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Midseason Assessment

Postby JasonB » Fri Oct 15, 2021 2:40 pm

Now that we are at the halfway point, I thought I would perform an assessment of the team with the angle of determining where we need to see growth and improvement in order to compete for a conference championship.

QB: Tanner is the top rated QB in the league. He has a couple of more turnovers than you would like, but he has a higher completion percentage and TD total than anyone, and is second to the Memphis QB in yards. Highest rating on PFF as well. He is the best in the league on deep balls (PFF).The improvements we would like to see are quicker decision making, moving through his progressions quicker, and throwing people open (anticipating breaks). His rating under pressure isn't that great because of it, and I would anticipate SMU will see zone blitzing the rest of the year because of it. Then again, if he did all of that, he would be a first round draft pick next year. He is on pace to have the best QB season in SMU history, and is certainly performing at a conference championship level.

RB: Bentley needs to get healthy. He is the top rated RB in the league on PFF. Siggers is 19 and Lavine 27. SMU is 36th in the country in rushing, with only UCF and Navy in front of us, but the TCU game had a heavy influence. We need to be more consistent running the ball, but Bentley being out has had a big influence. If Bentley is healthy, we have a conference championship level of play at this spot. With him out, we are very average.

WR: Rice is the third highest receiver in conference on PFF; Roberson is 7 and Gray is 8n (minimum 20 targets). Gray has some drops which holds him down in the ratings a little, but no other team in conference has 3 in the top 10 like that. Rice has been targeted 35 times and has 30 catches. That is an amazing number. Certainly performing at a conference championship level.

TE: Our guys have been pretty solid, but Dykes of Memphis and James of Tulane are both having amazing years. I would say Grant is third behind that group. This group started off very strong, but has slowed down a little bit. We have a good group, but not quite at the top of conference.

OT: Thomas is our best OL, but didn't perform well at guard and has been hurt the last two games at tackle. So his performance isn't what it should be. Bryant grades out 9th best in conference with much higher pass than run blocking. In fact, Morris is right behind him in rating. But the eye test tells you differently. Bryant has been good, especially after moving over to the right side of the line. Overall, this position has underperformed this year. That said, while Houston's tackles have been fantastic, Cincy and UCF have not done well. If Thomas and Bryant are healthy the second half of the season, this position should compete at a conference championship level.

OG: Howerton grades out as the 3rd best in the league. Osborne is 21. Combined, it is very average. If Osborne steps forward, this is a conference championship level. But so far it isn't quite there, and it shows up in the consistency of the run game. Osborne needs to elevate for us to beat Cincy.

C: Ali grades out as the 5th best in the league. Solid play. Fun fact - Hickman is the highest rated center in the league in the 95 snaps he has been on the field. Cincy really struggles here, by the way, so look for Williams in that matchup. This is going to be interesting to see if Hickman actually grabs a starting spot in the bye week. But this has been again average, and a reason the running game isn't as dominant as it could be. Needs to step up if we are going to beat Cincy.

DL: SMU has the best defensive front in the league. Chatman has the highest rating in the league, Levelston is third, and Williams is 6th. Will Jones is 14th. This is a conference championship defensive front 3 and should continue to perform at that level.

Edge: Paul has limited snaps, but is actually the second highest rated edge in the league. It shows you how effective he is on the pass rush, which is when he plays (when we move to a front 4). Elite pass rush skills. Wiley and Coxe are both very average, 21 and 24 with players over 100 snaps. Cincy and Houston both have multiple highly rated players here, which is what helps those defenses play at an elite level. That said, Wiley and Coxe have come on and played a lot better as the season has progressed. We aren't at a conference championship level yet, but it is trending in the right direction.

OLB : Phillips has been great the past 3 or 4 games. All-conference level player. Burns isn't quite ready yet, not surprisingly struggling against the run and with tackling. As long as Phillips stays healthy, this is a good group, and good enough to win a conference.

MLB: Hailey has been really good this year, 9th rated LB with over 100 snaps. Delano Moore and ISM have been inconsistent, but solid. LB, by the way, is another huge separator for Cincy - they have highly rated players all over this list, with 6 players in the top 10 ratings. I would say we have a good group, but not an all-conference group. We need ISM and Delano to step it up a little bit in the second half and make plays. As we start to transition to more passing-capable teams, I expect ISM will start turning up more.

