Two games into the season may be too early to make judgments about a team, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try. Today we're going to evaluate and grade the performance of each position group after the Week 1 loss to Texas Tech and the Week 2 comeback victory over Montana State.
Despite pressure to live up to expectations this offseason, Garrett Gilbert has shined these first two games. Gilbert has completed 69.1 percent of his passes for 705 yards and one touchdown while doing a good job protecting the football- with the exception of his fumble in the first half against Montana State. Gilbert has also rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown on 25 attempts. But the most impressive part of Gilbert's season was the poise he showed as he led the Mustangs down the field for the game-winning touchdown against Montana State during the waning seconds of the game. Hard to find anything wrong with Gilbert's performance thus far.
SMU's running backs have been strangely underutilized this season, combining for only 30 carries over the two games. They have surprisingly averaged a respectable 4.3 yards per carry over that span, so it doesn't make sense why June Jones is being so shy about running the football this season. In the passing game, the running backs have had little to no impact so they should be fresh to go up against Texas A&M's defense. But so far, it is hard to grade the running backs' performance because they have had so few chances.
While the offensive line has done a fair job run blocking thus far, they have been an unmitigated disaster in pass protection. SMU opponents have sacked the quarterback a shocking nine times already this season and often times it looked like Gilbert had no to time to operate before the defense was in his face. If the offensive line cannot protect the quarterback, the chances of him playing the rest of the season without an injury are slim to none.
The strong play of the SMU wide receivers, especially in the fourth quarter of the Montana State game, is a big reason SMU's offense has been somewhat entertaining to watch this season. Darius Joseph and Jeremy Johnson both have over 200 yards receiving thus far and Keenan Holman and Der'rikk Thompson have also made meaningful contributions to the offense.
Collectively, the stats for SMU's defensive line are not mind-blowing- 26 tackles (four for loss), two sacks, one forced fumble, and one quarterback hurry. But the defensive linemen are not coached to fill stat sheets; rather, they are coached to occupy offensive linemen so that linebackers can fill stat sheets. The fact that four of the Mustang's top five tacklers are linebackers reflects well on the defensive line. But their struggles against Montana State's run game and their inability to put significant pressure on opposing quarterbacks cannot be ignored.
As mentioned above, SMU's linebackers are doing a good job bringing down the ball carrier this season. Kevin Pope, Stephon Sanders, Robert Seals and Brandon Henderson all rank in SMU's top five tacklers and have picked up the slack for the defensive line on putting pressure on the quarterback, recording four sacks and an additional quarterback hurry collectively. But, two poor performances against the pass and poor run defense against Montana State bring down their overall grade.
No matter how you look at it, SMU's secondary has been a disaster this season. From giving up 413 yards and four touchdowns through the air against true freshman walk-on Baker Mayfield and Texas Tech to the efficient 17-of-27 for 218 yards and one touchdown performance by Denarius McGhee of Montana State, Johnny Manziel will be thrilled to face SMU's secondary after playing Alabama.
Gradebook: SMU Position Groups
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