WHEN: Saturday, October 18, 2014. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. CT
WHERE: Ford Stadium, Dallas Texas
TV/RADIO: CBS Sports Network, KTCK 1310 AM/96.7 FM The Ticket
SERIES: Cincinnati leads 1-0 (No meetings in Dallas)
LAST MEETING: Cincinnati won 28-25 on November 9, 2013.
PONY TRENDS: SMU looked much more comfortable playing American Athletic Conference competition, even against conference’s best team. The offense busted out of its season-long funk, gaining 390 yards and scoring three touchdowns in a 45-24 loss to East Carolina. The 24 points doubled SMU’s scoring output from its first four games combined.
Junior walk-on quarterback Garrett Krstich threw for 339 yards and two touchdowns in his second career start. He looked comfortable and also did a good job avoiding pressure, taking only two sacks all game. While Krstich struggled in practice at times during the week, he should be able to pick apart Cincinnati’s leaky defense that allows 40.8 points per game (fifth-worst nationally).
The Mustangs also found their running back. K.C. Nlemchi rushed six times for 22 yards and caught four passes for 61 yards. But Interim Head Coach Tom Mason announced that Nlemchi had been suspended for violating team rules. He will not play in the Cincinnati game, but Mason said he hopes to have him back by November.
Kevin Pope has moved back to linebacker, leaving Prescott Line and Darius Durall to get most of the carries going forward. The offensive line also did some shuffling, with Evan Brown moving to center from guard and Taylor Lasecki moving to guard from center.
OPPONENT STRENGTHS: SMU keeps playing teams that can move the ball and make big plays with ease. Cincinnati is no different. Led by ultra-talented quarterback Gunner Kiel, the Bearcats average 333.8 passing yards per game (11th in the nation) and score 33 points per game.
Kiel was one of the Class of 2012’s top quarterback recruits, and he originally signed with Notre Dame. He transferred to Cincinnati after the 2012 season, but did not play his first college game until this season. In just five games, he has thrown for 1,612 yards and 18 touchdowns.
The Bearcats boast two explosive wide receivers. MeKale McKay has reeled in five touchdowns and averages 18.9 yards per catch. Chris Moore has also caught five scores, and he averages an elite 24.4 yards per catch. In Cincinnati’s loss to Ohio State, Moore caught three touchdown passes of 60 yards or longer. He leads the team with 414 receiving yards.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: SMU offensive line vs. Cincinnati front seven. The Mustangs made strides on the offensive line against East Carolina, and need to continue to show progress. While the pass blocking is much improved, the run blocking still needs work. With Nlemchi suspended, the offensive line must play its best while blocking for straight-line runner Line and scatback Durall. A matchup with a less-than-stellar Cincinnati defense will help SMU start in the right direction.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Mustangs must force the Bearcats into mistakes if they want to win. Kiel has had a great start to his college career, but he has committed seven turnovers in five games. His inexperience is demonstrated by some of his poor decisions. To force him to make mistakes, SMU should bring lots of pressure and force him to throw when rushed. SMU could also use disguised coverage, which can confuse inexperienced quarterbacks. If SMU can confuse Kiel, he should make some mistakes and turn the ball over. Cincinnati’s running game is also struggling, so the underperforming SMU run defense has a great opportunity to get back on its feet.
Billy: SMU 31, Cincinnati 24
Scott: Cincinnati 35, SMU 17
Patrick: Cincinnati 34, SMU 31
Andrew: SMU 28, Cincinnati 21
Demo: SMU 28, Cincinnati 24
Mason talks Cincinnati