On October 19th of 2019, the Temple Owls traveled to Dallas to face the SMU Mustangs in an AAC matchup. After Week 7, SMU was ranked 39th per the SP+ while Temple was ranked 40th. The Owls boasted the FBS 19th ranked defense while SMU’s offense was 34th. The matchup truly lied in how poor the Owls offense was compared to the SMU defense.
By season’s end SMU finished up 48th in the SP+ and with a 10-3 record. Their high powered offense adjusted to 30th in the FBS while Temple finished ranked 52nd and their defense settled into 29th.
SMU jumped out to an early lead scoring 10 points in the 1st quarter and holding a halftime lead of 24-7 over Temple. The Owls were no match for speedy wide receiver Reggie Roberson Jr. as Rhett Lashlee’s offense continued to get him on an island and nail deep posts to him. Roberson finished the game with 250 receiving yards, three touchdowns and an average of 30.3 yards per catch.
Running back Xavier Jones ran for 105 yards on 29 carries as the Mustangs stayed balanced even with Shane Buechele throwing 53 passes for 457 yards (8.6 yards per attempt) and six touchdowns with only one interception. Wide receiver James Proche caught nine balls for 80 yards as the main RPO recipient in Lashlee’s offense.
On the season Buechele threw for 3,929 yards with 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. SMU’s fast start hit speed bumps against Memphis, Navy and FAU- all road games. Against Temple the Mustangs converted 10-of-21 third downs, three of five fourth downs, and won the time of possession game (not that it really matters) by nine seconds.
Personnel groups and pictures
As I’ve discussed in the past (read more here), Coach Lashlee likes to deploy an h-back (or tight end depending on terminology) in his offense. The h-back might not always line up on the line of scrimmage, but he’s used all over including inline, in the wing, and in the backfield. This means Lashlee mostly uses 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) but also 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) and 10 personnel (one back, no tight ends), too.
Something many fans were clamoring for during the 2019 season was more tempo. Miami ran at a snails pace and the floundering offense looked even worse by giving teams time to rest and adjust to Dan Enos poor scheme and mis-timed play calling. Rhett Lashlee’s SMU offense was moving so fast that the TV crew on the game missed the start of multiple plays, especially early on as they adjusted their broadcast format. If ESPN can’t catch up to your tempo you’re moving really fast.
For instance, SMU’s offense ran well over 50 plays in the first half against Temple and that didn’t impact their defense on the scoreboard. Early on when the SMU defense got on the field they pitched a three and out and got their offense the ball back with little time for rest or adjustment.
When Lashlee’s offense would pick up a first down he would hurry up and call inside zone with an RPO bubble tag or Guard Wrap with an RPO tag and Jones would pick up five yards to start the offense on 2nd and 5 or less.
With Miami’s alleged speed you would have expected more three step deep fades from the quarterbacks to back the defense off if not to score some points. However, Enos rarely got into 2nd and 5 or less which is a great deep shot down and distance thus the deep shot rarely would have made sense. SMU’s Robeson was mostly catching deep posts but Lashlee called plenty of deep fades to his receivers, too.
The way Lashlee draws them up, his deep fades don’t take a ton of time to throw. In fact, they’re out in around 2.6 seconds which made the Temple pass rush of Quincy Roche moot throughout most of the game. When Lashlee needed more time he would call in a max protect or a sprint out with seven man protection.
Lack of screens
One thing I didn’t like was the lack of screens used throughout the game. Sure, Coach Lashlee tagged a bubble and even a few smokes on RPO’s but he wasn’t consistently or even once a quarter dialing up a double or middle screen. On the rare occasion when it was 3rd and long Roche, Dana Levine and Sam Franklin were allowed to tee off on Buechele. SMU was in very few 3rd and longs so the typical pass rush presence of Roche wasn’t felt as Temple came away with two sacks (Levine had both) and four hurries compared to SMU who logged three sacks and one hurry.
Predictability versus tempo
An easy complaint to make was the predictability of the play calling SMU used against Temple. In a 45-21 drubbing who really cares?! But with the amount of staff ACC programs have compared to AAC programs (all of these stupid initials) this could be easier to figure out. I suspect Lashlee will change up his play calling as he has been an SEC offensive coordinator and a national champion level one at that.
What I mean by predictability is that I could tell you when SMU was going to run versus pass more often than not. I could also tell you when Buechele was a threat to run in a running concept versus when his “option” was a throw. If the running back was lined up on the same side of the twins or trips- the quarterback’s option was a throw. If the running back was line up on the opposite side of the twins or trips- the quarterback’s option was to read the back side defensive end on a read option.
If I can tell that while having a Jack Daniels and playing with my cats in my quarantined living room- so can ACC analysts and quality control coaches.
I was disappointed when SMU went with the red zone fade on 3rd and goal which resulted in a drop and a field goal. Later on Buechele hits one a red zone throw in the middle of the field (basically at the goal post) and Jones powers in a few guard wraps for touchdowns. Something I absolutely love is seeing the smash concept but with whip-corner versus hitch-corner. The whip makes the cornerback commit to the wide receiver and makes the spacing picture much more clear for the quarterback, especially on a sprint out towards it.
How this works at Miami
D’Eriq King might not be as accurate of a passer as Buechele but he’s definitely more mobile and has a tighter zip on his throws. The amount of inside zone read called at SMU should increase with King at Miami. Lashlee also likes sprint outs and that could get King alone in the flat against a cornerback, who typically shy away from tackling.
It will be exciting to see how Lashlee uses Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory. It won’t be just as battering rams, he’ll figure out how to get Jordan involved as a receiver. If you have time, check out how Dallas in the XFL used Donald Parham. Sure Parham is 6’8 but that’s the same style of play call that Lashlee used with Becker and Hal Mumme used with his big tight end.
Cam’Ron Harris has to be in great shape and ready to roll as with every first down Lashlee is going to want to get back on the line in the same formation and run guard wrap or inside zone with an RPO tag. Harris, like Jones, might carry the ball 20-plus times a game simply after first downs and on short yardage runs.
The wide receivers are the biggest question mark. At SMU, Proche was the sure handed receiver and Roberson was the burner. Miami needs to figure out who will be in the slot reliably catching footballs and who will be on the outside running posts and fades past defenders. Between Dee Wiggins, Jeremiah Payton, Mike Harley, Mark Pope, Xavier Restrepo, Dazalin Worsham and others- Miami has “potential” in the wide receiver position room- but will they turn into a reality like the SMU crew did for Lashlee?
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the SMU versus Temple matchup. I believe it’s living proof that defense doesn’t necessarily win championships before, and definitely proof that Manny Diaz’s 2019 ideals must be far out the window if he chose to bring in Rhett Lashlee and his offense along with D’Eriq King. Miami should want to and be able to score points in a hurry and bring us back to the days of 1989 and 1991 when the ‘Canes could drop 35+ on anyone in the country not named Florida State.
The Rhett Lashlee hire: I’m excited.