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Saturday, June 3, 2023


Coogs to cross the Line in Dallas vs. SMU

Replicating last week’s defensive results will be key against SMU’s talented offense. | Rebekah Stearns/The Daily Cougar

Replicating last week’s defensive results will be key against SMU’s talented offense. | Rebekah Stearns/The Daily Cougar

With a short week behind them, the Cougars take the field in Dallas against the SMU Mustangs with conference implications on the line. In fact, both UH or SMU has represented the Western Division of Conference USA in the championship game the last three years.

“They’ve got a veteran coaching staff; they’ve got a veteran team,” said head coach Tony Levine. “You look at the players that they’re playing with and it may resemble our team from last year.”

The biggest obstacle for the Cougars will be stopping the Mustangs senior running back Zach Line who has posted three 100-yard rushing games this year and 18 throughout his career.

“A lot of people think Zach Line’s the best running back in C-USA,” Levine said. “He is their workhorse. Our challenge defensively is going to be stopping the run, and it starts with him.”

Because of a foot injury that put him out the last three games of 2011, Line’s last competition against the Cougars came in 2010 when the physical back rushed for 106 yards on 19 carries.

“I’ve played against Zach Line for two years and he’s always brought his A-game,” said junior defensive back Zachary McMillian. “It’s a great challenge for our defensive backs to come out and play and bring you’re A-game.”

Unique challenge

In addition to handling SMU talent, UH is playing its first Thursday-night game of the season, something that presents a unique and potentially complex challenge to even explain.

“It’s kind of a different deal with a Thursday game. Right after the UAB game, that’s actually your Monday so Saturday after the game, you’re already up there watching film,” said redshirt sophomore quarterback David Piland. “Sunday, you wake up early, that’s your Tuesday and then you’re up there. I’m glad I got to see Case (Keenum) do it a couple of times last year and see how he did it.”

The Mustangs are coming off a heartbreaking loss to Tulane and at 2-4 have seen their fair share of early season struggles — something Levine said is no concern to him.

“This is a deal where you can throw the records out when Houston and SMU play. What we did last game has zero bearing on this upcoming game; what SMU did last game has no bearing on this upcoming game,” Levine said. “In college football right now, what happened last week across the country has zero effect in my opinion on the upcoming game.”

A return home

For Southlake-native Piland, the trip to SMU will offer a chance to play in front of people close to him.

“There’s going to be a bunch of my family and friends up there so it will be a lot of fun,” Piland said. “It’s always fun to go home and play in front of a bunch of those guys.”

Ford Stadium is also the site where the quarterback made his third career start after injuries to former quarterbacks Keenum and Cotton Turner in 2010. In the 45-20 victory, Piland threw 233 yards and one touchdown and hopes the Cougars can produce the same winning results.

“I can’t really think of too many guys who were on the field with me in that game who will be on the field in this game,” Piland said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun getting back out there with these guys and go through the same thing with them that I did two years ago.”

No looking back

After a 0-3 start to the season, the Cougars are back to .500, but Levine insists the team and coaching staff keep their sight set on what is to come.

“The games up to this point aren’t anywhere in our locker room, we don’t talk about them. In fact, we didn’t watch the UAB game with our players,” Levine said. “We told them, ‘if you want to watch it, you need to come in on your own.’”

The Cougars have won nine of the last 10 against SMU including six in a row and have the opportunity for their first winning record of the season.

“When you look at the teams in our conference, the team I’m most concerned with is Houston,” Levine said. “We’ve got to take care of the football on offense; we’ve got to tackle on defense.”

UH and SMU will kick off at 7 p.m. today at Ford Stadium in Dallas, airing on Fox Sports Net.

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