NCF Nation: Taylor Reed

Big East spring game previews

April, 19, 2013
Nine of 10 Big East teams will be through with spring practices come Monday, with Rutgers serving as the outlier. With UConn, Temple and SMU all gearing up for their annual spring games this Saturday, here's a peek at what to look for.

Fans in attendance for the noon start at Rentschler Field should keep an eye on how the offense moves under new coordinator T.J. Weist. The Huskies ranked 118th in total offense last year as coordinator George DeLeone was stripped of his duties, though he remains the offensive line coach. But the squad returns all five starters up front to protect incumbent quarterback Chandler Whitmer, as well as top running back Lyle McCombs, as the unit will look to keep pace with a defense that was nothing short of outstanding last season but is down a few stars who will hear their names called next weekend in New York.

Hank Hughes is the new man in charge of the defense, and he has Yawin Smallwood back to anchor a unit that has said goodbye to Sio Moore, Jory Johnson, Trevardo Williams and Blidi Wreh-Wilson. The Huskies boast plenty of potential in the middle with linebackers Graham Stewart, Ryan Donohue, Jefferson Ashiru and Omaine Stephens -- but that is just potential, for now.

UConn needs answers on both sides of the ball if it hopes to improve off head coach Paul Pasqualoni's consecutive 5-7 seasons.

The Mustangs will have an open practice at 9 a.m. local time at Pettus Practice Field, with many current and former players signing autographs afterward. There will be an NFL Punt, Pass and Kick competition afterward for kids ages 6 through eighth grade.

The Mustangs are intriguing, first and foremost, because they brought Hal Mumme aboard as their assistant head coach and passing game coordinator. Pairing the Air Raid curator with head coach June Jones and his run 'n' shoot pedigree is a fascinating experiment in and of itself.

Kenneth Acker, who is coming off a second-team All-Conference USA season in the secondary, is another experiment this spring, with the staff splitting the cornerback wide to catch some passes with the offense.

Defensively, the Mustangs are replacing a bulk of their production from last season, with Margus Hunt, Ja'Gared Davis and Taylor Reed all gone. Kevin Pope and Robert Seals must step up at linebacker.

Head coach Matt Rhule's first spring will feature live kicking and punting, normal scoring and 15-minute quarters. Who will eventually emerge as quarterback, however, is another matter. Juice Granger and Thomas Rumer will see action on the Cherry squad, which is coached by defensive coordinator Phil Snow, while Chris Coyer and Connor Reilly will take reps for the White team, coached by offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield.

Reilly has thrived under the pro-style attack, ascending to No. 1 on a depth chart that was expected to see Coyer and Granger fight for the top spot. Coyer has seen time as an H-back in practice, but Rhule said he will remain under center. Kevin Newsome, out with a shoulder injury, has been moved to H-back.

Reigning conference freshman of the year Tyler Matakevich leads a defense that struggled across the board last season, while Levi Brown and Sean Daniels are the big guys up front worth keeping an eye on.

The live kicking and punting part of Saturday's 1 p.m. contest at Edberg-Olson Hall is worth noting in that the Owls need to replace Brandon McManus, who held the school records for field goals made and punting average.

BBVA Compass Bowl

December, 4, 2011
SMU Mustangs (7-5) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (6-6)

Jan. 7, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)

SMU take from college football blogger Matt Fortuna: Following a Conference USA West division title, the Mustangs opened this season with a 5-1 record, including an overtime win at TCU. In the season's second half, however, things turned south. SMU lost four of its last six games and two of its final three to finish 7-5. A lot of that falls on the offense, which averaged 33.7 points per game through the season's first half before scoring just 17.7 points per game in its final six games.

