Matt Visinsky

Game Preview: SMU Mustangs versus Houston Cougars

Scott has your preview for SMU vs. Houston tonight at 7 pm CT on ESPN2.

WHEN: Thursday, October 8, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. CT
WHERE: TDECU Stadium- Houston, Texas
TV: ESPN2/WatchESPN
SERIES: Houston leads 19-10-1
LAST MEETING: SMU lost 35-9 on November 28, 2014

PONY TRENDS

Matt Visinsky


SMU, losing for the fourth time of the season, once again failed to put together four quarters of quality football.  The SMU Mustangs build to a 23-7 lead in the first half against East Carolina in their first conference game, but gave up 42 unanswered points to drop to a disappointing 1-4.  Now, with their backs up against the wall, SMU will head to Houston to take on a hardnosed Tom Herman team that is undefeated in his first season.

Once again, the SMU defense failed to get timely stops on third down while letting an athletic quarterback take advantage of them with his legs and arm.  This game, however, the SMU offense sputtered.  Something we hadn’t seen all season. 

OPPONENT STRENGTHS


The Houston Cougars are a well-rounded team across the board.  They have athletes and playmakers on both sides of the ball, but it’s their offense that sets the tone for this team.  Led by Greg Ward Jr., the Houston offense can score on the ground or in the air, and most defenses are going to have trouble matching the physicality of this offensive line.  Whether it’s Ward or running back Kenneth Farrow, Houston has the ability to run it up the middle or break a long run outside.  Led by seniors Elandon Roberts, Adrian McDonald and junior Steven Taylor, this Houston defense plays physically and passionately.  Collectively, they might not be the fastest and most athletic, but they can absolutely pack a punch. 

MATCHUP TO WATCH


Greg Ward Jr. vs. SMU Defense: Ward’s athletic ability is unparalleled, but simply as a quarterback, his game is flawed.  SMU has had troubles in the secondary, but their best chance at winning is to force Ward to take to the air instead of the ground.  SMU will need to generate pressure on Houston’s quarterback, but in the end, Ward’s athleticism might be too much for SMU regardless of how much pressure they can muster up.

KEYS TO THE GAME

If SMU wants to have a chance at shocking everybody here, they’re going to have to play a very disciplined game.  Offensively, the Mustangs need to win the time of possession battle, and they must score.  It’s hard to stop an offense like Houston’s, so SMU will have to put up at least 40 points to stay in the ball game.  Defensively, it comes down to slowing Ward down.  Considering the quarterback is the only player in the nation averaging 200 yards in the air and 100 on the ground, it’s safe to say if you can stop Ward, you can stop Houston’s offense.  It’s easier said than done, but containing Ward and limiting his ability to take off and run will be huge for SMU.  If SMU can force a couple turnovers and get off the field on third down, we could have a much more competitive matchup than what most are expecting. 

WATCH TO WATCH FOR

When Houston is on Offense— The Cougar’s offense runs through Ward, so if SMU wants to have a shot at winning in Houston, they’ll have to get after the quarterback and contain him in the pocket.  Ward has played very well so far this season, but Herman challenged him earlier this week to take his game to the next level, not as an athletes, but as a quarterback.  Now it’s time to see if Ward can respond, or if he’ll crumble trying to do too much. 

When Houston is on Defense—The Cougars are a physical team on the defensive side of the ball.  My guess is they bring lots of pressure and try to get after Matt Davis, so then it comes down to the Houston secondary to make plays.  There should be a lot of points scored, but if Houston gets a few stops in a row, they’ll be well on their way to starting the season 6-0.

When SMU is on Offense— If Matt Davis does what he has done all too often this season—hold onto the ball too long in the pocket—it’s going to be a long day for the Mustangs.  SMU needs to get the ball into their receivers’ hands fast, and while Sutton is the obvious first choice, guys like Kevin Thomas, Ryheem Malone and company will have to step up as well. 

When SMU is on Defense— For this defense, it’s all about stopping Ward.  Considering all of the bad luck the SMU defense has had with dual-threat quarterbacks, expect this unit to focus on that as soon as the ball is kicked.  If SMU wants to have a shot at stealing this game, they’ll have to play four quarters of impressive defense.  Something they have failed to do all season long. 

PONY STAMPEDE STAFF PREDICTIONS
Billy: 45-24 Houston wins
Scott: 52-24 Houston wins
Demo: 42-27 Houston wins
Hatts: 35-14 Houston wins
Patrick: 45-31 Houston wins
Matt: 42-24 Houston wins


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