Sophomore quarterback Kyle Padron has not taken over where he left off after last season's 460-yard performance in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. He and his receivers are still searching for their first breakout game. Padron is completing 51.4 percent of his passes, down from the 67.2 percent he completed in the six-plus games he played in 2009.
His 159.9 passing efficiency rating from last season is down to 118.0, and his yards-per-game average has dropped from 274.6 to 203.0. Of course, SMU has also faced solid defenses against Texas Tech and No. 4 TCU in its opening four games, along with Washington State out of the Pac-10, which may be part of the reason for the decline.
Slot receiver Darius Johnson has so far emerged as a big-play receiver when the passing offense does get clicking, with 20 catches for 202 yards and three touchdowns in four games, averaging 10.1 yards per catch. Senior Aldrick Robinson has 16 catches for 273 yards and is averaging 17.1 yards per catch.
But the passing game has been inconsistent -- because of natural growing pains for Padron and the rest, Jones insists -- and SMU hasn't hesitated to rely on powerful running back Zach Line.
Line set a new career high in last week's 41-24 loss to TCU, rushing for 139 yards. He is averaging 7.8 yards per carry this season. Line was recruited to SMU as a linebacker, and his role last year was limited to short-yardage and goal-line situations behind the speedy Shawnbrey McNeal.
While the increased balance has helped SMU to a 2-2 record, Jones has said the passing game must improve as the Mustangs return to Conference USA play.
SMU leads Rice 46-40-1 (last meeting, 2009, 31-28 SMU)
QUOTE TO NOTE
"It took Colt Brennan almost 14 games until he knew what he was doing ... We're just not in sync. But I'm not concerned about it. There's a lot of ways you have to win football games while you're learning how to play." -- SMU coach June Jones on SMU's growing pains in the passing game
KEYS TO THE GAME
SMU's defense must continue to help the work-in-progress offense. Owls QB Nick Fanuzzi and RB Sam McGuffie combine for almost 200 yards of total offense per game. This would be the perfect time for a breakout passing performance by the Mustangs.
--SMU has been cursed at Rice since 1986, when the Mustangs last beat the Owls at their home. The 10-game losing streak includes an overtime loss in 1998 and a 31-27 loss in the 2006 regular-season finale that kept SMU from going bowling.
--SMU is trying to go 2-0 in Conference USA play. The Mustangs won two league games on the road last season.