The Opposition: SMU Mustangs
To preview Thursday’s game against the Mustangs, The Daily Cougar held a Q-and-A session with Billy Embody, football beat writer for SMU’s Daily Campus.
The Daily Cougar: How much does SMU’s offense rely on running back Zach Line and what has his success meant to the program in regard to recognition?
Billy Embody: SMU should rely on Line for 25-30 carries a game, but this season, SMU coach June Jones hasn’t relied on Line as much as he should be. Line is a workhorse tailback and, while maybe the idea was that Line would be more fresh down the line for conference games, SMU fans wanted to see SMU win at least one of its three major non-conference games and instead, Line was a non-factor and the Mustangs lost. If SMU hopes to get back into the conference title race, the Mustangs need to start by giving Houston a heavy dose of Line early and often.
TDC: Where would you say UH stands to rivals on SMU’s schedule and is there an extra sense of excitement — at least with the fan base — for this game?
BE: It is a huge rivalry for us. Probably second to TCU in terms of passion and excitement. Students are really excited about playing this marquee game during the week and are going to come out and support the team. SMU needs this win — not only for bragging rights — for a lift in recruiting, the conference title race and overall morale of the student body after the Tulane loss. There is a dislike among SMU students for Houston, which may stem from the (Case) Keenum days, but without a doubt SMU versus Houston is a big matchup in our eyes.
TDC: What have been the biggest surprises this season for SMU, as a team?
BE: The poor play of Garrett Gilbert because he looks incredible in practice, he has all the physical tools and has played on big stages, but cannot get it together out there for SMU. Gilbert is the most talented quarterback SMU has had in some time and if SMU is going to win a conference championship, Gilbert needs to step up. Not only does Gilbert need to step up, but the receivers do as well. It is not all on Gilbert because the receivers haven’t been stellar either at catching the ball when they need to make plays and that is surprising, as well.
TDC: How would you rate June Jones’s time as the head coach of SMU?
BE: B+. Obviously he rejuvenated a dormant program that was really struggling for years and has returned us to relevancy with three straight bowl appearances. Now in his fifth year, SMU fans are looking to see Jones take us to the next level with a conference championship and the Big East. After the first six games of the season, there is now talk that Jones is not the man to do that. Everyone is grateful for everything Jones has done to revitalize the program, but if SMU continues to plateau then maybe new leadership is needed for the Big East.
TDC: What do you expect to see from SMU this week against UH?
BE: More energy, because SMU has not really played with all that much passion except against TCU. The defense has always brought it this season, but the offense has killed the defense with so many three-and-outs and turnovers that the defense falters. If SMU gives the ball to Line early and keeps Houston off the field, this could be a very physical and entertaining game to watch. The matchup of Piland versus the SMU linebackers will be the key. The SMU linebacking corps is coming off some great performances so we shall see how they matchup to the high-octane Houston offense.