1. Neal Burcham- Neal Burcham will make his first collegiate start against Houston on Friday baring any surprise. Garrett Gilbert has been SMU's best performer thus far, so Burcham will have big shoes to fill. Burcham, who was 9-18 for 91 yards with a touchdown and interception against USF, will get a week of practice under his belt as the starter, so the redshirt freshman will be expected to improve on last week's game. Burcham will face a stingy Houston defense and be asked to make most of the same throws that Gilbert has made all season. SMU's offense has been carrying the Mustangs all year, so even with Burcham in the pocket, the offense will need to put up a solid amount of points. SMU will need Burcham to play just like Gilbert if they want to become bowl eligible for the fifth consecutive year.
2. Secondary play- Against USF, Jay Scott and the SMU secondary played their best game all season. Granted, they weren't playing against much competition, but getting that confidence may be just what they need. Houston's receiving core is led by Deontay Greenberry who has thrashed secondaries all season. Greenberry has big play capability, so the Mustangs will have to prevent him from being their Achilles heal. If SMU can shutdown Greenberry and limit Houston's big plays all together, the Mustangs will have a good shot at upsetting the Cougars.
3. Rushing game- It's no secret that SMU has struggled running the football all season, but the numbers say that if SMU can run the ball successfully against Houston, they have a good shot at winning on Friday. Houston's four losses this season have come when the opposition runs for more than 100 yards. With Gilbert likely out and Burcham calling the shots, this would be a perfect time for the Mustangs to finally get something going on the ground. If SMU can establish a running game early, that could open up passing lanes for Burcham. A balanced offense could be the key for SMU to become bowl eligible this season.
4. Offensive line: SMU's offensive line has started to finally find its identity. Although run blocking has been a struggle all season, the big guys up front have come together and have put together a string of solid pass-protection performances. With Burcham starting on Friday, the offensive line will have to give the redshirt freshman all the time in the world. The last thing SMU needs is a pressured, inexperienced quarterback rushing his throws and trying to make plays on the fly. Houston's pass rush, led by linebacker Derrick Matthews can get to the quarterback, so it's up to the offensive line to step up and play up to their competition.
5. The little things: SMU will need to play a near-perfect game to beat the Cougars. The Cougars have lost three straight tough games to UCF, Louisville and Cincinnati, so Houston will be looking to get back to its winning ways. Special teams cannot give up any big returns. The offense has to continue to put up big numbers even without Gilbert call the shots; and SMU cannot give Houston any second chances. Against a good team like Houston, penalties that give the Cougars second chances will come back to haunt the Mustangs. SMU has to play sound, fundamental football in order to steal this one away on Friday.
5 Keys To Victory
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