Fee Fi Foe Film: SMU Defense 2018 Comment Count

Seth September 14th, 2018 at 12:03 PM

SMU got us this photo of Kyran Mitchell before we remembered Fuller shot them so might as well use it

Previously: The Offense

I had to watch an entire game with Dan Orlovsky('s idea of what ESPN viewers think passes for) analysis, so let's start off with the worst of it:

Nope. Maybe it's because I spend a lot of time watching Don Brown defenses play, or because last week I broke down a Bronco defense that thinks bringing six is light and a safety at the 1st down marker is too deep. But after watching SMU-TCU, then checking the Texas State* film to make sure it wasn't just some one-game adjustment to the Frogs' highly inaccurate freshman QB, I'm pretty sure this is the most soft-batch, weak-kneed, yellow-bellied, pansy-ass, puts-milk-in-their-coffee, stand-around-confused wuss-puss defensive scheme we've seen in Ann Arbor since Greg Robinson's (idea of what what Rich Rodriguez meant when he said to run a) 3-3-5 left town. Softer, actually, because they also apparently think Quarters means actually sitting back in a Cover 4 all day. At least GERG took his coffee coffee-flavored.

*[not the one with the beautiful kicker]

Personnel: My diagram (PDF or click image for larger)



I could not fit every rotational player, let alone every listed co-starter in SMU's game notes on this sheet despite adding six spaces because some legacy future oil company marketing director in the SID department really likes his or's. Most positions had multiple starters on the depth chart, often not just two. They do in fact rotate a ton: I counted five guys who got significant run at DT, and SMU only uses one DT! The third LB saw as many snaps as the starter. Both backup HSPs had as many events as the guys they're behind. If it seems like I can't get a handle on who's playing on that defense it's because neither can the Mustangs. Nobody's expecting much from them this year, so defensive coordinator Kevin Kane seems to be trying everybody and seeing what sticks.

[Back up gently and let THE JUMP come to you for the rest of the breakdown]

Base Set? They're a 3-3-5 on paper and personnel, but it's not a Stack. Philosophically it's a 3-man front: the DL two-gap and the LBs hit whatever's left after the carnage. So: a 3-4 then? Eh, if mid-'70s Bo Schembechler could find it within himself to call his 5-2 defense a 3-4, we should just admit what this is: a 3-2-6.


I charted 61 plays before calling it deep in the 4th quarter with SMU down 35-12. Of those, all but four plays were a variant of the 3-2-6, occasionally with a DE split out over the tight end. The four plays that weren't a 3-3-5 were two 4-2-5 (real ones, with four down linemen and everything) and a couple of 4-3s when TCU went heavy, one over and one under:


Guessing Michigan sees that more.

Man or zone coverage: They're in Quarters about 70 percent of the time, Cover 3 most of the rest. That "Quarters" implies "Match Quarters," i.e. what Michigan State and Penn State do. Nope. They're a Cover 4 team. They put four guys deep. They put four more guys at linebacker depth. They rush three.

Pressure: GERG or GREG: GERG. So very very GERG:

They averaged 4.1 rushers per play, and would have been under 4.00 if falling behind hadn't forced them to take a few risks.


There was a method to this cowardly madness. SMU's linebackers appeared to spend most of the game set to read any slight gesture toward a handoff as a running play. I'll come back to this in the overview.

Dangerman: I'm going to give you the 2017 stats for two players and you get to guess who they are:

Name Tackles TFLs Sacks Run Stuffs INTs PBUs Succ Rate
Player 1 62.5 17 8 19 2 9 40.0%
Player 2 64 15.5 4.5 14 1 3 41.1%

(stats via Bill C; Succ Rate is how often the opponent had a successful play when our guy was the listed defender)

The first player is our Khaleke Hudson. The second is Kyran Mitchell playing about the same position. Mitchell's about the size Khaleke is now and a year older, but his game is very much what you'd expect if Khaleke was asked to play middle linebacker. Reading run and stuffing his face into where the ball seems to be going: Check.

