LUBBOCK, Texas – June Jones knows the order is a tall one for his improving SMU squad.
The Mustangs will open the season Sunday in Lubbock as the first opponent for new Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville, who vowed when he took over in January not to dismantle the Red Raiders' dizzyingly successful aerial attack.
Facing a coach — and a program — eager for a win in the post-Mike Leach era, SMU also faces some daunting history. Texas Tech has won the past 13 meetings between the two former Southwest Conference rivals dating to 1989.
Jones, who in his second season last year led SMU to the most wins (8-5) since 1984, said the Mustangs will need to be sharp. After going 1-11 in Jones' first year, SMU's seven-win improvement was the largest for any team in Division I last season.
"We feel like we have to go in there and play our best football game to win," Jones said. "We have our hands full, obviously. I think they are a very talented team."
Tuberville is hoping so — particularly on defense, long maligned and a stepchild to Leach's passing offense that had most of his quarterbacks leading the nation in passing. Linebacker Bront Bird said the Tech defense is more complicated then in previous years.
"In the past, a lot of guys were satisfied knowing what they were supposed to do, but you are a better player when you understand the whole scheme of what everyone is doing, as far as coverages," Bird said.
Jones thinks Texas Tech's offense, behind starting quarterback Taylor Potts, will run more.
"But that doesn't mean they're not going to throw it 60 times a game," Jones said. "It's not going to be just like Mike Leach's offense."
It's Texas Tech's first game in Lubbock since 1999 without Leach on the sideline. University officials fired Leach Dec. 30, two days after suspending him amid allegations he mistreated a receiver with a concussion. Leach has denied he mistreated the player and has a lawsuit pending against the school.
Tuberville, who is beginning his 15th year as head coach after stints at Auburn and Mississippi, said he thinks the game will answer many questions.
"I wanted everyone to see what this program is about," he said. "We are still here and we are going to be able to throw the football, run it and play defense and play special teams."
Is he nervous about the game?
"I'm more nervous for the players and what they're doing and if they can get it done," Tuberville said. We'll go into this game knowing we've pretty much done everything we can. We'll be a little nervous about execution and how we handle certain situations."
SMU will rely on quarterback Kyle Padron, who took over at midseason as a freshman last year and went 5-1 as a starter, throwing for a school-record 460 yards and two touchdowns in the 45-10 win over Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl. That game ended a 25-year bowl drought for the program that took years to rebound from the NCAA's so-called death penalty.
"I think his best football is ahead of him, certainly," Jones said of Padron. "We just have to keep getting good around him. I think we have a guy that can take us to the promised land."
A seasoned offensive line will be protecting him, and Tuberville said a strong pass rush will be "huge" for the Red Raiders defense.
"First we have to stop the run," he said. "The quarterback is a young guy, who has had some success. He's a pretty seasoned veteran but hopefully we can give him some problems."
He doesn't expect much different from Jones, who last week got a contract extension expected to keep him at the school through the 2014 season.
"He's coached in pro and college and he's does the same things," Tuberville said. "He hasn't done anything different. We'll be able to prepare on what he has done."
In two weeks, Texas Tech hosts No. 5 Texas — a huge Big 12 test for Tuberville, who said he won't hold back anything this week for that game.
"You'll see it all (Sunday). You need to run things to see if you can execute," he said. "We'll always add one or two things. I think we have a good game plan."