Game Preview: SMU vs. Houston

SMU will host Houston in a pivotal Conference USA match Thursday night on national television and we have the full breakdown!

What to Watch on Offense from SMU

More Zach Line. Even though the Mustangs got Line going with 177 yards rushing against Tulane and lost, SMU must have another productive day from Line. Houston's offense can really cause problems for a tired defense and if SMU can't stay on the field for a long time, it could be ugly for SMU. Line is the best way for SMU to be productive on offense and wear down the Houston defense. The Houston defense isn't spectacular, but the Ponies could make them look great if they do not have a running game and are forced to rely on Garrett Gilbert.

Junior wide receiver Jeremy Johnson will be the difference maker on offense in the receiving corps. If Johnson can have another game like he had against Tulane, the Mustangs will be balanced. Gilbert must raise his efficiency and in order to do that, he will need another big day from Johnson and the rest of the receivers.

What to Watch on Offense from Houston

The Piland and Sims Show. The two key players in Houston's backfield, sophomore quarterback David Piland and junior Charles Sims have been super productive for the Cougars this year. Piland played poorly in two of the three Houston losses by completing under 47 percent of his passes and throwing six interceptions. In Houston's three wins and its loss to Louisiana Tech, Piland completed over 60 percent of his passes and his last two games, he completed 75 and 72 percent of his passes and hasn't thrown an interception since September 29.

Sims also started poorly by failing to rush for 100 yards until the fourth game of the season but has averaged over seven yards per carry the past three games, all wins for Houston. Sims has been a threat out of the backfield as well for the Cougars, averaging over 11 yards a catch the past three games. SMU must contain this versatile back to force Piland, who Cougar fans are warming back up to after the beginning of the season, to beat SMU on his own.

What to Watch on Defense from SMU

Big plays by the linebackers. SMU's linebacking corps has carried the defense this season and continues to force turnovers and make big plays. With Sims being a big threat running the ball and catching the ball, look for the linebackers to be extra active this Thursday in hopes of slowing down all the playmakers the Cougar offense has at its disposal. SMU must get a big day from Margus Hunt as well to keep pressure on Piland.

SMU's secondary cannot be relied on by any means to produce any big plays on Thursday so the Mustangs must count on pressure on Piland in hopes of having some ill-advised throws fall into the Mustangs' hands.

What to Watch on Defense from Houston

Phillip Steward. Senior linebacker Phillip Steward has been a one man wrecking crew for Houston this season. Steward leads the team in tackles (72), tackles for loss (12.5), sacks (6.5), forced fumbles (3) and even has an interception. Steward has been all over the field this season and will be the one defensive player the Mustangs must keep an eye on for every play.

If Steward has the type of game he has been having all season, the Mustangs will be in trouble offensively. Steward and sophomore linebacker Derrick Matthews (four sacks), will be applying the pressure on Gilbert as the Houston defensive line has struggled this season. With the defensive line struggling, look for SMU to pound the ball with Line in hopes of keeping Steward and Matthews off of Gilbert's back.

Key to the Game

SMU bounces back in a big way behind Zach Line and Ja'Gared Davis' big day. Line rushes for over 150 yards and two touchdowns and Davis records at least a sack, tackle for loss, double-digit tackles and a turnover.

Prediction: SMU wins 27-24

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