Old SWC rivals meet up in Houston in a critical American Athletic Conference game. One of these two will have the upper hand after Saturday night, a few keys for both.
Don't Feed the Beast
Houston's defense thrives on turnovers. They have a secondary full of ballhawks and a group of linebackers that epitomize attacking the football. SMU can't let the Cougars gain extra possessions, and more importantly, limit Mustang possessions. We don't think Houston can score with SMU but then won't matter if the Mustangs turn the ball over.
Continue the Run
Part of SMU's recent success has been due to their success running the football. Xavier Jones' return from last season's injury helped. The Mustangs also have Ke'Mon Freeman and Braeden West. With the possible absence of Ed Oliver, Houston's defensive line is thin, and if SMU can find running room, they'll open things up down the field for Ben Hicks.
Houston's offensive coordinator Brian Johnson loves to get D'Eriq King the ball. King gets touches because King is a playmaker. Houston will line him up in the slot, in the backfield, in the wildcat, move him in motion, basically put him everywhere with the goal of getting the ball to him. SMU needs to be keenly aware of King's position.
Don't Get Into a Track Meet
SMU can score with the best of them. Their skill talent is Power 5 level. Not just Courtland Sutton, who gets the headlines, but James Proche, Myron Galliard, and now Trey Quinn give SMU's offense a lot of weapons. If the Mustang run game gets moving, they are tough to contain. Houston needs to use its offense to run the clock and grind out first downs to keep SMU's offense on the sideline.
Put it in Hicks' Hands
We have our reservations about Ben Hicks. They're well documented. Hicks throws a very nice deep ball, but when asked to throw more precise routes, his accuracy fails. Before UConn, he was completing less than 50% of his passes. Houston's safeties need to play with leverage and keep SMU's deep threats in front of them, and close windows so Hicks has to be more precise.
Keep Dunbar and Bonner Fed
Last week the Cougars got the ball to Steven Dunbar and Linell Bonner early and often. But in the second half, Houston struggled to target their two best options. Houston would do well to continue to push the ball downfield to Dunbar and Bonner to pressure the Mustang's defense.
Notes and Numbers
Saturday marks the 33 meeting between SMU and Houston.
Houston owns a 20-11-1 advantage over the Mustangs.
Since 2000 the Cougars won ten of thirteen games over SMU.
SMU is top 20 in yards allowed per rush at 3.03.
SMU is 3rd in the FBS in scoring offense at 48 points per game.
SMU is plus 8 in turnover margin this season.
In Kyle Postma's first start since 2015, he completed 66% of his passes.
Houston's Linell Bonner is 16th in the FBS in receptions with 34.