SMU head coach June Jones focused on the negative during Monday's press briefing. Negative, that is, in the negative sense, in that eliminating negative plays and the degree to which they set back a team being a key to Friday's season-opening game at Rice.
"The game is about how good are your bad plays," Jones said following a short practice that followed early-morning team meetings Monday. "Bad plays, in that is it an incompletion or an interception? When you go through that, if your bad ones are better than the other team's bad ones, you're usually win the game.
"Every team is going to make mistakes. If you don't make them to beat you, you have a chance to win the game."
Jones said he and the other coaches have spent considerable time the past week working on the mental side of the game after seeing SMU's players trying hard in practices, but getting too deflated after making mistakes. He figures the team is reacting to pressure as excitement and expectations build on The Hilltop.
"They're putting undue pressure on themselves because of the excitement," Jones said. "If a guy drops a ball, or gives up a sack, that's one play. You can't let that get you down. "You get beat from within in most games, you don't get beat by the opponent. That comes through a bunch of different ways – division between different groups, bad communication. We focus on them a whole bunch, and when you abide in them, you win."
Jones spoke about mistakes after fielding a week's worth of questions about committing to start a true freshman, Bo Levi Mitchell, at quarterback against Rice. Mitchell, Jones said, he handled the announcement well, and has held his composure in practice like a seasoned veteran who has played in big games before.
Jones spoke of Mitchell's poise and confidence as one of the factors in his decision to have him start.
"We've loaded him down the last three weeks, but we're cutting back now," Jones said. "He'll make mistakes and I'll be frustrated like everyone else. But as long as he sees me not panicking, he shouldn't either. We'll take things into the game to give him confidence.
"I can sense that he's been there before, and I've been around a lot of quarterbacks that have something that allows them to get through it," he continued. "I have a gut feeling that he has that something."
Other press conference notes:
Defensive line rotationJones reiterated the large rotation of players along the defensive line, particularly the freshmen. The defensive front has been one of the areas of greatest improvement from the spring, he said. "We've got some guys there that can get off the ball. They're athletic and got great speed," Jones said. "Some of them are young kids. We'll have four freshmen going to play (at Rice), and we have 8-9 defensive linemen who are all potentially really good players." According to the most recent depth chart, Anthony Sowe and Taylor Thompson will rotate at left defensive end, Patrick Handy and Mickey Dollens at left tackle, Serge Elizee and Evan Huahulu at nose guard, and Adrian Dizer and Youri Yenga at right defensive end. The potential ninth player was not identified. "We're excited about the travel squad we put together."
Short week is no problem in preparationJones says playing a non-Saturday game isn't a big deal at this point in the season. He's accustomed to playing on Thursdays and Fridays from when Hawaii would play on ESPN's special game nights during the fall. "When you're running the wishbone and the run-and-shoot, once it gets ingrained in you, it doesn't matter what day it's on," Jones said. "You work on stuff a lot, and you get ready. In fact, with the other team working to prepare against you, if you're running something a bit different, it works to your advantage having them have to adjust to us. "It can be good to have a short week."