4. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE SMU DEFENSE
– The defense wasn’t a total disaster, but it couldn’t get off the field on key downs and struggled way too much against the run. However, ten of the top 11 tacklers and nine starters are back.
– The pass rush was just okay, but the D did a nice job of getting behind the line. That came from the linebacking corps that loses leading playmaker Kyran Mitchell, but gets back leading tackler and former Texas A&M Aggie Richard Moore in the middle.
Smallish on the outside, 205-pound former Illinois transfer Patrick Nelson is more like a safety playing linebacker – coming up with 65 stops – and 225-pound junior Trevor Denbow is able to work at safety or outside linebacker. Shane Hailey is a smallish, quick 215-pounder for the other outside spot.
– The line is deep, but it has to be stronger against the run. Senior Delontae Scott was one of the team’s leading pass rushers with 260-pound size and good quickness on the outside, and the tackles are in place with 300-pound former JUCO transfer Pono Davis and 285-pound senior Demerick Gary on the inside. More than last year, there’s enough depth to play around with the rotation.
– The secondary has to come up with more big plays, but the veterans are there starting with senior Rodney Clemons at safety after making 72 stops, and with senior Robert Hayes back at one corner spot. The JUCO transfers will play a big role throughout the defensive back rotation getting Sam Westfall in this year’s class for a corner job, and with the coaching staff playing around with the safety situation – Patrick Nelson can work as an outside linebacker or at safety.