This offseason, Sonny Dykes made wave by bringing Rhett Lashlee in from UConn to coordinate his offense. Lashlee spent one season with the Huskies but cut his teeth in Gus Malzahn’s system as both a player at Arkansas’ Shilo Christian and an assistant. Dykes draws heavily on his influence from the Mike Leach tree and ran similar offenses at Louisiana Tech, and Cal.
For us, the question is how those two styles, would mesh together or if Lashlee would get the reigns to the offense.
So what’s Lashlee’s influence been on the Mustang offense? Let’s look at several critical schematic factors. Keep in mind that SMU’s played four top 20 opponents and two of those opponents are now knocking on the top 10. Teams like that will dictate a lot of what you do offensively, so the sample size is rough on the Ponies.
SMU averages 69.5 plays a game, that’s five plays off last year’s tempo. If we compare 2018 SMU to 2016 Cal, Sonny’s last team, the Bears ran 87.5 plays per game. The Mustangs average 13.5 possessions a game, just slightly off last year’s pace (13.7). Dykes Cal teams averaged just over fifteen possessions a game.
SMU averages 2.6 plays per minute, so the move at a relatively rapid rate, top 20 among FBS squads. Houston runs a lightning quick 3.2 plays per minute. Houston’s pace, by the way, is the fastest since the 2012 Cougar squad. That was a Tony Levine squad with Travis Bush running the offense after Mike Nesbit left a game into the season.
Dyke’s Cal team in 2016 ran a blistering 3.06 plays per minute.
The Mustangs run the ball at a near identical rate to last year’s team, 49.88% to 49.95%.
UConn under Lashlee ran 54% of the time last season, while Dykes’ 2016 offense at Cal was much more pass based with just 40% rushing. The fourth fewest behind Washington State, Texas Tech, and Purdue.
The Mustangs average two fewer rushes per game compared to last season (35 to 37), but there is a significant drop off in terms of yards per rush and rush yards per game. 2018 SMU averages nearly a yard and a half less per attempt and 57 fewer yards per game.
Most telling is that SMU in 2018 averages 2.5 yards less per first down carry than the 2017 team. Xavier Jones, Braeden West, and Ke’Mon Freeman are all back. Jones ran for 1,000 yards last year, but his production is way down. He’s averaging more than three fewer yards per carry.
The schedule’s played a lot into some of SMU’s struggles with games at #19 Michigan, #12 UCF and home vs. #16 TCU and Navy. Surprisingly SMU’s worst rushing performance came at G5 rival North Texas.
While Dykes’ Cal teams weren’t run heavy, they were run efficient, averaging 4.4 yards in 2016, 4.6 in 2015, improving on 4.18 in 2014 and less than four yards a carry in 2013.
Dykes, at least in the press, has said he wants his Ponies to be known for their physicality and rushing attack. He may need a couple of seasons to build up that attitude/culture.
In spite of Ben Hicks’ slow start, SMU’s team completion percentage is down just one percentage point from last year. Thank William Brown for that. Passing yards per game are over 50 yards per game.
Losing a great 50/50 player like Courtland Sutton and an impressive possession receiver in Trey Quinn, a step back is not surprising. James Proche continues to step into a staring role, but he’s been the Lone Ranger, snagging 43 catches. The next highest Pony has 21.
Teams are starting to give Proche a lot of attention to make someone else beat them in the passing game. Lashlee is throwing the ball on just 44% of first down attempts, but their completion percentage and success rate are both the highest of any strategy on any down.
SMU scores on 30% of their possession, down from 42% last season. Their points per possession are down from 2.79 to 2.09, and their points per game are down by almost ten per game (28 from 37).
By the way, SMU’s opponents are scoring three points more per game.
Last year SMU accounted for the 8th most splash plays (20 yards or more) in the FBS (88). This season the Mustangs are on pace for half for nearly forty less long plays from scrimmage. 65 of those plays in 2018 came via the air, if form holds this season, 38 will come from the pass.
The “if form holds” caveat is important as SMU heads into the meat of their conference schedule and put their brutal September and top 10 UCF matchup are behind them. Their numbers may go on an uptick and balance out, but inconsistent quarterback play might doom them.
On that note, notorious slow starter Ben Hicks is at least trending in the right direction since his benching against Michigan. Whether Hicks or Brown, the going should be a bit easier as the schedule levels out. SMU plays one current ranked opponent from here on out.