Covering a slot receiver 25 yards downfield? Check:

Getting out to the edge and murdering your screen? Check:

The occasional hit where the quarterback stops going forward and just folds in half? Check:

And bonus points for it not being your own quarterback!

How about blitzing? Can he blitz? Sure. They've got one in their repertoire where one LB follows the other and it got pressure every time:

As for carrying a zone until it's someone else's problem before high-tailing it to the flat, not so great:

This was a persistent issue in this game, as was getting knocked around when a blocker got to him or a DL got shoved into him, the mass problem reared. He also missed a few tackles. He still looks like an HSP trying to hack it inside. That's still the best defender on the field by far, and noticeably missed when he rotates off because SMU's defense is an anarcho-syndicalist commune.

OVERVIEW: This is a lying depth chart that lies: The WDE position doesn't exist, there are three safety positions, and one of the LB jobs is really an HSP. image

Truth be told all of the LBs are safety-like, because they were until recently safeties. MLB Kyran Mitchell was SMU's star "Star" (#hybridspaceplayerterms) last year in their base 4-2-5 defense. WLB Richard Moore was an HSP for Texas A&M through last year. Their rotational backup ILB Delano Robinson is linebacker-shaped and started a few games at linebacker last year, but he's constantly getting run over or tossed around much as a defensive back would. Fourth LB Jordan Williams gets a fair bit of run as well, and mostly got picked on in zones.

The actual Spurs (still "Stars" in SMU's terminology), Trevor Denbow and Shaine Hailey are more or less interchangeable with the Bandit ("Rover") Patrick Nelson. Hailey, who's 5'11"/215, is really just a nickel corner. To these eyes who've watched Khaleke and Peppers so much, they look very passive and thoughtful.

The two safety-flavored safeties are SS Rodney Clemons, a returning starter they'd probably like to replace, and FS Cole Sterns, who did replace last year's trouble starter Mikial Onu, who still comes it at Bandit just long enough to blow a run fit. They mostly spent the day backing into deep coverage then biffing tackles.

Despite just playing one DT on the vast majority of snaps, I estimate at least 15 percent of the Southern Methodist student body can claim to be a starting defensive tackle on this team. Nose was a weighted rotation of FIVE(!) guys, two of whom started at DT last year, and not counting a sixth (injured) guy who was credited for starting the opener because I'm pretty sure that guy's a DE. I counted snaps (until they went down 35-12 in the 4th Q) because there's not much else to look at. The Nose men in order of appearance:

  • #94 Chris Biggurs (24 snaps): Last year's starter at 3-tech, and the most effective.
  • #91 Terrance Newman (15 snaps): A very large 18-year-old true freshman
  • #96 Noah Westerfield (4 snaps): A Cal grad transfer who came in on passing downs and played 3-tech on two plays when SMU went to a 4-man front
  • #51 Pono Davis (9 snaps): Last year's starter at nose, a standard immovable nose
  • #90 Ken McLaurin (9 snaps): A large man who didn't stand out but looked fine except the one time he got lost in the doggy pile:

I left off two more tackles listed as nominal co-starters: Arkansas grad transfer #95 Jake Hall, who's gotta be a 3-tech, and #44 Harrison Loveless, a redshirt freshman who's listed at 300 pounds and an "or" for that superfluous DT position.

The cornerbacks play off and weren't tested much, but looked shaky—FCB Jordan Wyatt is more Glasgow than Lewis. CB Robert Hayes looked good in man but gave up a 42-yard touchdown by bailing on a slant that I also clipped to show Mitchell's tendency to be too aggressive after the flat part of his curl-flat zones:

While I'm on the LBs I wanted to show what I meant in the Pressure section about converting a three-man rush into a five-man at the slightest hint of a run.

At the snap the DL attack, but the LBs watch the quarterback.


At the first sign of a handoff they step forward against the run. Could be a bubble pass? Could be play-action? Don't curr.


