Hello there to the dedicated hangers on and those who have randomly found this blog (possibly while looking for porn) and have decided to keep reading out of boredom.
It was a busy several months between Halloween and, well, now. But I, Irwin Fletcher am back to talk beer, SMU, football, and whatever the hell else is on my mind. Let's get to it, shall we?
The 2008 football season did not end up quite how we in Mustang Nation had hoped. When June Jones became head coach on January 5, 2008, I think most observers expected or prayed for at least a 3-4 win season. If you go back to my season preview--which shouldn't take too long to find since we haven't written very many entries--you will see that I predicted, rather extravagantly a 5 win season. So what happened to cause another 1-11 season?
For starters, the defense simply could not stop the other team. It seems overly glib to say it like that, but the problem truly was as basic as that. Many fans called for the head of Defensive Coordinator Tom Mason, but one must consider that Mason, Tim Hundley, and Bert Hill just did not have much to work with. With the exception of Serge Elizee, who drew double teams from o-linemen all season, the other spots on the defensive line were a revolving door of players; some too small, some too slow, some not big enough to challenge his opposite number. Adrian Dizer and Anthony Sowe could not provide a fast pass rush from the end positions and neither held onto their starter slots either as Dizer was injured and Sowe was ineffective (and is now no longer with the team, more on that in a minute).
Youri Yenga, who continues to be the single most effective pass rusher than the Mustangs possess, quickly found a full time role at both end positions while true freshmen Taylor Thompson got lots of valuable playing time as well. Patrick Handy shared time with Mickey Dollens and others alongside Elizee at tackle. The result of this constantly changing cast? An inconsistent pass rush and an opposing quarterback with lots of time to make a pass.
The linebackers, with the exception of the reliable senior Will Bonilla, were a non entity. Unable to stop the rush and ineffective in nickel coverage, the linebacking corps had an undistinguished year.
Only the secondary, anchored by Derrius Bell and Bryan McCann at the corners with Rock Dennis and true freshman Chris Banjo at the safety positions, was oustanding as a unit. All four will be returning in 2009, though Bell is suspended per Conference USA rules for the first half of the first game next year for getting in a fight during the season finale against Southern Miss. Bell, McCann, Dennis, and Banjo will provide in 2009 the core of a powerful secondary which will include recent juco signee (and 4 star Rivals recruit) Ryan Clark and other promising prospects like Houston Strake Jesuit's James Scott. Derrick Odum has quite the stable of young players to form the Ponies' secondary into a force over the next couple of seasons.
What it all comes down to is the defense could not stop opponents in third down situations, could not pressure the quarterback, and could not read the run. The futility of this defense was best demonstrated against Houston when the Mustangs, with less than 90 seconds left and the Cougars with no timeouts, could not prevent Houston's offense from marching 60 yards down the field and scoring the game winning touchdown. If SMU is to return to bowl eligibility, that will have to change.
The offense, which had embarassing sputters at the beginning of the season, seemed to finally coalesce around Bo Levi Mitchell, Emmanuel Sanders, and Aldrick Robinson in the second half (the Navy game aside...I mean come on, that weather was ridiculous).
Lacking among the names I mentioned above was a running back. The Mustangs had an absolutely pathetic ground game in 2008 with only 490 yards gained on the entire season! Senior DeMyron Martin never found the magic that he had as a redshirt sophomore while B.J. Lee and Chris Butler struggled through injuries. Bryce Lunday showed streaks of greatness and he will be relied on next season along with Chris Butler if Miami transfer Shawnbrey McNeal does not receive his NCAA waiver to play in '09 and since B.J. Lee will likely become a full time kick returner (replacing the redoubtable Jessie Henderson, the all time NCAA leader in kickoff return yardage, who is graduating).
