Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Mustang Defense and Regular Season

Now that we've examined what these two teams are primarily known for, you'd think that their lackluster defenses would be less interesting to dissect. And you'd be (mostly) right. Without divulging much of the analysis to come, let's just say the less said about these two defenses, the better. There are intriguing bright spots to be found for those with the persistence to unearth them -- like the Mustangs' Chase Kennemer here -- but those are infrequent bits of flotsam floating in an entire sea of "Eeeeeeeesh!" (The NCAA's statistical rankings were my inspiration again this week)

SMU's defense yields 404 yards per game, only slightly more atrocious than Nevada's 398.92 per game. And neither team has much room to brag when it comes to surrendering points (29.08 for SMU, 27.17 for Nevada).

But each team boasts a unique strength that usually gets lost amidst the criticism and flak their respective units get. Here at PWtW, you probably know all about Dontay Moch's impressive tackles for loss stats and the fact that Nevada's rushing defense has remained fairly good in spite of its secondary, right? Well, have you heard of the feats of SMU's secondary? Probably not, because when you're giving up 234.83 passing yards per game, the fact remains that you're still not that good, even if your opponent is second-to-worst in the country in that category. But surprisingly enough, the Mustangs have forced 27 turnovers this year -- 16 of which have been interceptions. Their pass efficiency defense is worth a double-take, too: 122.07, which makes them the third-best team in that category the Pack will have faced this year behind Boise State and Louisiana Tech.

Going back again to Kennemer for a minute, this kid is incredible. On a defense of pretty unremarkable little boys, this guy stands out as The Man. He averages 6.33 solo tackles and 10.5 total tackles per game -- both in the top twenty in the nation. Needless to say, his efforts will be critical if the Pistol ground game is to be slowed down in any way.

The rest of the defensive stats of note are kind of a mixed bag that slightly favor the Pack. SMU has been a little better at preventing red zone scores (80% scores surrendered, next to Nevada's 88%) and the aforementioned interceptions, while Nevada has the Mustangs beat in sacks (28 to 20), tackles for loss (83 to 61) and slightly beat in third and fourth down conversion percentage defense. Both teams were about equal at recovering fumbles (Nevada 10, SMU 11) and first downs allowed per game (19.5 to 20.08).

Now here's how the Mustangs reversed last year's 1-11 effort and reached their first bowl game since the pre-death penalty 1980s:

1-0: SMU 31, Stephen F. Austin 23 (Dallas)

SMU needed a 17-point fourth quarter rally and 6 turnovers to beat this very game FCS opponent.

2-0: SMU 35, UAB 33 (Birmingham)

The Mustangs got off to a quick lead, but saw it falter in the second half before finishing off the Blazers.

2-1: Washington State 30, SMU 27 in OT (Pullman)

Along with Nevada's loss at Colorado State, a bizarre, baffling loss to a team they should've easily beaten in retrospect.

2-2: #11 TCU 39, SMU 14 (Fort Worth)

SMU actually led for about a quarter and a half, but in the end the TCU defense proved to be too much to handle.

3-2: SMU 28, East Carolina 21 (Dallas)

Lacking in most categories except the final score, this was by far the Mustangs' best win of the regular season.

3-3: Navy 38, SMU 35 in OT (Dallas)

Another heartbreaking overtime loss, especially since the Midshipmen never led until nearly halfway through the fourth quarter.

3-4: #17 Houston 38, SMU 15 (Houston)

The good news? Case Keenum was held to 233 yards passing and one TD.

4-4: SMU 27, Tulsa 13 (Tulsa)

Kyle Padron's first start was a good one, and the Mustangs iced it with two minutes left.

5-4: SMU 31, Rice 28 (Dallas)

Three blocked kicks by SMU -- one returned for a TD -- were the difference makers in this battle of former WAC foes.

6-4: SMU 35, UTEP 31 (Dallas)

Probably the wildest game of the year, the Mustangs once again won where it counted most: the scoreboard.

6-5: Marshall 34, SMU 31 (Huntington)

Much like the Navy game in that SMU was burned on the ground and came up just short in the end.

7-5: SMU 26, Tulane 21 (Dallas)

The Mustangs led most of the way, but needed a late TD to seal the deal and guarantee themselves a bowl.

What stands out most about how SMU's season unfolded were the close ones, which is to say a whopping nine of their twelve games to date. Nine games were decided by 8 or fewer points, and the Mustangs went 6-3 in those contests. For a team that was, as June Jones himself put it after the Tulane win "browbeat worse than any players [he'd] ever seen," this is a big psychological advantage to carry into a bowl game. Nevada played only one game that was decided by less than 10 points. Quite simply, if the game is close, SMU will have the confidence -- and perhaps the ability -- to pull off the upset. Scoring on them early and often will be critical for the Pack, but maintaining a comfortable lead once it's been attained will be even more important.

So there you have it. By now you should have all the relevant stats you need to know so you hopefully don't end up looking like one of the many trash-talking Fresno State fans who got served a heaping helping of humble pie on Saturday. This blogger, at least, would be laughing more if the game hadn't cost him so many of those damn confidence points in the ESPN Bowl Mania contest. Will we have another entry up before Thursday? Not sure, but keep checking back in.


Patrick H said...

9 of SMU's 16 interceptions came in their first 2 games vs 1AA SFA and UAB. They only had 3 interceptions in their last 7 games. In 4 of those games they had 0 INTs and they lost 3 of those games.

Pack Backer said...

Good detective work, Patrick! As you can probably tell I'm still a greenhorn stats guy.

Something else I noticed that never made it into either of my breakdowns was the 34 sacks SMU allowed. Nevada's best chance at containing their passing game is to stop it before it leaves the QB's hands, and they have the personnel to do just that.