There used to be a time in college football when the crafty veterans, juniors and seniors, would lead their teams with the knowledge they had learned playing behind the juniors and seniors before them. That time has come and gone.
While coaches still lean on the upperclassmen there is a trend of using freshman and sophomores in key roles they used to not be placed in. The 2010 SMU Mustangs are an example of a team that is letting the younger guys do some heavy lifting.
The most obvious player is sophomore quarterback Kyle Padron. He was pushed into the starting role when Bo Levi Mitchell was injured last season against Houston, but once he had the role he wouldn’t give it back. Padron would go on to throw for 1,922 yards and 10 touchdowns in just seven games played completing 67.2 percent of his passes.
Through four games this season Padron has thrown for 812 yards and 10 touchdowns. This season his completion percentage and average yards per game. His yards per game and completion percentage are down from last season, but last season he didn’t play in the game against TCU and SMU didn’t play Texas Tech.
The receiving core at SMU does have veteran leadership from senior Aldrick Robinson and juniors Bradley Haynes and Cole Beasley. But two receivers who are getting a lot of looks from Padron are sophomore Darius Johnson and freshman Keenan Holman.
Johnson leads the team in receptions with 20, and is second in yards (202) and touchdown receptions (3). Holman has only caught two passes for 20 yards, but with Robinson and Johnson getting most of the attention from opposing secondary’s Holman could have a big season.
The biggest sophomore surprise on offense has been the efficiency and effectiveness of running back Zach Line. Line was the “power back” compliment to the speed and agility of Shawnbrey McNeil last season and was expected to play the same role behind freshman running back Darryl Fields and senior Chris Butler. But Line hasn’t given either much of an opportunity to get the ball.
In 2009, Line rushed for 189 yards on 49 carries and scored seven touchdowns averaging 14.5 yards a game. In four games in 2010, Line has rushed for 418 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 7.8 yards a carry and 103.8 yards a game. Head coach June Jones said the initial plan for Line, who was recruited as a running back and line backer, was to have him sit on the bench for two years behind the current line backers. But a lack of depth forced Jones to use Line as a running back, and it has worked out well for the Mustangs.
The youth aren’t only on the offensive side of the ball.
Sophomore defensive back Ryan Smith has had an impact early this season. After playing in just six games as a red-shirt freshman Smith already has two interceptions and a forced fumble to go along with 13 tackles.
Last season Margus Hunt was a household name because of his ability to block kicks. The 6-foot-8, 272 pound defensive end from Estonia is now having an impact on first through third downs as well. Hunt, along with one blocked kick this season has seven tackles, including one for a loss.
Ja’Gared Davis is another strong young player on defense. The sophomore line backer started five games last season collecting 51 tackles, two forced fumbles and three pass break-ups. Already in four games this season Davis is third on the team with 27 tackles, and leads the team with nine tackles for loss and four sacks. He also has a pass break-up this season.
Under Jones the younger players, mostly sophomores, are getting chances to contribute early. Their high level of talent and skill means the Mustangs are good this season. And in the following seasons when they add experience the future looks bright for SMU football.