The rules for play-action are play the run always and let the second level deal with whatever comes at them. TCU finally adapted to this in the 2nd half and started throwing play-action slants and curls until SMU's linebackers knocked it off. Then it was back to passive three-man rushes.

As you might have gathered from all the three-man rushing, the quarterback regularly had time to sit and survey until a comeback route came open. The nose tackle rotation only got penetration a few times—notably twice when the passing downs guy was in there—and the ends were more hindrance than help. SDE Demerick Gary is listed as a DT, started a few games at 3-tech last year, is 6'3"/285, and doesn't help in the passing game unless he's getting a held on a rollout and the referee just happens to see it. The other starter is WDE Delonte Scott, who plays a lot lighter than his listed 260, and played zone reads like it's 2002. The one time he actually beat a blocker off the edge his de facto backup (and the starting WDE presuming their 4-3 look puts Scott at SDE), redshirt freshman Turner Coxe came upfield too hot and this happened.

He might be a good candidate if you're trying to ease a young offensive tackle into a starting role. Ya know, just…if you wanted to.

Quickly, Special Teams:

Punt returns were C.J. Sanders and uneventful; the safety was just TCU's punter dropping the ball twice. Punting however was quite an adventure. Punter Jamie Sackville (I tried but can't think of a joke) is an Aussie but doesn't have a strong leg—he averaged barely over 40 yards on his 11(!) punts, matching his average from last year. When they go long they're not high.

Donovan Peoples-Jones could get a shot.

Etc. It is my duty to report they have a "Turnover Chalice" which comes with a crown and the accompanying Happy Meal.

Def LEAD PHOTO turnover crown and chalice



September 14th, 2018 at 12:31 PM ^

Not saying Patterson deserves it, but curious, what does it take for a QB to be a "dangerman"? Is it only for Denard type QB's that can scramble for a long TD? Is consistently hitting deep shots make a QB a "dangerman"? Would an Aaron Rodgers type, someone who scrambles around the behind the LOS long enough that someone deep gets open, qualify?

Underhill's Gold

September 14th, 2018 at 12:43 PM ^

You really stepped it up with this column, Seth.  From that spicy first paragraph to more film than I remember seeing in those opening categorical sections (base set/man v. zone/pressure), this was a great read. 


September 14th, 2018 at 1:41 PM ^

Thanks, Seth, for saving me a whole lotta time!  Once I listened to Dan Orlovsky's analysis and learned that SMU's defense is "playin' hard," I knew all I needed to know and didn't need to read the rest of your post.


September 14th, 2018 at 2:04 PM ^

So on a scale of 1-10, with a 1 being:


”Western Redux, keep it on the ground to prevent Shea/WR injury & keep playbook under wraps from future teams”, 


and a 10 being,


“our OL pass pro is a mess, we need to work in the young guys & get lots of in-game reps in the safest environment possible so let’s air it out even though it’ll put more of our stuff (good and bad) on film for opponents and marginally increase risk of injury to Shea”


Where do we all predict our offense will go with for this game?




September 14th, 2018 at 3:29 PM ^

I look at the Personnel Diagram, and I see one dangerman for each squad.  SMU has three problem circles while Michigan has two.  SMU has 6 returning starters, and Michigan has 7.  The only substantive difference I can see is that we have 6 Top-250 recruits while they have none.  Maybe we should have more modest expectations for our offense; just a thought...


September 14th, 2018 at 4:17 PM ^

Remember that stars and cyan circles are relative within the team. 

Don’t want to put words in Seth’s mouth, but seems that our lack of offensive stars & the threshold of Shea needing to be in contention for all conference honors is BECAUSE our squad is full of top 250 recruits. 

Basically all graded on a curve. 


September 14th, 2018 at 4:17 PM ^

Remember that stars and cyan circles are relative within the team. 

Don’t want to put words in Seth’s mouth, but seems that our lack of offensive stars & the threshold of Shea needing to be in contention for all conference honors is BECAUSE our squad is full of top 250 recruits. 

Basically all graded on a curve.