Having already broken down SMU’s offense heading into 2011-2012, we will now turn our attention to the defensive side of the ball.
SMU’s defense was very up and down last season. They play in a very offense-heavy conference, so it is hard to have great numbers but the goal is to limit points as much as possible. As a unit the gave up too many points for the amount of yardage and average per play numbers that they had. They do lose a few of players from the 2010 team as they head into 2011, so it will be a fairly new rotation, and one that will need to build on last year and improve.
Defensive End– At one end will be Junior Margus Hunt. This 6’8” Estonian is particularly known for his ability to block kicks. However, his pass rushing abilities are improving, and this junior season the coaching staff is hoping that he finally breaks out. On the other end, will be returning senior and All-Conference First Teamer Taylor Thompson. He has always demanded a lot of attention and came up with plays right when the defense needed it in 2010.
Nose Tackle– In his first season last year playing at Nose Tackle, Marquis Frazier played very well and improvement was seen as the season went on. Returning for his senior season, look for Frazier to be a part of a great front 7 and one that will need to play a key role in stopping the run against power teams such as TCU who SMU will play on September 30th in Fort Worth.
Inside Linebacker– The one starter will without a doubt be junior, Taylor Reed. Reed who had a team high 145 tackles last season was the heart and soul of the SMU defense. In order to fill Pete Flep’s shoes, I believe the job will go to either Victor Jones or Cameron Rogers. Either of these Juniors could win the job, but personally I believe that Rogers will end up getting the nod.
Outside Linebacker– On one side will be Ja’Gared Davis returning for his junior season after a break out season last year. He was named first team all conference after a season where he had 9 sacks and 16 tackles for loss while scoring two touchdowns. On the other side the Mustangs need to replace the great play of Youri Yenga. Personally, I believe that redshirt freshman John Bordano is the guy to fill that void. Bordano was highly touted coming out of high school where he was a top 40 inside linebacker prospect and amassed 197 tackles his senior year.
Cornerbacks– Richard Crawford returns at one corner for SMU. Last year, Crawford led the team with 4 interceptions and 12 pass break ups. Crawford was also the most effective punt returner on the team and will continue that role in 2011-2012. At the other corner the team loses Sterling Moore. I think the job will end up being either Keith Robinson’s or Chris Parks’ with sophomore Chris Parks finally winning the job
Safeties– Returning for his season will be Chris Banjo at Free Safety. Banjo started all 14 games last season for SMU and his season was good enough to be awarded second team All C-USA honors. Next to him at strong safety will be Ryan Smith. Smith, in his first season as a starter had some ups and down but began to play better and better as the year went to.
Best Strength– Last season SMU was one of the best in the Conference only giving up 3.7 yards per rush. Their 3-4 is led by a great corps of linebackers and an always improving defensive line. To be successful again this year a great defense against the run will be key to slow down several high powered offenses in Conference USA.
Biggest Weakness– Starting and ending the game well. The Mustangs gave up 57% of their points in the first and fourth quarters. Over the season they were outscored by a combined 46 points in these two quarters. In order to win both the close games and the big ones the defense is going to need to be better out of the gates and slam the door late.