Quarterback J.J. McDermott replaced Kyle Padron in a season-opening 46-14 loss at Texas A&M and has started every game since, throwing for 3,182 yards, 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Running back Zach Line eclipsed the 100-yard mark in eight of SMU's first 10 games and led the conference in rushing, but he is out for the remainder of the season with a foot injury. Cole Beasley and Darius Johnson have emerged at receiver, with each just shy of the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Defensively, linebackers Taylor Reed (93 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, three sacks) and Ja'Gared Davis (11 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two interceptions) lead the way for a Mustangs unit that ranks 37th nationally in total defense.

Pitt take from Big East blogger Andrea Adelson: Expectations were high for the Panthers this season. First-year coach Todd Graham predicted his team would run a “high-octane” offense, a line he used over and over again to promote his program and the new regime hitting town. To be sure, it was a huge departure from the pro-style, smash-mouth football Pitt has been known to play. Graham says he has no regrets over ratcheting up hopes, even though Pitt failed to resemble anything high or octane. Simply put, he does not have the personnel to run the hurry-up, spread system that ran to perfection in his final season at Tulsa.

Quarterback Tino Sunseri never bought in or adapted to the changes, and that contributed to Pitt giving up 56 sacks this season. Injuries on the offensive line didn’t help, either, as Pitt used myriad different starting lineups to help fill in the gaps. The line wasn’t the only area that was impacted by injuries. The Panthers lost star tailback Ray Graham to a torn ACL against UConn in October and from that point on, it was an even bigger struggle for the offense to do anything with Sunseri behind center.

Pitt needed a 33-20 win over Syracuse in the final game of the season to become bowl eligible, but at least salvaged the season. What the Panthers do have is a much improved defense from Week 1. Defensive end Aaron Donald was a breakout star, with 10 sacks. The pass defense made a huge turnaround. After giving up more than 300 yards in two of the first three games of the season, the most they gave up in the final nine weeks was 271 yards to Rutgers.
You saw the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys each for SMU and Army headed into the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl on Thursday:


1. Pressure the quarterback. Army has just two sacks in its last four games, but is going to have to put pressure on quarterback Kyle Padron to have a chance in this game. Padron threw for over 3,500 yards but still has trouble at times reading blitzes and defenses. An aggressive game plan could also hide some problems in the secondary and take pressure off the cornerbacks and safeties from making big plays against Aldrick Robinson and Darius Johnson.

2. Ball control. The triple-option is a ball control offense, and Army is going to need a heavy dose of that to keep the high-octane run 'n' shoot SMU offense off the field. The longer the Black Knights hold the ball, the fewer opportunities SMU has to score. Quarterback Trent Steelman and fullback Jared Hassin are perfectly capable of making big, grind-it-out plays. This offense is simply not built to get into a shootout.

3. Force turnovers. Army ranks seventh in the nation in turnover margin and has recovered 15 fumbles this season. As we saw in the Independence Bowl, Air Force beat a favored Georgia Tech team that turned the ball over four times. Army is 5-2 this season when it wins the turnover battle. SMU is one of the worst in the country in turnover margin, and Padron had thrown 13 interceptions this season. So Army has to be extra vigilant about forcing mistakes.


1. Contain the triple option. Always easier said than done of course, but that is goal No. 1 headed into this game. The SMU defense had some struggles against Navy earlier in the season, especially on pitches to the outside. Pete Fleps and Taylor Reed are going to be responsible for getting that corrected. Steelman and Hassin have combined for 1,625 yards, ranking 11th on the Army all-time rushing duo chart.

2. Beware the pass. The SMU defense can’t focus so much on the run that it forgets all about the pass. Steelman has completed 54.8 percent of his throws (69-for-126) for 965 yards, seven touchdowns and only three interceptions. If he can throw for 35 yards against the Mustangs, he will become the first Army player to rush for 500-plus yards and throw for 1,000-plus yards in the same season.

3. Take pressure of Padron. Zach Line has done a great job in the run game for SMU this season, rushing for 1,391 yards. He led the conference in rushing and is going to need to take some pressure off Padron. The offensive line is also going to have to play a better game than it did against UCF in the Conference USA championship game. He has been sacked 31 times this season, including five times against the Knights.