Obviously the entire defense struggled all year, but there were a couple of bright spots on an otherwise underachieving squad. Beau Barnes, who was named to the AAC's second all-conference team, was the defensive line's most consistent player with five sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Besides Barnes, Zach Wood was an ineffective pass rusher, Darrian Wright struggled to plug up the middle and Zelt Minor was ‘hurt' for a good portion of the season. Depth was a problem all year, so when it came time to get to the quarterback on crucial third downs, the guys up front struggled.
SMU's linebacker group, led by Randall Joyner and Kevin Pope, had an overall solid season. Joyner (98 total tackles) and Pope (91 total tackles) were the team's leading tacklers and played consistently all year. While they weren't great, they both played the run and the pass well. Jonathan Yenga also had a solid season, leading the team with six sacks and Stephon Sanders was a major contributor with 86 total tackles as well. While this group played well, their lack of speed showed at times and did hurt them.
There is no question that the defensive backs were very inconsistent all year long and once Hayden Greenbauer went down with a knee injury, they struggled even more. If Greenbauer had stayed healthy, his help over the top could've made a big difference. While Kenneth Acker, Jay Scott and Ajee Montes combined for six of SMU's 11 interceptions, every DB still struggled with covering the deep ball. Even Acker, the Mustangs best DB, struggled at times. The DB's did show their potential on a tackle here or a pass break up there, but all too often they were physically outplayed by opponent's wide receivers.
It's fair to say that everyone knows special teams were a mess this year. From kickoff and punt coverage to the punter himself, everyone had problems throughout the season. Garrett Gilbert was even called in for emergency punter duty at points this season. Besides one hiccup game against Cincinnati where he missed three field goals, Chase Hover had a very solid season and showed that he can be counted on. Two bright spots, however, were Deion Sanders Jr. and JaBryce Taylor. Both freshmen returned kicks and punts at some point during the season and they did solid jobs; Taylor even returned a punt for a touchdown-- what turned out to be a game saver against Montana State. Taylor and Sanders Jr. showed signs of play-making ability, but they also showed that there is definite room for improvement.
Grade Book: SMU Defense
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