While the SMU Mustangs may have been the worst team in Division 1 football last season, it certainly wasn’t the fault of the defense.
Too often, the offense would make mistakes or fail to capitalize on a defensive stop or first turnover, thus placing the Mustangs’ defense on the field for the majority of the games, which of course tired out a young unit.
Additionally, June Jones’ system required big bodies upfront, and extremely talented linebackers, but due to some lackadaisical recruiting over the past few years, Jones, and later interim coach Tom Mason, didn’t have the personnel to accomplish their defensive schemes. Like all things SMU football, this year will be different.
With Jones and Mason gone and Chad Morris in the fold, the SMU defense will look totally different than a year ago. At the helm is Van Malone, a defensive coordinator who worked with Morris when the two were assistants at Tulsa. Malone is a former Texas high school football coach with assistant stops at UNT, Western Michigan, Texas A&M, Tulsa, and most recently the cornerbacks coach at Oklahoma State.
Malone brings a new scheme, a new energy, and a new propensity from recruiting defensive players from the state of Texas, something Jones and Mason never accomplished at a high level.
While Malone takes over a defense that ranked 113th in the FBS last season, he will add some immediate talent, namely South Carolina transfer Deon Green. Green, an Orlando native, is a 6’4″ 289 pound defensive lineman who figures to make an immediate impact with the Mustangs after recording just four tackles for the Gamecocks last season. Injuries sidelined Green for most of his South Carolina career, but the former three star recruit is anxious to get a fresh start with the Mustangs. With that kind of side and ability, I’d wager that Coach Malone is happy to have him.
Joining Green on that line is senior Zach Wood, a defensive end who has started the past two seasons for the Mustangs. While Wood has never exhibited ability as an elite pass rusher, he is a veteran player who will fit much better in Malone’s system than he ever did in Mason’s.
Wood’s size and strength will make him a versatile lineman for SMU, and he will be amongst the best decision making linemen in the conference. A veteran presence is key on any successful defensive line, and for the Mustangs, Wood is that presence.
By far the Mustangs’ most dynamic player on defense will be Jonathan Yenga, the outside linebacker who has seen starter’s playing time since his freshman year.
While Yenga is undersized, he more than makes up for it in speed and decision-making, adapting quickly to opposing plays and constantly making the proper read on the ball carrier. I expect Yenga to be all over the field in Malone’s defense, especially if an improved offense can help the SMU defense get a rest every once and a while. Jonathan will hope to live out the Yenga football legacy at SMU, as his brother Youri was extremely successful in his career with the Mustangs.
While SMU may not even crack the top 50 defenses in the FBS this year, their improvement will be massive over last year’s down season. Van Malone is an unbelievable coach who knows how to get the best out of Texas’ high school football players, exactly the kind SMU should be recruiting. The growth of SMU’s football program will be spectacular to view for fans, and could very likely come a lot sooner than people think. The Mustangs will be tested early against Baylor, but in time that contest may become more and more even because of SMU’s defensive schemes.