7:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: SMU -13.5, Over/Under: 65.5
Instate rivals lock horns in a midweek matchup, as the undefeated, No. 16 SMU Mustangs make the short trip south to battle the Houston Cougars, from TDECU Stadium in Houston, Texas. Look out world, for 2019 marks the return of Southern Methodist (7-0, 3-0 in AAC), who for the first time in decades has found themselves undefeated and among the nation’s ranked team. Of course, that’s not an exaggeration, folks, for this is the first time that the Mustangs have enjoyed a place in the AP Poll since 1986, when the program was in it’s heyday. While we all know what happened to the program after that brief period of success and decadence, it’s been a LONG time coming since this club from Dallas resembled anything close to a formidable opponent; SMU has opened the season with seven consecutive victories for the first time since 1982, when they were 10-0-0 en route to an 11-0-1 finish. Furthermore, this current seven-game winning streak is their longest since winning eight straight during the 1984-85 seasons and matches their win total of the previous two years combined. Credit to their Head Coach, Sonny Dykes, who in his second year with the school has steered his charges to a perfect start, already surpassing his win total from the previous term, and one away from matching the team’s highwater mark of eight, which has only been met on two occasions since 1989, following the NCAA’s infamous Death Penalty ruling, forcing the school to disavow the program for two full years. As he has throughout his career on the sidelines, Dykes has cultivated a dynamic offensive attack, averaging a whopping 44.3 Points per Game (5th Overall) on 521.1 Total Yards, including 315.4 Yards through the air, and another 205.7 Yards on the ground. The Passing Game in particular has taken flight with Shane Buechele (64.8%, 2,422 YDS, 8.5 Y/A, 18 TD, 6 INT) under Center, making the most of his opportunity following his transfer from Texas, where he spent the first three years of his collegiate career. When we last saw him, the Junior Quarterback turned in his finest performance of the campaign, throwing for a career-best 457 Yards and Six Touchdowns in a 45-21 rout of Temple, whom the hosts piled up a staggering 655 Total Yards against. Half of his scoring account went to another transfer, Reggie Robertson (42 REC, 795 YDS, 18.9 Y/R, 6 TD), who reeled in Touchdown Receptions of Seventy-Five, Sixty, and Thirty-Three Yards, highlighting a career day of his own, totaling 250 Yards on Eight Catches. Buechele was also responsible for scoring strikes to James Proche (54 REC, 609 YDS, 11.3 Y/R, 8 TD), Kylen Granson (16 REC, 279 YDS, 17.4 Y/R, 2 TD), and Xavier Jones (143 CAR, 751 YDS, 5.3 Y/C, 12 TD), who also rushed for 105 Yards on twenty-Nine Carries. While the Offense continued to batter the opposition, surpassing Forty Points for the sixth straight outing, it was the display of the Defense which really caught the attention of the Coaching Staff; Southern Methodist has been inconsistent on this side of the football this far, allowing 27.3 Points per Game (68th Overall), particularly against the Pass where they’ve been shredded for an average of 251.4 Yards on 56.9% passing. However, Saturday’s tilt with Temple saw them relinquish just 204 Yards against the Pass, en route to a total of 273, which represents their second-lowest figure this season. Coming off the heels of a vigorous comeback against Tulsa in which they were torched for 500 Yards (346 via the Pass), this was definitely the kind of progress that Dykes & Co. wanted to see out of their troops. The next task on their bucket list? How about besting Houston on the road? The Mustangs have lost six straight to the Cougars in Houston, and nine out of the last twelve meetings overall. With that said, the home side has taken each of the previous four encounters, with SMU enjoying a 45-31 victory in last year’s matchup.
Meanwhile, it’s been a different story entirely for Houston (3-4, 1-2 in AAC), who are clearly rebuilding in their first season under the guidance of Head Coach, Dana Holgorsen, who returned to the program after eight successful years leading West Virginia. While some viewed his decision to return to a program that he spent calling plays for from 2008 to 2009 as a step backwards for the 48-Year Old, the facilities on campus coupled with the fertile recruiting grounds in the state of Texas, made it a very logical decision for Holgorsen. After all, his background as one of Mike Leach’s assistants at Texas Tech paints the picture of a coach who should know the region like the back of his hand, and given Houston’s aspirations and considerable checkbook, this isn’t your typical Non-Power 5 Conference dweller. With that said, there is still plenty of work to do, and this guy certainly has his hands full. Stumbling out of the gates against a haunting early schedule, which featured a trip to Norman to face No. 4 Oklahoma, followed shortly thereafter with a meeting with No. 20 Washington State on a neutral field, and later with a tough conference battle against No. 25 Cincinnati, all but one of their four defeats have come at the hands of ranked opponents. While the Cougars have certainly taken their lumps on the field, they’ve also suffered them off the gridiron as well, most notably in the form of a pair of high-profile Redshirts, Starting Quarterback, D’Eriq King (52.7%, 663 YDS, 6.0 Y/A, 6 TD, 2 INT), and leading Receiver, Keith Corbin (11 REC, 192 YDS, 17.5 Y/R, 2 TD). Both players entered their Senior seasons in 2019, and both ultimately decided to take a flier on the campaign, so that they could get their academics in order, and return in 2020 better suited to help the team. Now you can read into those intentions al you like, with many expecting both players to take advantage of the NCAA’s new Transfer Portal, which would allow each student athlete to transfer to a school of their choosing without having to forfeit a year of eligibility. This seems particularly true in the case of King, who after lighting up the American Athletic Conference in 2018, never seemed to click with Holgorsen and the new Coaching Staff. Whether you do or don’t believe that both King and Corbin will return to the program next season, the reality is that Houston has had to move on without them this season, which given their schedule to this point, has been rather difficult; in the three games following their exit, the Cougars have gone 2-1, averaging 31.0 Points per Game on 360.0 Total Yards. When we last saw them, they just barely edged rebuilding Connecticut in a 24-17 affair on the road, in which the Offense generated a season-low 286 Total Yards, including just 108 Rushing Yards on Thirty-Two Carries. With King’s successor, Clayton Tune (53.2%, 308 YDS, 6.6 Y/A, 3 TD, 3 INT), out of action following a strained hamstring that limited him throughout the week of practice, Holgorsen gave the starting nod to his son, Logan (44.4%, 128 YDS, 7.1 Y/A, 1 TD, 1 INT), a Freshman Walk-On making his first Start. As such, the Gameplan reflected the lack of experience under Center, with the visitors adopting a far more conservative approach that definitely benefitted the young Signal-Caller. At the end of the day, Holgorsen completed just 7-of-15 Passes for 123 Yards, but nailed Jeremy Singleton (11 REC, 224 YDS, 20.4 Y/R, 2 TD) down the left sideline for a 58-Yard Touchdown that broke a 10-10 deadlock late in the Third Quarter. Singleton only caught two passes, but he made them count, totaling 103 Yards highlighted by that aforementioned score. With all that said, the play of the game was no doubt the Touchdown-saving Tackle courtesy of Defensive Back, Grant Stuard (44 TKL, 7.0 TFL, 1.0 SK), who chased down the Huskies’ Kevin Mensah, who broke free on a 58-Yard Run, stopping him at the 4-Yard Line. The Defense would go on to author a Goal-Line Stand that preserved their lead, with the Offense going the opposite way to score another Touchdown to seal the outcome. Stuard received the Game Ball from Holgorsen following a stellar effort in which the Junior totaled a whopping Fifteen Tackles, Two for a loss.