CB: Rogers, McMorris, and Crossley have clearly separated themselves as our best corners. All thee have a ton of skill, but they just need consistency with their technique. Crossley allows a 76.0 rating against him, but has only been thrown at 8 times! (50% completion rate). Morris allows a 82 QBR but only a 47% completion percentage, and Rogers a 68 with only a 47% completion percentage. There is plenty of talent out there, but I would say they have been average so far in conference. As a reference, Armani Johnson has given up a 78% completion percentage and a 158.3 rating. Johnson and Westfall haven't met expectations. But the potential of the starting 3 is very high. Our pass efficiency defense is middle of the pack. It needs to be top 50 for us to beat Cincy.

S: Massey and NWO stand out as being part of a bright future, with great speed and athleticism for the position. Denbow has been inconsistent, as expected, but I think a little better than expected. Calloway coming back into the mix actually gives us 4 really solid players. I would say the performance has been average so far, but this is trending up. Cincy is elite at safety, so we aren't going to catch them. But there is a huge difference between Calloway playing in a 4 man rotation and whomever he replaces (Roberson, Cromartie, Clay). If Massey, NWO, and Calloway play well enough that Denbow becomes our 4th best safety, now we have a group that can compete at a high level. We will see how that plays out.

Special teams: On returns, with Massey, Bentley, and Kerley we have a championship group. Place kicking hasn't been what it was expected with a Lou Groza finalist transferring in, and is not at a championship level. Kickoffs have been excellent with Hall. Punting has actually surprised me with being decent, but we are still only 90th in net punting (40 yards per punt, 27.86 Net). All together, it isn't perfect, but if we can get our kicker going, we will be performing at a championship level.

Overall, we clearly have a good team. Offensively, our OL hasn't hit it's full potential this year, but we are good enough to score well over 30 against Tulane, Memphis, and Tulsa. If our OL hits it's stride with Bentley and Thomas healthy and Osborne or HIckman stepping up, now we score 40 against those teams and over 30 against Houston, UCF, and Memphis.

Defensively, our front 7 is good enough to hold running offenses in check. But when we force 2nd and 3rd and long, can we get other teams off the field? If the corners step up and play to potential, and Calloway comes back and starts, I think it is possible we hold every team remaining on the schedule under 30 points and we go 11-1 (or even 12-0) and play in the conference championship game.

That said, I think what will happen is that our OL inconsistencies are going to stall our performance against Cincy, and our youth in the secondary will keep every game close. I'll put us at 10-2 (perhaps only 9-3), but we miss the conference championship game because of Houston's insanely easy schedule. We have a good team, and I love that we found a way to come back against Navy and LT, and that we played better in the second half and pulled away from UNT and USF. But the great teams dominate early, and we need to be great to win against this conference schedule this year.
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Re: Midseason Assessment

Postby Donnell88 » Fri Oct 15, 2021 10:09 pm

Thank you, JasonB; great stuff, as always. I have a slightly higher opinion of our running backs. It seems that every Division 1 team has at least one talented running back, oftentimes two. And they all seem to have a lot of speed at the wide receiver position. Also, every starting tight end in the AAC impresses me.
So, our running backs may not make the all-conference team; but they have all impressed me, especially in the TCU game.
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Re: Midseason Assessment

Postby ponyboy » Sun Oct 17, 2021 12:21 am

I think this staff has really tried hard to keep our key starters fresh for the second half of the season. We’re effectively sandbagging, in that sense, and I expect to see guys like Roberson and Bentley really turn up the intensity.
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Re: Midseason Assessment

Postby redpony » Sun Oct 17, 2021 8:04 am

they will have to turn it up if they are even going to stay on the field with cincy. the bearcats just pounded UCF and may finish undefeated unless we can step it up.
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Re: Midseason Assessment

Postby Charleston Pony » Sun Oct 17, 2021 9:23 am

If our guys can run the table until that date with Cincy, we should get two shots at ruining their season or making SMU's season a very special one.
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Re: Midseason Assessment

