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September 19, 2013

Five good questions: SMU

In order to get a look at Texas A&M's opponent Saturday, we turned to Ponypride.com Publisher Sam Irwin. Here's what he had to say:

1) What's the situation with SMU head coach June Jones right now and is that affecting the team's play?

The status is that coach Jones reportedly has one year left on his contract after this season. But, nothing is 100% confirmed with anything having to do with Jones' contract as it's never been made entirely public.

No matter what is happening with that, however, it doesn't seem to be effecting the team or their attitude/effort at all. If anything, that can be something that is reflected on the recruiting trail, but the players are Jones' guys. They all respect him and want to win for him. Simple as that.

2) Has quarterback Garrett Gilbert gotten better than last season and how does his improvement translate on the field?

Yes, no questions that Gilbert has gotten better this season, also no question that he has to better if the Mustangs want to have a successful season. One area that he has improved greatly is his accuracy on the deep ball. Last year he had a lot of trouble putting the ball on the spot down field and he still has at times this season, but he is greatly improved.

Another area is his decision making. Not only is Gilbert making better decisions but he's making them quicker. The SMU offense line isn't the strongest part of the team so for the offense to go it relys on Gilbert making quick decisions and getting the ball out of his hand.

In all, how this improvement has translated to the field is that Gilbert has yet to throw an interception this season. He's taking care of the ball (only 1 fumble) and giving his receivers a chance to make plays. That's all you can ask from a quarterback in the 'Air Raid'/'Run 'N Shoot' offense.

3) SMU's pass defense has really struggled this season. Is that a matter of pass rush, coverage issues, or both?

It's a combination of both. SMU runs a base 3-4 defense but they don't have a ton of linebackers who can perform well in coverage. To off set that they have been running a lot of nickel sets, replacing a linebacker with another defensive back.

When they do that, they can't get a push on the quarterback with their front 3 plus 1 linebacker. So in a way, it's understandable that the DB's can't cover receivers for 6-7 seconds, hardly any corner can do that.

It's just a domino effect that defensive coordinator Tom Mason and the entire defense hasn't been able to correct just yet.

4) A&M fans remember former SMU running back Zach Line's impact in the 2011 and 2012 games. Who has SMU replaced him with or is it more of a running back by committee?

Well it was originally suppose to be former University of Texas running back Traylon Shead who transferred to the Hilltop this past spring. Unfortunately, Shead was injured in the first game of the season against Texas Tech and it's doubtful he will be back for the game against the Aggies.

Replacing him will be a combination of RS sophomore K.C. Nlemchi, who had a solid performance against Montana State, and RS freshman Prescott Line, brother of Zach Line.

Both backs bring different things to the table and will be used in different ways but out of the two Nlemchi is the quickest and brings the potential for big plays to running back for SMU.

5) SMU's rush defense is ranked in the top 20 statistically. Is that due to the level of competition or has there been real improvement there?

I think it has a lot to do with the third question on here. SMU has been bad against the pass and since that's what most teams are doing now days then most teams just don't try to run that much.

I do think that the front 3 of the SMU defense does a good job against the run, but they haven't been tested too much just yet so it's tough to say how much improvement has come in that area.

Bonus question: How do you see this game playing out?

I think that Texas A&M is clearly the better team on paper and I expect them to show that at home. SMU's chance is to come out with a blazing start and put some points up on the board early. That's not this team's strong point though.

I have the Aggies winning big with Manziel finding ways to beat the SMU defense. I also don't have much faith in what the Mustangs offense can do against an SEC level defense. Give me A&M in this game with the score being somewhere in the neighborhood of 52-17.

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