UH faces biggest challenge of season vs. SMU

Houston is an impressive 10-0, but the defenses they've faced all year have been suspect. SMU provides the greatest challenge of the season, bringing in a defense that's ranked 33rd among all FBS schools. Having lost three of its last four, SMU needs to focus on capitalizing in the red zone and play the Run and Shoot as near perfect as they can to stay competitive with their explosive opponent.

It's been awhile since SMU celebrated their glorious overtime win over TCU.

The players have denied a hangover effect, but since that upset, the Mustangs' offense has been flat behind quarterback J.J. McDermott, who has an interception-to-touchdown ratio of 13:14, and the defense is worn out.

But despite losing three of their last four by a combined score of 89-27, coach June Jones says his team has stuck together and he has confidence in them.

No. 11 Houston is on tap for today. The Run and Shoot will have to play near perfection, especially without its get out of jail free option in Zach Line, who was declared out for the season on Thursday with a torn tendon in his foot.

Jones says he'll use a combination of true freshmen running backs in Jared Williams and Rishad Wimbley, who have combined for 69 yards on 17 carries and no touchdowns. Line leads Conference USA with 208 carries for 1,224 yards and 17 touchdowns.

"We have confidence in the other running backs to go out and make plays," senior wide receiver Cole Beasley said. "But our offense is supposed to be a pass first team, so we need to get back to that."

Houston's secondary ranks third in C-USA, holding opponents to 209.1 yards per game; their rush defense is eighth in the conference, as teams have been able to average 184.1 ypg.

"It's misleading when you play Houston because they get away and get ahead so they don't even play the run," Jones said. "They've done a good job when games have been close of stopping the run, but when they get up 65 to whatever, they drop everybody back and play the pass."

The defense has to contain the nation's best attack, led by records-galore holder Case Keenum. They'll have to be weary of covering Keenum, make sure a receiver isn't open down field and win the one-on-one coverage battles. And the Cougars have an explosive running game, too.

"They're a dual-threat, you can't overload on one aspect," defensive coordinator Tom Mason said. "That's what makes it so challenging. You load up on the passing game and they run it, load up on the running game and they pass it.

"And that's a sixth-year quarterback who knows the system inside and out. I'm not sure he's not the best quarterback in the country."

Mason said when Houston isolates a defensive player, they always win the matchups.

"There will be a linebacker on a wideout and they take advantage," he said. "Then if you start crowding their coverages, they throw one over the top on you and [Keenum] throws as good a deep ball as anyone."

Despite their perfect undefeated record, Houston hasn't faced a team or a defense as good as SMU. The Mustangs rank 33rd in the country in total defense. In their last four games, the Cougars have scored 265 points, but the defenses they were facing in Marshall (ranked 97th), Rice (115th), UAB (115th) and Tulane (89th) are pretty suspect.

But there's no denying this explosive offense, which is why SMU needs to put the past behind them and get up for this game.

"I'm looking forward to this, I mean, what a great challenge," Mason said. "The team is headed for a BCS [bowl], they've had an undefeated season going, they've got the No. 1 offense in the country, [ESPN College GameDay] is there…what more could you ask for?

"It's a big-time environment, let's see what we're all about. Let's see what they really got. It's gonna be fun.

"We've lost three of the last four. If we can't get up for this, what can a team get up for?"

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