Local Offensive Geniuses June Jones and Todd Dodge are Flunking Defense 101
Don't look now, but we suck.
There are 120 major college football teams. Only two enter this final Saturday of the regular season with just one win.
Grab a barf bag, the autopsies on SMU and North Texas get even more gruesome.
As if matching 1-10 records weren't enough to sully our backyard's reputation, the Mustangs and Mean Green sport two of the nation's worst defenses. Both units allow 490 yards per game and are tied for dead friggin' last.
While we've been intoxicated with the jockeying for BCS bowl-game berths by Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma, pass-happy gurus June Jones (SMU) and Todd Dodge (UNT) have orchestrated defenses wimpier than the Hilltop's Cox School of Business and Denton's Two O'Clock Lab Band.
No way around it: With apologies to 10-2 TCU, two of college football's worst teams reside within 35 miles of downtown Dallas.
"I told [SMU Athletic Director] Steve Orsini I'd be disappointed if we didn't win four or five games," Jones said, sitting in his office last week. "So, yes, I'm disappointed."
Jones + Dodge = 2-20.
Gotta admit, I didn't see this coming.
Both coaches arrived with pristine pedigrees and trendy schemes. Jones' pass-happy offense transformed Hawaii from an irrelevant doormat with an 18-game losing streak into an undefeated BCS darling that last year played in the Sugar Bowl. Dodge's pass-happy offense led Southlake Carroll High School to a 79-1 record and four state championships. But it's Mike Leach's pass-happy offense that has thrown Tech into the National Championship conversation.
The pratfalls aren't a sweeping indictment of an innovative offensive philosophy or some peek inside an uncorked local curse. But more so a reminder that it takes patience to reconfigure a crappy culture, and it takes defense to win.
"You've got to sell some tickets and win some games by outscoring people," Jones said. "That will attract the skill players. But not until you start consistently winning will you get the defensive players. You've got to have great athletes on that side of the ball to get over the hump. Tech is using the same offense it has for years. The difference is now they can stop teams when they really need to."
The same can't be said for UNT, whose defensive statistics pile up like a night on the town by unbridled DART board members.
I gave Dodge's outfit a listen on the radio during a short errand last Saturday afternoon. The first six offensive snaps included two fumbles, a penalty and a 28-yard punt. The first defensive series ended with the Mean Green allowing their 22nd pass play of more than 30 yards this season. In the time it took me to fetch a gallon of milk from just up the street, UNT trailed Middle Tennessee State 17-0 en route to a 52-13 shellacking.
Yes, it's that bad.
Entering Saturday's season finale against Arkansas State at Fouts Field, Dodge's defense is one of the worst in the history of organized football, surrendering an unfathomable 48.9 points per game. In his 23-game tenure—3-20 has already guaranteed the worst two-year stretch in school history—the Lean Green has never allowed fewer than 21 points. His highly regarded offense isn't much better, ranked 103rd in the nation.
Compounding the calamity, Dodge is running a program in which 18 percent of his players failed a school-sponsored drug test this season and his All-State quarterback son—Riley—rebuked Texas for UNT only to play receiver and suffer a concussion. He was ultimately red-shirted.
For now, Dodge's job is safe. Somehow seeing the forest despite the trees, UNT students recently passed a referendum to build a new football stadium.
"It was the story of our year," Dodge said after the loss in Tennessee. "At times we made plays, but others we wouldn't."
Sound familiar, SMU fans?
June Cometh! Losses Continueth!
Jones arrived from paradise to Park Cities with much hubbub. He snared a five-year, $10 million contract that made him one of the country's 15 highest-paid coaches, instantly erected billboards and convinced us that he would not only walk on the Trinity River but turn its dirty water into wine. But entering Saturday's finale against Southern Mississippi at Ford Stadium—with a lone win over Texas State and four losses by less than a touchdown—Jones sounds no different than former coach Phil Bennett.
Remember, last year's 1-11 Mustangs lost five games in the final minute or overtime.
"We could've won four or five games, that's how close we are," Jones said. "We're not there yet, but you can feel it. You can sense it. Despite the losing we won't waver from the commitment to change the mindset. I know we're going to win here. It's not if, but when."
Young players. New coach. Quirky system. Yadda, yadda and more yadda. Bottom line: SMU is no closer to its first bowl game since 1984.
Or is it?
From the giant "Hello, My Name is June Jones" sign on his office door, the new coach's stern stamp is all over the program. For starters, our interview began at 9 a.m., after an ungodly but routine 7 a.m. practice.
Jones has also instilled his brand of discipline, suspending 17 players at different times including former starting quarterback Justin Willis and leading receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Aldrick Robinson. The punishments were for seemingly innocuous errors such as skipping study hall or being late for practice.
But in Jones' eyes, these are glaring reasons why SMU has had just one winning season since absorbing the NCAA Death Penalty in 1987.
"There's never been accountability here," he said. "Well, there is now."
Despite the expected growing pains resulting from handing the reins to his esoteric offense to an 18-year-old quarterback, Jones remains confident in Bo Levi Mitchell. Recruiting sources also say Southlake star David Piland will commit to SMU.
"I haven't changed my mind about Bo," said Jones, who eventually moved Willis to receiver. "He's a tough guy. A winner. He's going to do very well in this system. There's no reason he can't put up the same kinds of numbers that my Hawaii quarterbacks did."
The SMU fans that didn't expect a miracle anticipated at least more than one win. With the defense allowing 39 points per game and the offense ranked only 87th and the Mustangs still painted as a punch line...when?
Jones' answer: Next year.
"I'll be very disappointed if we don't take a huge step next year," Jones said. "In the third [year], we'll compete for the Conference USA title and a bowl game."
A year ago Jones was preparing an undefeated team for a BCS bowl. Now, staring at 1-11, he has no regrets leaving Hawaii for the Hilltop.
"I'm more convinced than ever it was the right move," he said. "There are unbelievable people in this city and at this school who have been through so much pain. I'll drop on a sword for these guys. I can't wait to see their faces when we play in a bowl game."
The histories of Jones and Dodge suggest they will eventually win at a level that will no longer make Dallas embarrassed about our college football.
But for the present? Well, don't look now, but...No, seriously, don't look.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.