SMU (0-7, 0-3 AAC) has five games left to get in the win column, and Saturday’s tilt in Tulsa is probably the Mustangs’ best opportunity. The Golden Hurricane (1-7, 1-3 AAC) has lost every game since beating AAC foe Tulane way back on Aug. 28.
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014. Kickoff is at 11 a.m.
WHERE: : H.A. Chapman Stadium, Tulsa, Okla.
TV/RADIO: : CBS Sports Network, KTCK 1310 AM/96.7 FM The Ticket
SERIES: : SMU leads 13-7 (SMU leads in Tulsa 5-4)
LAST MEETING: : SMU won 35-27 on Nov. 24, 2012 at Ford Stadium.
PONY TRENDS: SMU is looking for a spark on offense, and Interim Head Coach Tom Mason has indicated he may start Matt Davis at quarterback. Davis replaced Garrett Krstich early in the second half of the Memphis game on Oct. 25. He ran for 46 yards on seven carries but was just 3-of-9 throwing the ball. He needs to show improvement as a passer by staying in the pocket to keep the starting job.
The bye week is an ideal time to make a quarterback change. Mason give the junior college transfer an extended look and reps with the starters, especially with Krstich missing practice time with an ankle injury. Both still received plenty of snaps with the 1’s, and Mason said he will name a starter on Friday.
SMU’s much-maligned running game will benefit from the likely return of K.C. Nlemchi. Mason anointed the junior running back the starter following his strong performance against East Carolina. But he was suspended for a violation of team rules and did not take the field against Cincinnati and Memphis. The talented Nlemchi should receive a majority of the carries as well as make an impact as a receiver.
OPPONENT STRENGTHS: Tulsa has been on the same trajectory as SMU. After an 11-win season in 2012, the Golden Hurricane has won four games and lost 16. And former all-conference quarterback G.J. Kinne is not walking through the door.
But unlike SMU, Tulsa has been able to move the ball at times. Its 295.1 passing yards per game ranks 18th nationally, but those yards have led to just 23.9 points per game because of a minus-five turnover margin and 22 sacks taken.
Tulsa quarterback Dane Evans is on the shorter side for a quarterback, but he has still thrown for 2,290 yards with 14 touchdowns against nine interceptions. He is not the most efficient passer, as he has completed just 55.6 percent of his passes and averaged a subpar 6.78 yards per pass.
Evans has the AAC’s leader in receiving yards, Keevan Lucas, at his disposal. His 929 receiving yards rank ninth nationally and he has hauled in eight of Evans’ 14 touchdown passes. SMU defensive backs have struggled in coverage all season, and while Evans only stands 5-foot-10, he still gives defenders fits.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: SMU QB Matt Davis vs. himself. It sounds crazy, but Davis needs to worry about himself as much as he does Tulsa’s defense. He has shown his athleticism and elusiveness as a runner, but he has missed open receivers and taken bad sacks. Davis tends to bail at the first hint of pressure and try to scramble, but because he does it so quickly, he rarely turns it into positive yardage. If SMU is going to score with Davis, he needs to stay in the pocket and deliver throws even if he senses some pressure.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Matt Davis. If he plays well and moves the ball, SMU could win. If he gets skittish and tries to imitate Johnny Manziel, SMU could be shut out for the third time this season. The offensive line must give him a clean pocket, but the line has improved in recent weeks and should be able to handle Tulsa’s pass rush.
Davis’ job becomes way easier if K.C. Nlemchi can take pressure off him and run the ball well. He may be a bit rusty coming off the suspension, but he should be able to find holes in Tulsa’s Swiss cheese defense that gives up 40.6 points per game.
Billy: SMU, 24-17
Scott: Tulsa, 38-17
Patrick: Tulsa, 14-10
Hatts: SMU, 27-24
Demo: Tulsa, 35-10