E.J. Holland -- Really, it all starts up front. SMU lost all three starters along the defensive line from last year's team including second round draft pick Margus Hunt. This year's group is very young and inexperienced.
Zach Wood and Beau Barnes, a former walk-on, are the two starting defensive ends. They are stronger guys that can take on multiple blocks and allow linebacker to come and make tackles. But they don't have a lot of speed and lack athleticism. Darrian Wright is the starting nose tackle. He is a guy that is quick and athletic but hasn't really been as big of a factor as Torlan Pittman was last year. In non-conference, this defensive line was pushed back even by Montana State and failed to apply any type of pressure.
The secondary has also been weak. Kenneth Acker is one of the best corners in the conference, but the other three guys back there are really underachieving.
SR.com -- How has the move from CUSA to AAC affected SMU? What are the biggest changes you are seeing since making the move and joining a BCS conference?
EH -- Honestly, not much. Everybody around the program was extremely excited when SMU joined the Big East. But then a couple of schools or will be leaving and the basketball schools took the name with them, there was just anger and frustration.
Once Rutgers and Louisville leave following this season, the AAC will be nothing more than C-USA 2.0. I guess the biggest difference has been getting more exposure on national TV. But it really hasn't helped that SMU has been blown out in each one of its appearances this season.
SR.com -- Who do you see as an X-factor for SMU in this game? Is there an aspect of this team being overlooked through four games?
EH -- I think an X-factor could be Traylon Shead. SMU desperately needs is rushing attack to get going after losing Zach Line, who is now with the Minnesota Vikings. His little brother, Prescott, has been the starter for the last three games but hasn't done much of anything. Against TCU, he rushed for a whopping 10 yards.
Shead started the season opener but went down with a sprained MCL. Before his injury, Shead was expected to have an amazing season after a strong fall camp, where he looked like an absolute monster. At 6-foot-2, 220-pounds, he can run over defenders and also has the speed to break a long one.
A former Texas Longhorn, Shead spent a year at Navarro JC, where he earned JUCO All-American honors. So SMU fans are anxiously waiting to see what he can do when healthy.
SR.com -- How well does Garrett Gilbert run the June Jones style of offense. How much of the early struggles are on him and how much are on the offensive line and play calling?
EH -- Well, the offense isn't exactly Jones' offense anymore. Remember, SMU brought in passing game coordinator Hal Mumme, the father of the Air Raid, this offseason to help add a spark to an offense that failed to have the same success as Jones' Hawaii teams.
Mumme has since taken over as the play-caller and has instilled a much more horizontal passing scheme whereas Jones liked to go vertical. This has helped Gilbert settle into games earlier and complete a higher percent of passes. He was doing a much better job of protecting the football until his four-interception game against TCU.
SR.com -- What kind of atmosphere will Rutgers face on Saturday? Is there a lot of buzz for this game with a new conference and special uniforms?
EH -- It's going to be interesting. SMU is known for having poor attendance. But the 80s theme should attract more fans around the community and get people excited. SMU fans have been wanting blue uniforms for a while, and they finally got their wish. The problem is a lot of them are starting to lose confidence in the team and June Jones.
This game could make or break SMU's season s oI would expect a great atmosphere and a decent crowd. But at the same time, I wouldn't be surprised if it's a total letdown especially with rain in the forecast.