1. Defensive line- The big guys up front struggled with stopping the run against UConn, which in part is why the Huskies were able to keep the game close for so long. Against South Florida, the defensive line will have to plug up the running lanes with more success. Although South Florida did not run for a lot of yards, Marcus Shaw and Willie Davis averaged nearly 5.6 yards per rush, so they can run the ball with success. The last thing the Mustangs need this weekend is another close game against a lesser team and if the Bulls can get their running game going, that could also open up the passing lanes.
2. Defensive backs- South Florida quarterback Mike White started for just the second time in his college career last week against Memphis and didn't have much success. White threw four interceptions last week, so the SMU defensive backfield should be able to have some of that same success this weekend against the Bulls. Stephon Sanders and Darrion Richardson both had interceptions against UConn last week. There isn't any reason the defensive backs can't have success against White this weekend.
3. Garrett Gilbert- Gilbert, even with a sore shoulder, was able to throw for 353 yards and four touchdowns last week. Getting Gilbert healthy for SMU's match ups against Houston and UCF is important, but South Florida cannot be over looked. Gilbert has put together his strongest season as a college quarterback, but he has yet to deal with any injuries. If Gilbert and the Mustangs don't deal with this possible injury the right way, SMU risks the chance of losing Gilbert to a worse injury, which would significantly hurt their chances at making a fifth straight bowl game. Gilbert has been the MVP of the team thus far, but if his shoulder ends up bothering him this weekend, Neal Burcham will have to step up. While there shouldn't be any concern over Gilbert playing, you can bet the coaching staff will be monitoring the quarterback throughout the game.
4. Run game- Prescott Line continued to struggle running the ball, compiling all of nine yards on seven carries against UConn. K.C. Nlemchi, on the other hand, ran the ball very well late in the game, rushing for 64 yards on eight carries. June Jones and the coaching staff should, by now, recognize that Nlemchi is the better running back and should be starting. With Gilbert having a sore shoulder, don't be surprised if SMU decides to run the ball more, which means the offensive line and running backs must be productive.
5. Health- Although Gilbert is expected to play this weekend, it doesn't help he had to miss practice this week with a sore shoulder. Along with Gilbert, JaBryce Taylor and Darius Joseph, two playmakers, are both recovering from injuries. While injuries shouldn't be a problem for this weekend against South Florida, it would be in the team's best interest to make sure these three players are healthy for their upcoming game against Houston. Obviously Gilbert is the most essential player on this team, but he's a fighter so don't expect him to take any games off.
5 Keys To Victory
Pony Stampede Top Stories
SMU Spring Football Storylines: DefenseHatts breaks down some of the biggest storylines for SMU on the defensive side of the ball during spring practice.
Pony StampedeYesterday at 12:29 PM
Five questions for SMU during spring practiceSMU starts spring football practices on Tuesday, Feb. 28. PonyStampede's Patrick Engel identifies five questions SMU should answer by the time spring practices end.
Pony StampedeYesterday at 6:40 AM
Fast-rising Cibolo Steele CB grabs SMU offer2018 Cibolo (Tex.) Steele cornerback Jayveon Cardwell's recruitment is picking up and he sounds off on his SMU offer inside.
Pony StampedeSunday at 10:47 AM
Three Takeaways: SMU at ConnecticutSMU beat Connecticut 69-61 in Hartford on Saturday for its 11th straight win. PonyStampede's Patrick Engel has three takeaways from the game.
Pony StampedeSaturday at 11:15 AM