Tape It Up: SMU: Musing on Defense

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SMU: Musing on Defense

SMU is hoping 2007 will be a breakout year. After coming tantalizingly close to a bowl game in 2006, this season is supposed to be it for the Mustangs. Their first test is undeniably a tough one - they face one of the nation's best offenses in a nationally televised contest when Texas Tech comes to town on Monday, and that test will be even tougher without all-conference defensive end Cory Muse. The senior has a groin strain that makes him doubtful for the opener, further decreasing the possibility of an SMU upset, perhaps beyond resurgence.

Muse has been hampered by injury since he arrived at SMU, which he chose over Oklahoma State, but has still managed to produce some big numbers. In 2006 he helped anchor a defense that led Conference USA and ranked 24th in the nation against the run. He played on an injured knee for the last five games and missed two all together, but still managed to record seven sacks, good enough for third in the league. As a sophomore he was plagued by injuries for the first three games, but had a big second half of the season, recording 32 tackles, three fumble recoveries and a safety. His freshman year he got only three games in before a knee injury took out the team's leading pass rusher.

SMU will need every ounce of defense it can muster to stop Texas Tech's unbelievably prolific offense. Last year, the Red Raiders averaged 32.5 points and more than 369 yards passing per game, giving them the sixth-best total offense and No. 3 passing offense in the nation. Having a pass-rusher like Muse in the game would force quarterback Graham Harrell to make faster decisions with his throws, but with four new starters on the defensive line, the throwing machine that is Harrell should have all day in the pocket, and that's bad news for SMU.

Junior Patrick Handy, freshman Ryan Leonard, sophomore Chris Parham and freshman Justin Smart are expected to get the start on Monday night. Handy started in two games last season and as the only lineman with experience of note, he will be expected to lead the Mustangs in Muse's absence. The Red Raiders will be looking to show off that high-octane, spread offense in the season opener for both squads, and with their best defender sidelined, the Mustangs are in danger of finding themselves on the horse end of the Raiders' breaking-in process.

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