For fourteen practices this spring, the offense and defense of SMU's football team slugged it out, both literally and figuratively. One day the offense would shine. The next day, the defense would dominate. Some days the intensity of the battles would carry past the whistle. Heading into Saturday's annual Red/Blue scrimmage, it was anyone's guess which side of the football would carry the day.
After 47 seven plays of a controlled scrimmage, the answer was a draw. A literal 56 to 56 tie, using June Jones' unique scoring philosophy. Originally, the scrimmage was scheduled to go for 40 plays. Seven flags were thrown by officials hired to simulate a game day experience, resulting in the increased play count.
Jones' scoring system (below) mirrors the messages the coaching staff has been preaching all spring. For the offense, the keys are don't throw interceptions and make big plays (14 points for plays longer than 35 yards). Defensively, the coached have stressed creating turnovers (25 points for an interception) and pressuring the quarterback (4 points for a sack).
Each play was snapped from the south side's 45-yard line, with the offense facing midfield. On the first play of the scrimmage, quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell looked right, waited, and then threw a 50-yard bomb down the left sideline. Aldrick Robinson was a couple steps behind right corner Bryan McCann, but the ball went through his hands for an incompletion. "I thought I had it man," said Robinson of the missed touchdown opportunity.
Mitchell, who finished the spring game 12 -16 for 108 yards, has shown marked improvement from last year. "I feel so much better about this year compared to last year," said Mitchell. "I know the offense. One two three throw the ball. I know where my receivers are going to be. I know the offensive line is going to give me time." Despite airing it out on the first play, Mitchell admitted he was trying to avoid forcing any throws and giving up the 25 point interception. "Today I was making some reads, trying to complete balls…get some points for us," said Mitchell. "We kind of settled down on the long throws."
Coach Jones was clearly in favor of Mitchell's decision making. "We didn't throw any interceptions," said Jones. "As long as we don't throw any interceptions, we are probably going to win a lot of games."
Throughout the spring, the defense has been implementing more plays into their new 3-4 defensive scheme. Defensive coordinator Tom Mason made the switch in an attempt to get more pressure on the opposing quarterback by better utilizing the talent the Ponies already have on the roster. The defense registered five sacks in the game and impressed their coach with another strong effort. "I thought we grew today," said Mason. "I really did. I was happy with the enthusiasm we played with. I think we've made big strides this spring."
The 3-4 requires athletic linebackers, who can both rush the passer off the edge as well as run stuff. Two linebackers were singled out by coach Mason today. "I thought Patrick Flemming stood out," said Mason. "He had a couple of sacks. Chase Kinnemar had a great day. The first group I thought was really solid. We just have to develop some depth."
Mason plans to immerse himself in tape and training all summer, learning the intricacies of the 3-4 alignment. "I've got to keep learning, keep studying," said Mason. "Dick Lebeau at Pittsburgh, I'm going up to visit with him in May. Just keep learning more and more from the top guys that run it."
With Justin Willis battling an ankle injury, receiver Cole Loftin has worked his way into the starting rotation. Loftin used his 6'3" frame to shield defenders, while making 4 catches for 17-yards today. Loftin could be used as a possession receiver. He has already earned the respect of his quarterback. "I love Cole Loftin," said Mitchell. "He's such a hard worker and he will sell out his body to make a catch."
The running game still appears to be on the witness protection program. Chris Butler remains the starter for now, but none of the running backs have emerged this spring. Three running backs shared eight carries for 17-yards during the scrimmage. The offense ran the pistol formation a few plays, but couldn't get much going out of that alignment either.
Overall, Jones sees a better team after the spring. "We got better this spring," said Jones. "We've got some offensive skill players and defensive players that are going to make a name for themselves. I'm excited about where we are headed."
June Jones' Scoring System:
14 pts - Touchdown longer than 35 yards
7 pts - Touchdown
4 pts - Completion and run 10 yds. after catch
4 pts - Run over 10 yds
2 pts - Rushing play for 4 yds or more
2 pts - For a completion
25 pts - Interception
7 pts - Touchdown
4 pts - Caused fumble
4 pts - Sack
4 pts - Fumble recovery
4 pts - Stop run play for gain of 2 yds or less
2 pts - Pass deflection
1 pt - Incomplete pass