Houston, No. 17 in the first BCS poll of the season, looks to shake off a surprising loss to UTEP and the slow start last week against a reeling Tulane scoring a season-low nine points in the first half last Saturday before dominating in the final two quarters to beat Tulane 44-16 for its first conference victory.
Houston, coached by Bob Stoops protege Kevin Sumlin , has rapidly become the model, pass heavy offense that every other Conference USA school strives to be, leading the nation in total offense, averaging 560.3 yards per game, and passing yards, with over 425 yards per game.
It will be SMU's biggest defensive challenge this season but, with a fourth ranked 20 turnovers, 13 of which are interceptions; Houston's offense has noticed the challenge of facing the SMU defense, as well.
"They're beyond dangerous; they're a good football team," Sumlin said of the radically improved Mustang defense. "They play a 3-4 defense and are very aggressive on defense."
Last season, SMU squandered a 12 point lead in the fourth quarter, allowing three touchdowns, and losing 44-38. Sumlin sees the 2009 Mustangs as a much improved team from last year's collapse.
"They have talent, a good scheme and are well coached. That's the reason why they're tied for first in the West." Sumlin went on "This team is drastically improved from the beginning of last year, and you could see that development as the season progressed. They were in a lot of tight battles, and you could look at our game against them last year where they had basically won the game, but something happened at the end."
SMU faced a rushing powerhouse last week against Navy. Their ability to keep Navy's offense off the field early led to a 21-7 halftime lead, but were edged out in overtime, 38-35. The strong suit on the SMU defense this season has continually been their secondary, which should get more chances for game changing plays and, with a capable offensive execution, could put Houston in a first half rut, which the Cougars pulled out of against Tulane, but fell short of recovering from against UTEP.
SMU has dominated the first half, outscoring opponents 94-50 and with Mitchell playing more conservatively and not giving up any interceptions the past two games, the Mustangs need to execute the keep away facet in the second half for a victory.
SMU has lost three of their past four. Only one of those three losses was in regulation and was at the expense of TCU.
After Tulsa's loss to UTEP, SMU is currently in first place of the West division, with a 2-0 record.