Stone Ponies: SMU Q&A

Jim Cowsert-US PRESSWIRE

It's the first American Athletic Conference game for both teams. Get the inside scoop straight from the horse's mouth (ZING!).

We had to venture outside of the SB Nation family of blogs for this one, but the answers were just as great. Read on for what to expect from the Mustangs, as well as a great spot for BBQ if you happen to make the trip down to Dallas.

Q: The Mustangs enter Saturday with a disappointing 1-3 record, but the competition has been brutal with games against Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and TCU all in the month of September. Is that record misleading?

PonyFans.com: The record isn't one that coaches, players or PonyFans want to see, but it's not entirely unexpected. Preseason predictions picked the four games to go exactly as they did. There was some thought that Texas Tech and TCU were teams that could potentially be upset, but a win in either case would have been just that - an upset, and almost nobody expected the Mustangs to go into College Station and knock off a Texas A&M team that had gone toe-to-toe the week before with an Alabama team most assume is the nation's best. To be fair, the Mustangs' win came against a Montana State team that is talented enough and well-coached enough that the Bobcats very easily could have joined the likes of North Dakota State, Eastern Washington and Towson State among the list of FCS teams that won games on the road against favored FBS teams. So no, the record is not misleading at all. In each of the Mustangs' first four games, the better team has won.

Q: SMU is now a proud member of the American Athletic Conference. Do you see it as an upgrade from Conference USA, or simply a clone of its former conference?

PonyFans.com: The AAC clearly is an upgrade over Conference USA. Leaving behind the likes of Rice and UTEP and, for at least a year, Tulsa and Rice, and replacing them on the schedule with teams like Rutgers and Cincinnati and a South Florida that has had some very good seasons in recent years represents a marked improvement. SMU is the only AAC team that doesn't play Louisville in 2013, and from the Mustangs' standpoint, that isn't a bad thing. The Mustangs already had three very strong opponents in non-conference games, and Louisville would have presented another heavyweight foe. 

Q: : What is the current sentiment on June Jones? Rutgers fans know all too well about a coach who resurrected a program but failed to take it to the next level. Do Mustang fans think Jones has reached his peak?

PonyFans.com: This is one of the most - if not THE most - talked-about topics among PonyFans, who are split on whether Jones should remain at the help. When he was hired, Jones was hailed as a savior, and he has led the Mustangs to four consecutive bowl games - three of which SMU has won - for the first time in school history. For that, there are some who feel he is beyond reproach. On the other hand, there are some who are upset that he listened when Maryland and Arizona State made overtures about him taking over the Terrapins' and Sun Devils' programs, and some who think the team has plateaued under Jones. He has an even-keeled, almost stoic demeanor that disturbs some fans, but while he doesn't rant and rave after a loss, he also didn't jump up and down after he led the Mustangs to a rout of Nevada in the 2009 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, which was SMU's first appearance in a bowl game in 24 years. 

Q: It seems as if Garrett Gilbert makes about 80 pass attempts per game running June Jones' offense. If the passing game stalls, does SMU have a threat on the ground?

PonyFans.com: Yes ... but how effective that threat is remains to be seen. The projected starter this year, former Texas Longhorn Traylon Shead, has been out since getting hurt in the season opener against Texas Tech, although he said Tuesday he fully expects to play Saturday against Rutgers. Since Shead has been out, the running duties have been shared by two players: Prescott Line - the younger brother of Zach Line, who finished his career last season as the second-leading rusher in SMU history behind Eric Dickerson and made the Minnesota Vikings' roster as an undrafted free agent - and K.C. Nlemchi. The assumption that Prescott Line is a clone of his brother is wrong, although they look a lot alike.

Prescott Line is not quite as quick, but a little heavier (close to 240 pounds) and absurdly strong (how many redshirt freshman running backs out there bench press well over 400 pounds?) He's not going to make defenders miss, and he's not going to waste time trying. Line's running style involves putting his head down and running through defenders, and he's a decent receiver out of the backfield. Jones has said since the day he was hired that the top priority of any running back in his offense is pass blocking, and has said this year that Line - a star running back and linebacker in high school (he was was the winner of the "Mr. Football" for the state of Michigan as a senior) and a state champion heavyweight wrestler - might be the best he has coached since Craig "Ironhead" Heyward played for Jones as a member of the Atlanta Falcons. Nlemchi is the fastest and probably the best athlete of the group, and also is a good receiver out of the backfield (and SMU uses screen passes as a sort of extension of the running game). More than likely, all three will play Saturday. But Jones never has shied away from the fact that his teams throw first and run as a change of pace. The way each game unfolds obviously dictates the plays that are called, but given a choice, Jones would have Gilbert putting the ball in the air all day long. 

Q: What might happen Saturday that would completely surprise Rutgers fans while being completely unsurprising to SMU fans?

PonyFans.com: Other than the fact that SMU will break out a blue throwback jersey (the school is honoring its 1983 team), the only surprise for Rutgers fans might be for the older fans who remember the Eric Dickerson-led Mustangs running all over the best teams in the country. The new incarnation of the Mustangs passes to set up the run (Gilbert is averaging 54 attempts per game), and it's not just Jones - he brought in Hal Mumme, the so-called "godfather of the Air Raid offense" as an assistant coach, and under Mumme's guidance, the passing game has changed this season, with the Mustangs relying more on screen passes and quick crossing routes to soften up the defense before taking a shot downfield.

Q: Do you have a prediction for the final score?

PonyFans.com: Depends. Is Rutgers bring the defense that gave up 53 points to Fresno State in the opener, or the one that has held the next three opponents to just over 11 per game? The game likely will come down to how well the SMU offensive line can protect Gilbert against the Rutgers front seven. If he is under siege all day, it could be a long day for the home team. If the line can protect him and the running game can keep the Rutgers defense honest, Gilbert should be able to find his targets in the passing game. Prediction: SMU 33, Rutgers 27

Q: For Rutgers fans making the trip to Dallas, what is the best place to get BBQ?

Dickey's Barbecue Pit (4610 N. Central Expressway - northeast corner of the intersection, which is one exit south of campus off Central Expressway/I-75). The stuffed baked potatoes are excellent, and the sausage and brisket are even better. If you're not used to spicy BBQ sauce, be careful how much you add!

So there you have it. I'd like to thank the kind folks from PonyFans.com for collaborating on this great Q&A. For more info on the Mustangs and OTB's answers to the opponent's Q&A, click here.

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