1. Health- With another bye week, head coach June Jones gave his team the entire week off, and it was for a good reason. Against Temple, SMU had a number of players go down with injuries including Traylon Shead, Jeremy Johnson and Beau Barnes. Shead, Johnson and Barnes have all been vital to SMU's success, so getting them healthy is key for this weekend's game against Cincinnati. But it appears Shead will miss at least a few more weeks. SMU does not have the depth it's had in year's past which could come back to bite the Mustangs if they cannot get healthy before facing a talented Cincinnati team. If the Mustangs want to keep their bowl hopes alive, this game is key, and SMU will need all of their weapons to come out with a victory.
2. Get ahead early- Besides SMU's game against Memphis, the Mustangs have had trouble getting ahead of their opponents early and staying ahead. Against TCU, the Mustangs led 10-7 at halftime, but were outscored 41-7 in the second half. Against Memphis, SMU jumped out to an early lead against the Tigers and it looked as if the game would be out of reach for Memphis. The Tigers, however, made a push and SMU barely held on for a 34-29 victory. This weekend against Cincinnati could make or break the season for SMU, so coming out of the gates with high intensity is key. As much as starting fast is important, finishing strong and holding off any kind of Cincinnati rally is just as important. Limiting mental mistakes will also be a key if the Mustangs want to jump out to an early lead against the Bearcats and ultimately come away with a win.
3. Garrett Gilbert- Week in and week out, Gilbert is always a key to SMU's success. Coming of a career game where he broke a number of school passing records, Gilbert will face a stingy Cincinnati defense that allows, on average, just 18 points per game. Cincinnati also has one of the best pass defenses in the nation, allowing just 177 yards per game. Cincinnati has done a solid job all year long of not allowing the big play, which may be exactly what SMU needs to take down the 6-2 Bearcats. Gilbert, like he has done for most of the season, will have to be smart with the ball and limit his mistakes. Recently, Gilbert's long ball has become one of the quarterback's strong suits, so being able to hit the open receiver down field will be another key to the Mustangs' success. Also, look for the senior transfer to take on a big-time leadership role this weekend as Gilbert will try to lead his team to a third straight win.
4. Running game success- Traylon Shead suffered another injury against Temple and will not play this weekend. While Shead has been back, the Mustangs finally started to run the ball with some success. K.C. Nlemchi and Prescott Line will also have to step up and continue to run the ball effectively for SMU. SMU's offense is most effective when their offense is clicking on all cylinders, so look for the Mustangs to try and establish the run game early. SMU's offensive line has started to gel as a unit, but they will also have their hands full with Silverberry Mouhon and Nick Temple. If the run game cannot produce, Cincinnati's tough defense might be able to contain Gilbert enough to get the victory.
5. Containing Cincinnati's run game- The Bearcats have three running backs in Ralph Abernathy, Hosey Williams and Tion Green who can run the ball affectively for them on any given weekend. SMU's defense will need to contain the runners and force Cincinnati to throw the ball. After losing starting quarterback Munchie Legaux for the season after just two games, the Bearcats have turned to Brendon Kay who has had his ups and downs since taking over the starting job. Limiting Cincinnati's rushing attack will put more pressure on Kay, which could force him into making a few mistakes in SMU's favor.
5 Keys To Victory
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