Postby Mustangs_Maroons » Sun Oct 17, 2021 11:51 am

I think most people had us losing to the frogs, and I think tcu is better than Houston and Memphis. Maybe I’m a bit of a homer but I think the only game we should lose is against Cincy, and having watched them play they’re a solid team but they can be beat because they don’t have the players of an Alabama or Georgia.
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Re: Midseason Assessment

Postby Charleston Pony » Sun Oct 17, 2021 1:51 pm

Mustangs_Maroons wrote:I think most people had us losing to the frogs, and I think tcu is better than Houston and Memphis. Maybe I’m a bit of a homer but I think the only game we should lose is against Cincy, and having watched them play they’re a solid team but they can be beat because they don’t have the players of an Alabama or Georgia.


Agree that Cincy looks like the best of the AAC but they can run the table and will not make the Final Four. Barring a collapse by one or both, Georgia and Bama will be in the Final Four along with OU and Big 10 winner (or possibly Oregon). Cincy needs all those P5 teams to lose 1-2 games to have any chance. I just want our guys to get 2 shots at Cincy, even if both games have to be played on their home field.
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Re: Midseason Assessment

Postby crazy horse » Sun Oct 17, 2021 3:23 pm

UC with their win against Notre Dame, certainly looks tough. But my gosh they got the perfect conference schedule for a run:

Temple - Home
An injury depleted UCF - Home
@ Navy
@ Tulane
Tulsa - Home
@ South Florida
SMU - Home
@ East Carolina

They skip Memphis and Houston, the other two likely contenders (UCF & SMU) are at home. Of course conference road games are always interesting, as we found out @ ECU recently.
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Re: Midseason Assessment

Postby mustangxc » Sun Oct 17, 2021 5:09 pm

We've won more games than I expected but our schedule is much weaker than I expected too. Keep winning and it doesn't matter.
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Re: Midseason Assessment

Postby JasonB » Mon Oct 18, 2021 2:44 pm

Mustangs_Maroons wrote:I think most people had us losing to the frogs, and I think tcu is better than Houston and Memphis. Maybe I’m a bit of a homer but I think the only game we should lose is against Cincy, and having watched them play they’re a solid team but they can be beat because they don’t have the players of an Alabama or Georgia.


Everyone is sleeping on Houston because of the Texas Tech game that they blew in the second half when Tune threw 4 INTs. They have a very good defense, and their offensive line is playing at a very high level. They have only given up over 300 yards twice, 350 to TT in the opener, and then 306 to Tulane last week. Strength of schedules and all of that, but Houston is good and it will be a very difficult game away.

I realize that we play the long game by playing depth early and staying strong to finish strong in the fourth. But the UNT, USF, LT, and Navy results last weekend tell me that our secondary isn't quite where we want to be yet defensively, and unless we see some significant improvement, I expect every game left on the schedule to be close. I suspect we will need to be in the upper 30s or into the 40s to win each game.
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Re: Midseason Assessment

Postby HubbaHubba » Mon Oct 18, 2021 3:59 pm

Did we simplify the DT assignments for the Navy game? They were just plowing ahead into the backfield all day stopping the FB dive. If we can have our DTs in the backfield it will disrupt any offense. Don't know if it was a change in scheme, the linemen just stepped up or the Navy interior linemen were that bad.
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Re: Midseason Assessment

Postby JasonB » Tue Oct 19, 2021 10:31 am

HubbaHubba wrote:Did we simplify the DT assignments for the Navy game? They were just plowing ahead into the backfield all day stopping the FB dive. If we can have our DTs in the backfield it will disrupt any offense. Don't know if it was a change in scheme, the linemen just stepped up or the Navy interior linemen were that bad.


Navy is all about movement and scheme. If you can simplify and get them 1v1, they have no shot against the size and athleticism of our line.

Last year, Rambo and Kane had our DL attacking, which left a lot of gaps. This year our DL is asked to take on blockers and let the LBs make plays. They are doing that very well so far, and it is part of the reason you are seeing the Stang position, Phillips, and Hailey shine.
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