There was some optimism for the SMU Mustangs as they made the move to the AAC in 2013. June Jones had some offensive weapons at his disposal to play some exciting football and bring some wins to the program. But the Mustangs sit at 1-4 right now without a single win over an FBS program. They were run over in their non-conference schedule (which was extremely challenging) before dropping a shootout to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in their AAC debut. With seven games to go, there isn’t much for SMU to feel good about in this season except perhaps for the play of quarterback Garrett Gilbert.
Through five games this season, Gilbert ranks No. 3 in the country in passing, averaging 355.0 yards per game through the air. He’s completing 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,775 yards with nine touchdowns. He’s thrown for 300 yards or more in four of five games this season and is coming off his best performance of the season when he threw for 484 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions in the overtime loss to Rutgers. He’s been spreading the ball around pretty well with three different receivers with more than 25 receptions, led by senior Jeremy Johnson with 52 catches for 635 yards and four touchdowns.
But even Gilbert’s play isn’t that big of a bright spot when you break it down. Gilbert is averaging a ridiculous 57.2 pass attempts per game and has thrown 60 or more passes in three of five games this season. And despite turning that into some pretty good yardage, SMU is averaging just 27.2 points per game, good for No. 81 in the country and No. 6 in the AAC. In their three non-conference losses to the Texas Tech Red Raiders, Texas A&M Aggies and TCU Horned Frogs (all challenging opponents), the Mustangs scored no more than 23 points and lost by 18, 29 and 31, respectively.
Part of the problem is the complete and utter lack of balance offensively or stopping power defensively. The Mustangs are averaging just 85.8 yards per game this season (No. 117 in FBS) and their leading rusher has just 104 yards on the SEASON. Defensively, SMU can’t slow anybody down and have surrendered 30 points or more in every game this season (including to FCS Montana State) and more than 40 points to every FBS team they have played. Their average points against of 43.2 per game ranks No. 123 in the country.
So Gilbert hasn’t had any choice but to throw it every down to try and play catch-up (without much success). His passing numbers are inflated from garbage-time stats in a flailing attempt to get SMU back into ball games. Inflated or not, however, Gilbert is the best thing going for this SMU team right now and there will be winnable games ahead, starting with this weekend’s matchup against the Memphis Tigers. Jones will keep dialing up pass plays for his big-armed quarterback but can Gilbert start turning his gaudy stats into wins?