excitement on the defense like experience, not having to learn a new scheme, and the return of big-play capable players. However, the overwhelming response as to why the defense should have a better season is simple: size.

One of the biggest disadvantages of having a young defense, besides experience, is the relatively small size of players. As the Mustang defense was worn down, it had trouble getting off of the field. The Mustangs ranked 120th in 3rd down stops. The added size of the players figures to improve the Mustangs ranking in this area.

On the offensive side of the ball, the story plays out in the same manner considering the great number of returning starters and team statistical leaders. The Mustangs return sophomore quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, leading receivers Aldrick Robinson and Emmanuel Sanders.

The Mustangs offense ranked 15th last year in total passing during coach Jones’ first year of implementing the run ‘n’ shoot offense at SMU. However, along with the vast amounts of yardage came a problem with turning the ball over. The Mustangs turned the ball on 32 occasions.

Last year, Mitchell was under constant pressure during his first campaign at the collegiate level. He threw 25 interceptions while being protected by an offensive line with little experience in the protection scheme required for the run ‘n’ shoot offense.

Unlike many protection schemes, the Mustangs’ scheme requires that guards and the center are mobile and recognize defensive schemes quickly. All linemen are asked to behave like tackles in the sense that they have a wider area to cover. Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm explains that this scheme “has a steep learning curve.”

This year, the offensive line will be in its second year of the scheme. Senior center Mitch Enright explained how in 2008 “We [the offensive line] tried to learn as much as we could before the season. But whenever you transition into a new offense, there is going to be a learning curve.” Now, the offensive line can concentrate more on their speed and scheme recognition skills as opposed to learning a new system.

The Mustangs start the season at home against Stephen F. Austin before hitting the road for three consecutive games against UAB, Washington State, and TCU. The schedule will test the Mustangs ability to win on the road early. Winning a game on the road has not happened in over two years.

Spirits are high among the SMU football players who hope the 2009 season will deliver the Mustangs first bowl appearance of the decade. They will get their first shot to reach their goals on Sept. 6 in Ford Stadium against Stephen F. Austin.

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