But the pass-happy attack took to the ground Saturday, and the results were impressive. The Mustangs (1-1, 1-0) churned to a 28-7 victory over UAB in the Conference USA opener for both teams.
The prime beneficiary was bullish 235-pound tailback Zach Line, who rushed for a game-high 122 yards to key SMU's suddenly punishing rushing attack.
Jones didn't expect that kind of success running the ball. But Jones said that quarterback Kyle Padron was able to find creases when UAB lined up in man-to-man coverage that clearly benefitted the running game.
The strategy change was best seen in the first half when the Mustangs marched for their go-ahead score on a 64-yard drive, with rushing accounted for all of their yards. Padron accounted for 49 of them, including 24 yards on his career-best rushing attempt late in the first half.
"We're positive about our running game," Jones said. "Kyle still isn't quite in sync with his passing game, but he didn't throw it to them (on turnovers). He scrambled around and made some things happen for us. I'm proud that our guys fought through and made things happen."
Line was expected to be more of a blocking back and a receiver this season. He didn't start Saturday's game and got his first carry on the first play of the second quarter.
"I'm a running back and it's nice to get my carries, but the priority is to block and do what Coach Jones wants to do, which is pass the ball," Line said.
His offensive work is surprising, considering he came to SMU as a linebacker prospect and a gray-shirt recruit. He even received some work with the defense early in spring practice this year.
Despite not starting against UAB, Line's work picked up as the game progressed. As the Mustangs gradually found success on the ground, Jones started dialing up running plays.
The result helped spark the most impressive running game since Jones came to SMU two years ago. The Mustangs gained more rushing yards (247) than passing yards (174) for the first time in Jones' tenure at the school. And it was the most rushing yards for a Jones-coached SMU team, topping the previous high of 197 yards set at Houston last season.
"Our offensive line deserves a lot of credit. And they like to have a game like this because they are so into pass protection," Jones said. "Now, the defensive linemen we face will be easier to block because they'll be scared of how we run the ball. That will help us in our passing game."
The defense was just as impressive and physical. The Mustangs continually harassed UAB quarterback David Isabelle, who set a school record with 214 rushing yards last week in the Blazers' season opener. Isabelle managed only 34 rushing yards against SMU as the sputtering Blazers produced only 11 first downs and 261 yards of total offense.
The defense's hard-nosed effort represented a big turnaround after it was scorched in the season-opening loss at Texas Tech. Linebacker Pete Fleps said that even with the short work week, the Mustangs were prepared to play much better in their conference opener.
The only touchdown allowed by the Mustangs came on a 9-yard scoring drive after an SMU fumble deep in its own territory. SMU turnovers have set up four of the six touchdowns that have been scored against them this season.
"I knew before the season that they were pretty good and it showed up tonight," Jones said of his defense. "We were rushing three (defenders) and still put a lot of hits on them."
Strategy and personnel:
Look out for the SMU defense, which repeatedly made big plays to stop UAB. Particularly big was the momentum-changing goal-line stand late in the first half and a strip by Ryan Smith that changed a potential game-tying touchdown into a fumble through the end zone early in the second half.
STILL NEEDS WORK
SMU's bread-and-butter still is the passing game. But after two games, the Mustangs' lack of productivity has to be a concern for coach June Jones. The Mustangs are tied for 73rd nationally, averaging a pedestrian -- especially for a team coached by Jones -- 196 passing yards after two games.
--CB Sterling Moore sustained a knee injury that knocked him out of the game. The injury is not perceived to be as severe as the injury that kept him out of action last season. He's a key cog in the rapidly improving secondary.
--Heralded freshman RB Darryl Fields received more action in the second game of the season. Fields had five carries for 27 yards before he was idled by a thigh bruise.
--The Mustangs' margin of victory against UAB (21 points) was their largest since joining Conference USA in 2005. It represented their biggest conference victory margin since beating San Jose State 36-13 in 2004, when the Mustangs were members of the Western Athletic Conference.
--SMU tied the score on a 99-yard scoring drive, aided by two facemask penalties after completions to receiver Aldrick Robinson. Zach Line scored on a dive up the middle to cap a 12-play scoring drive that was the Mustangs' longest in yardage under June Jones.
--SMU claimed its home opener for the third straight season. June Jones has never lost a home opener at Gerald J. Ford Stadium.
--Line has rushed for 194 yards after two games, surpassing his total of 189 yards during the entire 2009 season. He has accounted for career-high rushing totals in each of his last two games.
GAME BALL GOES TO:
RB Zach Line -- He might not be the speedy breakaway threat that 1,000-yard back Shawbrey McNeal was last season, but he's still making his presence felt. He's developed into a solid runner between the tackles and most importantly, an improving pass blocker in June Jones' run-and-shoot offense.
KEEP AN EYE ON
LB Pete Fleps -- He produced a team-high 13 tackles to key SMU's defensive effort.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"We're the Ohio State Buckeyes Power-I. It's the run in the run-and-shoot. I wasn't expecting that tonight." -- SMU coach June Jones, on his team's run-heavy offensive strategy against UAB.