Graduating/leaving: David Johnson, Shakiel Randolph, Troy Castle, Ajee Montes
Returning: Christian Burks (SO), AJ Justice (JR), Jesse Montgomery (SO), Rodney Clemens (FR), Horace Richardson (JR), Kevin Johnson (FR), Cedric Lancaster (SO), Raul Reyes (FR), Rashaad Burton (SO), Jordan Wyatt (FR-RS), Darrion Richardson (JR), Deion Sanders Jr. (JR), William Jeanlys (FR-RS)
Well, the only two times the secondary allowed 300 yards or more in the air was against Baylor (423) and TCU (454). And they managed to hold UNT (128), USF (101), Navy (81), and Tulane (128) under 200 yards in the air. This is impressive, when you think about it (as long as you don’t think too long).
The secondary also managed to make 10 interceptions. Horace Richardson picked off two passes, while Jesse Montgomery, Cedric Lancaster, Darrion Richardson, and Jordan Wyatt each had one.
Where to start?
Against SMU, teams were averaging 9.3 yards a pass and 15.7 yards per catch. So not only were receivers making catches in the secondary, but then they were making defenders miss and picking up more yardage.
SMU allowed 241 passing yards a game, which isn’t very good considering how many rushing yards they were also giving up—we’ll get to that in a little bit.
SMU also allowed 31 of the 75 touchdowns scored against them to come via the pass.
And despite forcing 15 fumbles, SMU only managed to recover five of them.
Expectations for 2016
Well it can’t get worse than 2015 can it? This was Van Malone’s first season with this defense and we knew it would be rough. Still, we started to see his effect on the unit despite its obvious shortcomings. You’ll get some help in the secondary from the incoming recruiting class no doubt. Plus Horace Richardson, Darrion Richardson, and Jordan Wyatt return next season to provide some much needed leadership. And without a doubt, everyone will benefit from another offseason with Malone and his defense.
Graduating: Derek Longoria, Robert Seals, Jonathan Yenga, Caleb Tuiasosopo
Returning: Nick Horton (JR), Kyran Mitchell (FR-RS), Carlos Carroll (SO), Jeremy White (SO), RC Cox (SO), Jordon Williams (FR), Matt McNew (FR), Zane Smith (FR), Jackson Mitchell (JR), Anthony Rhone (SO)
I thought it was hard finding good things to say about the defensive backs. I suppose we can start with Yenga, Tuiasosopo, Kyran Mitchell, and Jackson Mitchell finishing in the top ten in tackles for SMU. Kyran and Jackson might have been the brightest of the four and good news—they are coming back next season.
The two combined for 8.5 tackles for a loss. Kyran picked off a pass, and Jackson forced a pair of fumbles.
Another unit that got absolutely man handled this season. That 6.4 yards after catch average doesn’t fall completely on the defensive backs. We all saw the linebackers whiff on a number of tackles on the rare occasion they were actually in position to try.
And when it came to stopping the run, they came up very short. Teams averaged 261.2 rushing yards a game, 5.8 yards a carry and ran into the end zone 40 times.
Expectations for 2016
Again, this unit needs some help and it needs another offseason with Malone. As far as veteran leadership, this unit might be the one taking the biggest hit. It feels like Longoria, Seals, and Yenga have been at SMU forever. And while their effectiveness on the field certainly took a step back this season they had to have had voices in the locker room. Now it’s time for the youngsters to show what they got. And like I said, Kyran and Jackson were the better linebackers in 2015.
Graduating: Andrew McCleneghen, Cameron Smith, Spencer Conley, Zach Wood.
Returning: Justin Lawler (SO), Mason Gentry (SO), Michael Epley (FR-RS), Hunter Thedford (FR), Zelt Minor (JR), Spencer Hollie (SO), Michael Scott (FR), Jarvis Pruitt (JR), Chris Biggurs (FR), Elie Nabushosi (JR), Deon Green (JR), Myles McCormack (FR), Delontae Scott (FR),
So Justin Lawler was pretty awesome—led the team with 63 tackles, nine tackles for a loss, five sacks. And with Zach Wood bulking up during the offseason to move inside, he was able to put pressure on the quarterback and stop runner in the backfield. He finished with 3.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for losses. Andrew McCleneghen was also a nice surprise—he recorded three sacks on the season and five tackles for a loss.
It wouldn’t be fair to blame the linebackers and defensive backs for all those yards and touchdowns without putting some of it on the line. I’m a firm believer that games are won and lost in the trenches. Because, the defensive line wasn’t consistently good, the linebackers were often left exposed and were easily blocked on run plays. Their also wasn’t consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, allowing receivers more time to get open.
A stronger defensive line makes the entire defense better. And unfortunately, the defensive line wasn’t strong enough to carry a bad linebacker and defensive back group.
Expectations for 2016
SMU is going to need a lot of help on the defensive line. Zach Wood and McCleneghen are gone and with them over two thirds of your sacks and quarterback hurries.
Lawler is sticking around and he’ll only get better, so there is that to look forward to. But without other linemen demanding attention from offensive lines, he could see some double teams.
So SMU is going to need to reload and really hope it can get some immediate help from the incoming class, because the returning group isn’t strong enough to improve on their 2015 performance on its own.