Bo Levi Mitchell showed fantastic growth in the second half the 2008 season. Starting in the Tulane game, fans could sense an attitude change in him. Bo Levi became crisper in his decisions, learned to scramble when no receivers were open (though not to stiff arm), and did not force passes. Injuring his throwing shoulder against Memphis effectively ended his season with two games left. It seems that June Jones and Mustang Nation both expect Bo Levi to benefit greatly with a year of the Run N Shoot under his belt and with most of his receiving corps still intact from 2008 and he should. There has never been any doubt of Bo Levi's arm, rather the question has been about his head: can he fully grasp June Jones's complex offense with it's multiple reads in a two step drop? June has a reputation as an excellent talent evaluator and if he believes that Bo has the ability to succeed in this offense, then I trust that judgment.
Emmanuel Sanders and Aldrick Robinson return for their senior and junior years respectively to be the focal point of June Jone's offensive attack. Both had career years in their first season in the Run N Shoot and with even more targets for Bo Levi Mitchell to be throwing to in 2009, the receiving corps is looking primed for another record setting campagin.
One of the surprises of the Mustangs 2008 season was the offensive line. Cobbled together by coach Dennis McKnight from a returning center (Mitch Enright) and Guard (Sean Lobo), combined with freshmen at guard and tackle (Beachum and Tennyson) and a converted tight end (Vincent Chase) at right tackle, the situation looked ripe for disaster. As events turned out, the line turned into one of the more consistently good units for the Mustangs. Enright was injured and replaced by true freshman Blake McJunkin who performed as well as could be expected in his situation and red shirt freshman Josh LeRibeus proved that he belongs as a starter. Beachum and Tennyson performed admirably and senior Tommy Poynter was a jack of all trades, filling in all over the line wherever needed. With the accumulation of talent and prospects, a pool of greyshirts will be built up that will join LeRibeus, Beachum, Tennyson, and promising recent signees Joey Fontana and Chris Atchison in a couple of years to form a powerful front line for Bo Levi Mitchell and the running backs.
So what does the future hold? Yesterday, 9 football players found out that that future did not include them. The players--CB De'Von Bailey, LB Taylor Bon, RB Ben Goldthorpe, LB Julian Herron, DE Jordan Johnson, CB Deyon McElroy, LB Alex Odiari, OL Andrew Robiskie, and previously mentioned DE Anthony Sowe--were all informed that their scholarships were not being renewed for 2009 due to academic and disciplinary reasons. Anyone who doubts that June Jones does not want to clear out anyone who he sees as not being a positive impact on this program should reread that list of players. Bailey and McElroy were highly prized recruits out of high school as was LB Herron. Alex Odiari was a high profile transfer from Oklahoma State--symbolizing the type of player that SMU was open to enrolling for the first time since the Death Penalty--and who was expected to provide a physical presence at linebacker. But Odiari never found his footing with the defensive coaches and saw very limited time in 2008.
There has been much said since the end of last season about the culture within the football program. In a widely circulated quote, June Jones remarked that he had never seen a weight room as empty during off hours as that in Ford Stadium. This statement openly questioned the commitment of some upperclassmen who it has been felt have become accustomed to and even okay with losing. Around the same time, another widely publicized quote by Bo Levi Mitchell indicated the he, as the team's starting quarterback, was not ok with the contented attitude of some upperclassmen. Such comments, and the subsequent actions by Coach Jones mentioned above, belie a new sentiment for SMU football. Mitchell was the starting quarterback for the 4A State Champion Katy Tigers in 2007-08 and has made it clear that he has brought that winning attitude with him to the Hilltop. It is thrilling, as a fan of SMU football, to see a salient figure make his voice heard so loudly in regards to the team's discipline and attitude towards success. One can only hope that it bodes well for the future.
Well, with that I will call it a post friends. Very soon (perhaps Friday) I will post about the Mustangs newest class of signees and how they could impact the team in 2009 and beyond. More frequent updates will begin again, I promise. So please return for more SMU football, baseball, beer, and perhaps even some politics!
Until next time, Pony Up!
Tap the Boulevard is an SMU Football Blog, A Beer Blog, A Baseball Blog, A Music Blog, basically a blog about everything that makes life worth living. So sit back, relax, crack a cold one and enjoy our incoherent ramblings and gratuitous movie quotes.