Dallas Colleges: Taylor Thompson
Following in the footsteps of OG Josh LeRibeus, who was picked in the third round (71st overall) by the Washington Redskins on Friday, was defensive end/tight end Taylor Thompson (145th overall), Richard Crawford (213th overall) and Kelvin Beachum (248th overall).
Thompson, a fifth-round pick by the Tennessee Titans, had 22.5 tackles for loss and 18 sacks in his career at SMU and was a three-time All-Conference USA selection.
Crawford will join LeRibeus in Washington. Taken in the seventh round by the Redskins, Crawford picked off six passes and recorded 101 tackles in two seasons and was a first team All-Conference USA selection in 2011 as punt return specialist.
Beachum moves on to Pittsburg after starting four years at left tackle for SMU, where he earned first team all-conference honors his junior and senior seasons. Beachum will be reunited with former Mustangs teammate Emmanuel Sanders with the Steelers.
Horned Frogs duo drafted
TCU linebacker Tank Carder and defensive back/kick returner Greg McCoy received draft calls Saturday.
Carder, famous for his “immaculate deflection” in TCU’s Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, was selected 147th overall in the fifth round by the Buffalo Bills and becomes the fifth TCU linebacker in as many season to join an NFL team.
Carder was a two-time All-American and a Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year in his junior and senior seasons, amassing 70 tackles for the Horned Frogs his senior year.
McCoy will head to Chicago. Taken in the seventh round (280th overall) by the Bears, McCoy was an All-American return specialist his senior season, as well as the Mountain West special teams player of the year.
McCoy, who played at Dallas Woodrow Wilson, saved TCU’s Poinsettia Bowl victory by returning an interception 24 yards to set up the game-tying touchdown.
He returned two kicks for touchdowns in 2011 and his 30.6-yard return average his senior year ranked sixth nationally.
Cader and McCoy are Gary Patterson’s 30th and 31st players drafted in his tenure at TCU.
1. Focus. The same question has to be asked again this year heading into the BBVA Compass Bowl: What will be the motivation for the Panthers, who are playing in this game for the second straight season under an interim head coach? There is no doubt these players and this program were rocked hard by the way former coach Todd Graham left. They must put those negative emotions behind them and play for themselves and each other. This is a team that has been maddeningly inconsistent, which led to a disappointing season. Can they pull it together one final time to win their third straight bowl game?
2. Run. Pitt has experienced the most success this season when running the ball. That task got more difficult when Ray Graham was lost for the season. It will be even harder now that backup Zach Brown is questionable for the game with a bruised sternum. True freshman Isaac Bennett and Corey Davis will be relied upon to shoulder the load, so the game doesn't rest on the arm of quarterback Tino Sunseri.
3. Get after J.J. McDermott. Pitt has been terrific with its pass rush all season, tied for fourth nationally in sacks with an average of 3.25 per game. The Panthers have 39 total sacks on the season. The Mustangs have given up 27 sacks on the year, so there should be plenty of opportunity for Aaron Donald and Brandon Lindsey to get after McDermott. That obviously is a huge key if the Panthers want to disrupt their passing game -- the strength of the team.
1. Limit the mistakes. SMU ranks last in the nation in turnover margin (minus-17) and has at least one interception in 11 of its 12 games this season. Only East Carolina has thrown more interceptions than SMU’s 19 in 2011, according to ESPN Stats & Information. On the bright side, Pitt only has eight interceptions this year. On the down side, Pitt did force six turnovers the last time out against Syracuse.
2. Make Sunseri win it. SMU has some pretty talented players up front. Defensive end Taylor Thompson, who has seven sacks and six forced fumbles on the season, is going to need a big game to slow down the Pitt running attack and to take Sunseri down. Ja'Gared Davis is also an important player for the Mustangs on defense -- he has 4.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Taylor Reed is a tackling machine and will be key to slowing down the Pitt run.
3. Pass game must get going. There is no escaping this -- SMU has to pass the ball in order to win. The Mustangs went 2-4 in their last six games largely for this reason: Scoring an average of 17.7 points during the stretch, SMU averaged just 223.7 yards through the air and threw six touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Panthers have been much better on pass defense in the second half of the season but will be challenged by Cole Beasley and Darius Johnson -- each has over 900 yards receiving and the duo has combined for nine of the team's 16 touchdowns this season. If SMU can protect McDermott and connect on big pass plays early to take a quick lead, Pitt could find itself in serious trouble. The Panthers are not equipped to play from behind.
Record: 7-5, 5-3 C-USA
The season appeared as if it would be an improvement over 2010, when the Mustangs won the West Division and played in the Conference USA championship game. They got off to a 5-1 start, including a huge 40-33 overtime win over cross-town rival TCU, their first win over a ranked team since the 1980s. SMU also avenged a loss to UCF -- which beat the Mustangs in the C-USA title game a year ago.
But then things began to fall apart for an offense that is known for its high scoring. J.J. McDermott, who replaced Kyle Padron in the season opener, started to struggle and the Mustangs ended up losing four of their final six games. In three of those losses, SMU scored a touchdown or less, unheard of for a June Jones run 'n' shoot offense. SMU squeaked out a 27-24 win over Rice to get to seven wins in the regular season for the second straight year. But SMU was unable to beat Tulsa and Houston this year, its top competition in the West.
Still, getting to a third straight bowl game tied the school record for consecutive bowl appearances. For a program ravaged by the death penalty, that is a huge measure of how far this program has come.
Offensive MVP: Zach Line, RB. Line led Conference USA in rushing for the second straight season with 1,224 yards and scored a league-best 17 touchdowns in just 10 games before suffering a season-ending foot injury. Still, he made the C-USA first team and was dependable all season long for an offense that struggled at times.
Defensive MVP: Taylor Thompson, DE. The Mustangs got a lot of clutch performances on defense, but Thompson was a C-USA first-team selection after leading the team with seven sacks and six forced fumbles -- that tied him for No. 3 in the nation.
Turning point: A 27-3 loss to Southern Miss. SMU only had 330 yards and 14 first downs in the loss, which started the slide at the end of the season. The Mustangs had opportunities in the second half, driving into Southern Miss territory twice, but they came away with no points. They also had nine penalties and were 4-of-13 on third downs.
What’s next: SMU plays Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl, and then it is off to prepare for a new conference home, as the Mustangs are reportedly set to join the Big East for 2013. Coach June Jones has been mentioned as a candidate at several openings, but has reportedly assured his staff he is staying. For how long is always a question that has surrounded him everywhere he has gone.
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