To give credit where it's due, that was Hawaii. SMU was more of a run oriented team last year under former coach Phil Bennett and the Ponies finished a respectable 42nd in the country behind the efforts of then QB starter Justin Willis and bruising RB DeMyron Martin. While no one expects to see much of a rushing attack under Jones' Martin has been promised by coaches that he'll like the new SMU offense - so let's not rule out the Pony running game all together.
Rice on the other hand would like to utilize the run a little more effectively and has worked very hard in the off-season to improve its ability to do so. The Owls also struggled to create much of a ground game last year, also finishing outside the Top 100 at 103rd. They've spent a majority of the past 9 months trying to change that too. The first measure comes Friday night. Let's compare the units.
Comparing the Starters
SMU – DeMyron Martin, 6-2 230 Sr, 3 Letters
Martin played in all 12 games last year, starting in eight. He amassed 458 yards on 106 carries, with 4 touchdowns. In an interview with SMU Scout.com affiliate PonyStampede.com earlier this year Martin had this to say. "I feel really good about my chances to gain a lot of yards my last season here. I plan on giving it everything I have; I will give it my all. I want my senior season to be my breakout year; this offense can help provide me that opportunity." Martin added that he feels that the SMU coaching change has provided him a new lease on life.
Rice will have two options heading into Friday night's game. Though both are physically similar they have different running styles. C.J. Ugokwe is a shifty back that moves the chains. Hill is a slasher, capable of going the distance as evident in his 54 yard Touchdown run against Southern Miss last year.
I give the slight edge to Martin individually here – I've always been impressed by Martin's ability to make the tough yards – and he should have the full respect of Rice defenders after putting up 137 yards when the two teams met last year in Dallas. The real question whether the Run-and Shoot will allow his abilities to shine.
Comparing the Depth
It's obvious by looking at the size of these two groups that these offenses do different things with their Running Backs. While Rice looks for backs with rounded skills, SMU looks for size, power, and blocking ability. Marcus Knox has been a starter for the Owls. Jeramy Goodson brings a lot of quickness. Shane Turner was a highly regarded Running Back at Cy-Falls. I give the edge in depth to the Owls here.
Though Running Backs may not play a huge role in Friday night's game the Receivers most definitely will. In fact I've been told by an SMU fan that "our DBs will be dragging (butt) after the game." I think Yancy McKnight and staff have prepared the Owls better than that but I will concede that the air will be full of footballs all night.
In comparing the two programs' Receiving corps you have to start with the best in the bunch – that would be one Mr. Dillard. Without reeling off all his accolades and records I'll just say that he's earned everything he's ever gotten. He didn't rest on his accomplishments of the 2006 Season. He came into the 2007 focused last year, knowing that he would see double coverages all year. The trials of last year only served to make Dillard better. He had a tremendous off-season and is bigger and faster than he's ever been. I like Dillard in most single coverage match-ups – he's a special player to say the least. Probably the best ball skills I've seen for a player under 6 feet. But unlike last year, teams can't just bracket cover him without consideration of the other Owl Receivers. The Owls in fact have a potent 1-2 punch.
The other "big" problem for opposing teams this fall will be James "Thor" Casey. Unlike a lot of players with his build, and we're talking Schwarzenegger here, he's got incredibly soft hands, benefited no doubt from his 4 years of Minor League baseball experience. Casey is fast, agile, and a load after the catch. He's becoming quite the receiver in his own right and is looking to improve upon his first season at Rice,where he was named a Freshman All-American.
SMU counters with a lesser known group, but if they're playing for June Jones they can catch the ball and read defenses – no doubt about. But not totally unknown. Emmanuel Sanders leads the way for the Mustangs. He was an Honorable Mention All-C-USA Receiver last year after catching 74 balls for 889 yards and 9 TDs. Sanders was also a Freshman All American after his first year "on the hill". Sophomore Aldricks Robinson is a speedy second year player who also returned kicks last year. In fact both Robinson and Sanders had great success on returns against the Owls last year. Sanders reportedly runs a 4.3 second 40 yard dash.
Comparing the Starters
Jarett Dillard needs no introduction, but I will add that he's increased his vertical leap to 44" now. James Casey runs 4.5 at 240 pounds. Corbin Smiter runs 4.37 and has a 37" vertical. Patrick Randolph is the fastest player on the Owl team, running 4.3 – and he was a 6'-10" high jumper in high school. I'm sure the Mustang receivers have talent but the Owls present a variety of explosive match-ups. I give the edge to Rice.
Comparing the Depth
All of Rice's backups have started in their careers – in fact Henderson, Dixon, and Wardlow are basically considered co-starters. SMU has a talented group of young Receivers that are all hiccup fast – but due to experience I give the Owls depth the edge here too.
Tomorrow we look at the big guys on both sides of the line of scrimmage…