After a 5-7 season, the SMU Mustangs made major improvements under head coach Chad Morris, but still struggled on the defensive side of the ball.
The defense finished in the bottom 40 in both passing and rushing defense and will need to improve on those numbers if the team is going to become bowl eligible.
The defensive line racked up 29 sacks last year, and have some new faces to install into the rotation.
Senior Justin Lawler led the team with six sacks last season and was second on the team in total tackles. His 3.5 sack performance against North Texas was the highlight of his season, but he didn't register a sack after that game. What can you expect from him this season? Lawler could flirt with eight sacks and he has not missed a game the past two seasons. Expect him to be the vocal leader on the defensive line.
Mason Gentry will also see heavy snaps in the defensive rotation. The former three-star recruit should make a big impact with this year and might have an outside shot at starting opposite of Lawler.
Nick Horton returns from a medical redshirt year and will provide vocal leadership to the young talent growing on the defensive line. His last full season he recorded five tackles in five starts, but I am confident the defensive coaching staff will utilize him in key situations.
The Mustangs have a trio of three-star recruits that can become key contributors early in the season. Redshirt Sophomore Hunter Thedford played in 5 games last year and I expect him to contend for a starting spot this season on the D-line.
Adding depth will be freshmen d-linemen Ken McLaurin and Toby Ndukwe as they could bring more versatility and athleticism to the unit as both players can line up on the edge or at tackle.
What to Expect
The unit has a lot of young faces that they may need to lean on early in the season. By Week 3 they need to be ready as there will be a great jump in competition after battling Stephen F. Austin and North Texas in the first two weeks as a trip to TCU would be on the docket. I expect the D-line to improve on the numbers they had last year and finish in the middle of the pack for rushing and passing defense, while also getting the team to a bowl game after achieving 35 total sacks.