“Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
A quote made popular by President Teddy Roosevelt is a way certain teams and certain players like to describe themselves. Not very flashy, not the most vocal, but they get the job done.
The 2010 SMU Mustangs (2-2) can be the epitome of this saying.
Gone are the years of 1-11 seasons, but people are still wary of putting too much hope in the youthful Mustangs led by head coach June Jones. After reaching its first bowl game in 25 years last season people knew SMU was improving, but no one knows by how much.
After four games of the 2010 season the Mustangs are 2-2, much of what people expected. They lost to Texas Tech in Lubbock, and to No. 4 TCU while defeating UAB and Washington State at home. Now comes the part of the season with question marks.
Rice is no longer the team that held SMU out of a bowl game in 2006, but SMU has not played well on the road in its recent history. The Mustangs will have to play Navy and UTEP on the road as well this year, both of which could cause them problems.
The Mustangs also have to deal with pre-season top 25 pick, and favorite to win Conference USA, Houston on Oct. 23.
Yes, Houston is without Heisman hopeful Case Keenum, and junior backup Cotton Turner, but Terrance Broadway could be this year’s version of SMU’s quarterback Kyle Padron. Padron came onto the scene after Bo Levi Mitchell was injured in Houston last year, Padron wouldn’t give back the starting spot and Mitchell would end up transferring.
People expected Houston to run away with the C-USA West, host the championship game and win it. Now SMU and UTEP will battle with Houston for the title. UTEP has already lost to Houston, but if SMU beats Houston and UTEP beats SMU they could fight for a three-way tie.
As a team SMU has been thrown into the spotlight as favorites to win the West with Houston’s quarterback conundrum. They also had a strong showing against TCU on ESPN last Friday, proving to people that this program is on the rise. But they haven’t accomplished anything yet.
As a team they are speaking softly, but they can’t control what others are saying about them. Jones knows that his team’s expectations are growing at a fan and media standpoint, but expect the calm coach to keep his team level headed, and he has some help from young players to do that.
Padron, now a sophomore, isn’t putting up the numbers he did against Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl, but he is quietly putting together a solid season with both his arm and his legs.
He has thrown for 812 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions this season, and three of those interceptions came against Tech. He has also run for 135 yards and a touchdown this season. Padron has completed over 50 percent of his passes and spread receptions around with three receivers having at least 15 catches, Darius Johnson (20), Aldrick Robinson (16) and Cole Beasley (15) and two others, Zach Line and Bradley Haynes with eight and seven receptions respectively.
Robinson leads the team with 273 yards receiving and four touchdowns, Johnson has also passed the 200-yard mark with 202 yards and three touchdowns. Beasley, with two, and Haynes, with one, account for the rest of Padron’s touchdown passes.
So while Padron is putting together a solid sophomore season the big, and pleasant surprise has been the play of another sophomore. Line has taken advantage of Shawnbrey McNeil leaving early for the NFL.
Line has rushed for 415 yards in four games with four touchdowns. But the biggest number his has put up is his 7.8 yards per carry average. Against TCU Line rushed for 139 yards and a touchdown, and after the game Jones explained how Line became a running back after being recruited as a linebacker.
“He came here both as a running back and linebacker when we thought he would back up Ja'Gared [Davis] and Youri [Yenga] and sit on the bench for two years,” Jones said.
“We don't have enough players that can sit on the bench; we have to get them on the field. So I said we're moving him to running back. I'm glad we did he's got a little inside quickness and he's big enough to block a defensive end if he had to.”
Even if the “speak softly” part of the adage is gone, the Mustangs have to remember the “big stick” part if they want to compete for a conference championship.