Pony NATE-tion: Undefeated Mustangs could overwhelm Texas State
Mustangs host Bobcats at 6 p.m. Saturday Posted on 09/12/2019 by PonyFans.com
PonyFans.com is proud to have 18-year-old Nate back as a guest columnist. This week, Nate reviews the Mustangs' victory over North Texas, and previews Saturday's home game against Texas State.
|Nate says new quarterback Shane Buechele has been "spectacular" ... in part because of the chemistry he has developed with receivers James Proché and Reggie Roberson, and in part because of the reemergence of Xavier Jones and the SMU rushing attack (photo by Rob Graham).
Feel free to post comments and constructive criticism, ask him questions, and/or give suggestions for upcoming columns! (He can be followed on Twitter at @Pony_NATE_tion.)
SMU is now 2-0 following an impressive 49-27 drubbing of North Texas, giving the Ponies a chance to be 3-0 for the first time since 1984. You really can not say enough about how much has improved within the last 12 months for this team, as Saturday was night-and-day from last year’s bout with UNT (which does not need to be revisited).
Firstly, I’m sold on Shane Buechele. I want to see it against tougher opponents like the TCUs, Houstons, and UCFs of the world, but he has been spectacular for the Mustangs. He has developed an awesome chemistry in short order with SMU’s two star wideouts, James Proché and Reggie Roberson. Buechele finished Saturday with 292 yards and three touchdowns, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. Proché and Roberson accounted for 13 catches, 209 yards and three touchdowns. They certainly are beginning to make a strong case for being one of the most dangerous wide receiver tandems in the country.
But what has really changed the game for the Mustangs is the offensive line play. After Ben Hicks and Will Brown were under fire all the time in 2018, Buechele has been sacked twice, and a once-absent running game has become a real threat. The line has been physical at the point of attack and isn’t getting pushed around like it once was. Another contributing factor: the reemergence of Xavier Jones. The senior runner has now hit paydirt six times in just two games. (Is that good?) He has returned to the form of the dynamic and explosive back who rushed for 1000 yards in 2017. Ke’mon Freeman is still the short-yardage bruiser, but Jones has been the star of the show in the backfield.
The defense also has continued to improve. It hasn’t been great thus far, but Saturday’s performance against a dynamic UNT offense and a very talented quarterback was encouraging. Mason Fine was held in check, only throwing for 152 yards while being sacked five times, twice by Demerick Gary and twice by Patrick Nelson. The front seven of SMU has been disruptive and generated pressure on Fine all night. While my main questions for the defense laid in the secondary, the secondary has done the job and the addition of Nebraska transfer Cam’ron Jones to the back end of the defense will help shore up the unit. Defensive coordinator Kevin Kane has done a phenomenal job with this group and the improvements keep coming.
With a chance to make history this week, the Mustangs will deal with Texas State, a team that is 0-2 following a 41-7 loss to Texas A&M and a 23-14 loss to Wyoming. SMU is an 18-point favorite, and it's not hard to see why. Texas State lacks any kind of offensive explosiveness and has struggled to get anything going. It has dealt with two rather difficult opponents thus far, with a top-15 A&M squad and a Wyoming squad that beat Mizzou.
There are many reasons the Bobcats have struggled and being under a first-year head coach is certainly one of them. Head coach Jake Spavital has been burdened with the task of establishing a new culture as a new coach, a process that always comes with plenty of growing pains.
The primary issue on the field for the Bobcats? The offense. TSU has mustered just 21 points in two games. Why has its offense been so ineffective? The rushing attack? Non-existent. Texas State has rushed for only 58 yards thus far. That does include the large amount of sacks being taken. But even without sacks, 27 carries for 102 yards is nothing to write home about.
Quarterback Gresch Jensen has had a rough beginning to his 2019 campaign as well, with a 2:4 touchdown-interception ratio. His other numbers are respectable, with a 62 percent completion rate, but nothing kills an offense more than turnovers. On film he looks to be antsy in the pocket, and on the crucial pick-six he threw against Wyoming, he threw a deep comeback route to his left late and he was inaccurate with the throw, firing it too far outside into the arms of the corner who was playing with outside leverage.
He has a lot working against him as well. I’ve already mentioned the immense pressure defensive fronts have been putting on him. Constant heavy pressure cripples quarterbacks and it has certainly been an issue for Jensen. I also already have mentioned the severe lack of a running game, causing defenses to be much more comfortable playing the pass. TSU doesn’t exactly have an array of weapons on the outside to whom Jensen can throw. Wideout Hutch White is the only one who has broken 100 yards. Jensen does lean on White quite a bit, as he already has 17 catches through two games.
This is a large mismatch for the Bobcats. SMU’s defensive front has been great so far this year, led by Delontae Scott, who is the fifth-highest graded edge rusher in the country according to Pro Football Focus College, with a score of 87.5. I think the defensive line will control the day for SMU and generate plenty of pressure on Jensen. Controlling the line of scrimmage will be essential for the Mustang defense.
Defensively, Texas State is a little bit better, but still a mismatch. TSU has been getting gashed on the ground, to the tune of 5.1 yards per carry and 218 yards per game. This means SMU’s red-hot backfield led by Jones is slated for a big day. The Bobcats have struggled up front in the pass rush as well, with only one sack to their credit. They have been solid defending the throw, but TSU is more than vulnerable up front. If the Mustang offensive line can continue to get a push and open holes for Jones and Freeman, it could be a big day on the ground for the Ponies.
Overall, I don’t think the 18-point spread is enough. This looks to be a huge mismatch, and barring a lackadaisical performance from SMU, this could get out of hand. I love how the Ponies have played through two weeks, especially on the offensive side of the ball. If offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and head coach Sonny Dykes can exploit TSU’s weaknesses up front, I like SMU to light up the scoreboard in this one in a blowout. Jensen will be under pressure all night and TSU’s offensive woes will continue.
The Ponies will be undefeated heading into the Battle for the Iron Skillet, will be 3-0 for the first time in 35 years and will have a ton of momentum heading into Fort Worth.
Nate’s take: SMU 45, TSU 14