Summer Vacation: SMU (Offense)

DALLAS - SEPTEMBER 24: Quarterback Kyle Padron #2 of the SMU Mustangs looks to pass against the TCU Horned Frogs at Gerald J. Ford Stadium on September 24 2010 in Dallas Texas. THROW THE BALL, KYLE. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

I have visited and revisited the concept of the "offensive footprint" during this blog's infancy, and it strikes me that the best way to see the footprint in action is to get an example of how I intend to use it.  Over the coming 5+ months, you will be inundated with team profiles and previews, both here and (as is currently the goal) this summer on the mothership.  I will be posting some mid-major team profiles as we approach the summer months, just to get feedback on and tweak the format so as to make it as accessible as possible to people who don't immediately know what "S&P+" actually means (yet).  Want to see me experiment with your mid-major team?  Let me know and I'll bump it up in the queue.

So what follows is the type of content that you will receive in bulk this summer.  The goal will be one huge piece (instead of offense and defense), but at first, we'll break them up.

Confused? Don't miss the definitions and footnotes at the bottom.

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While Pony Excess, ESPN's phenomenal 30-for-30 documentary on the shady goings-on that led to SMU receiving the death penalty in the late-1980s, may not have shined a positive light on anything to do with SMU, Dallas, the Southwest Conference, boosters, money, college football, college football recruiting, Craig James, Eric Dickerson, Reggie Dupard, former governor Bill Clements, Sherwood Blount (for whom there is a special place reserved in Booster Hell), former SMU athletic director Bob Hitch, or, really, anybody even remotely associated with the university, city, state, or football conference in the entire decades of the 1970s and 1980s, it did succeed in two specific ways: 1) it got people talking about SMU football (no publicity is bad publicity!), and 2) it painted the present-tense SMU football program in a positive, redemptive light.

And to be sure, SMU's revival under June Jones has been nothing short of miraculous. Not only did the Mustangs break through for eight wins and a bowl victory (their first since 1984) in 2009, but they did not give away many gains in 2010.  Teams that surge forward in one year tend to regress a bit the next, but SMU did not.  The Mustangs advanced to the Conference USA title game via tie-breaker over Tulsa, though Central Florida's defense precluded them from celebrating their first conference title in 26 years.

Beyond everything else, even horizontal steps should still be considered progress for the 'stangs, who have won almost as many games in the past two seasons (15) as they had in the previous six (16), and more than they won from 1989 to 1995 (13).  Whether 2011 will see horizontal or vertical progress, however, remains to be seen.

2010 Schedule & Results*

Click to embiggen.

Record: 7-7 | Adj. Record: 9-5 | Final F/+ Rk**: 59
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
5-Sep at Texas Tech 27-35 L 24.1 - 29.1 L
11-Sep UAB 28-7 W 32.8 - 23.1 W
18-Sep Washington State 35-21 W 28.7 - 29.8 L
24-Sep TCU 24-41 L 43.2 - 24.3 W
2-Oct at Rice 42-31 W 33.7 - 32.1 W
9-Oct Tulsa 21-18 W 30.7 - 19.4 W
16-Oct at Navy 21-28 L 30.5 - 29.6 W
23-Oct Houston 20-45 L 22.9 - 28.9 L
30-Oct at Tulane 31-17 W 33.4 - 23.3 W
6-Nov at UTEP 14-28 L 25.1 - 33.6 L
20-Nov Marshall 31-17 W 32.6 - 30.9 W
27-Nov at East Carolina 45-38 W 22 - 33.6 L
4-Dec vs Central Florida 7-17 L 25.1 - 24.2 W
30-Dec vs Army 14-16 L 27.8 - 20.5 W
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 25.7 74 25.6 59
Adj. Points Per Game 29.5 44 27.3 60

The Adj. Score measure is intended to show how a team would have done against a perfectly average opponent in a given week, and seven of SMU's 14 games were played within five points in terms of Adj. Scoring Margin.  That means SMU was a rather consistently, impressively average team throughout most of 2010.  (Which, in Conference USA, is above average.)  Only four times was the Adj. Scoring Margin over 10 points -- three times good, once bad.

Predictably, then, SMU finished with a .500 record.  Tight wins over Tulsa and East Carolina balanced out tight losses to Texas Tech, Navy and Army.  And as we'll see below, turnovers really held the Mustangs back at the end of the season.  They were minus-5 against Central Florida and Army, turning decent performances (typically good enough to beat an average team) into losses.

Offense***

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 66 46 74
RUSHING 66 45 82 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 58 40 76 19
Standard Downs 75 58 82 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 37 34 45 86
Redzone 81 67 83
Q1 Rk 103 1st Down Rk 60
Q2 Rk 42 2nd Down Rk 63
Q3 Rk 54 3rd Down Rk 74
Q4 Rk 51

Back in the late-1980s, I rode the passing game to success on Tecmo Bowl by pulling the same thing everybody else did -- running straight backwards with my quarterback until my receivers were sufficiently open downfield, them calmly chucking the ball 85 yards (or 120) for a touchdown.  Unfortunately, Kyle Padron was too busy "being born" and "learning how to walk and talk" to play Tecmo in the late-'80s and early-'90s, so he was unaware of the effectiveness of this quarterbacking ploy.  He should have perhaps tried it; maneuvering around close to the pocket and waiting for his receivers to get open just got him hit a lot in 2010.

For a CUSA offense, SMU's was certainly not too bad.  They were relatively efficient (as evidenced by Top 50 success rates), but they lacked severely in explosiveness (PPP+ rankings in the 70s and 80s).  They were not efficient enough on standard downs to be truly consistent without the coinciding athleticism, but, as is the upside to Padron hanging in the pocket and waiting as long as possible to throw the ball, they bailed themselves out enough on passing downs to win their division.

SMU threw as much as anybody in the country (57.7% of the time on standard downs, third most in the country), and for a run-and-shoot offense, a high sack rate can be devastating.  The Mustangs ranked 57th in Passing Downs Adj. Sack Rate, meaning, relatively speaking, they handled blitzes rather well.  (That they ran a lot of draw plays on those downs didn't hurt.  This was a uniquely high-variability offense.)  The problem was, they ranked 95th in Standard Downs Adj. Sack Rate.  If you watched the Conference USA title game, you know that Kyle Padron had the tendency to hold onto the ball a looooooooooooong time, and against a strong defense like Central Florida, that was deadly.  Part of June Jones' offensive style is that isn't all quick reads like your typical spread offense (Texas Tech was at or near the top of the sack rates rankings just about every year in which Mike Leach roamed the sidelines); that said, Padron still needs to figure out where the line is between trying to create and holding onto the ball for too damn long.  Against SMU's overall level of competition, 34 sacks is far too many for an offense to be successful, even if it came in over 500 pass attempts.

Bullets of note:

  • The bad news for SMU heading into 2011: they were lacking in overall athleticism in 2010, and now they must replace receiver Aldrick Robinson (65 catches, 1,301 yards, 14 touchdowns).  Robinson was the one, true big-play threat on a team lacking in big plays.  His absence could make for even more of a reliance on long, sustained drives, which, with the aforementioned sack issues, could be problematic.
  • The good news: virtually everybody else returns.  Padron was still decent in his sophomore season 59.4% completion rate, 7.5 yards per pass, 31 touchdowns, 14 interceptions), and he and his offensive line will get another season to figure each other out.  Plus, big running back Zach Line (1,523 yards, 10 touchdowns, 6.1 yards/carry) and little receivers Cole Beasley (87 catches, 1,060 yards, six touchdowns) and Darius Johnson (78 catches, 845 yards) are valuable.
  • With the variable that Line brings to the equation, SMU has a power-and-efficiency aspect somewhat unique to June Jones' offensive history.  (They were not afraid to hand to Line on 2nd-and-long, which typically set up many more third-and-manageable than Padron would have likely earned on his own.)  They just need a deep threat.
  • An aside: as a "You don't need a fullback to succeed in the red zone" guy, I'm obviously a bit displeased by SMU's red zone production.  Come on, guys, help me out here.  You even have a big back!

 

 

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* For more on the 'Adj. Score' and 'Adj. Record' measures below, feel free to read this Football Outsiders column. Adj. Score is a look at how a team would have performed in a given week if playing a perfectly average team, with a somewhat average number of breaks and turnovers. The idea for the measure is simple: what if everybody in the country played exactly the same opponent every single week? Who would have done the best? It is an attempt to look at offensive and defensive consistency without getting sidetracked by easy or difficult schedules. And yes, with adjusted score you can allow a negative number of points, which is strangely satisfying.

** F/+ rankings are the official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

*** What is S&P+? Think of it as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter.  For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

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