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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Commentary

Week 6 Gridiron Spotlight: AAC matchups have big implications


SMU can make a case for being one of the best teams in the AAC if it can beat UCF. | Thomas Dwyer/ The Cougar

Coming off an undefeated season last year, UCF has started this year dominant as well, going 4-0 with an average margin of victory of 32 points. This week, UCF faces an SMU team that could present problems for it.

This is an interesting game for UH because there are only two possible outcomes, both of which are potentially beneficial to the Cougars. If UCF continues its winning streak, currently the longest in the nation, it leaves the possibility open for a UCF-UH showdown in the American Athletic Conference Championship. A Cougars’ win in that matchup could be the difference between securing a NY6 bowl or not. If SMU were to win, it would legitimize the team in the AAC with a looming matchup with the Cougars in early November.

Looking at SMU’s schedule is deceiving because the team is currently sitting at 2-3. After losing its first three games of the season, SMU won its last two games, including a 31-30 victory over Navy, who was a favorite to win the West division before the season. For SMU, this UCF game will represent its third this season against ranked competition.

Coming into the game, UCF is led by Heisman-hopeful junior quarterback McKenzie Milton. He has thrown for over 1200 yards this season while averaging almost nine yards per attempt. Thanks to Milton’s efficiency, the Knights currently boast the No. 7 scoring team in the nation, averaging almost 50 points per game.

By comparison, SMU’s offense is less than stellar. The Mustangs’ offense gains an average of 359 yards per game, good for just No. 105 in the nation. Again, this is a deceiving statistic because two of SMU’s three losses have come against defenses that are currently part of the top 15 in the nation in yards allowed per game, including No. 1 Michigan.

The statistics for both teams are subpar on the defensive side of the ball, with each ranking below No. 60 in terms of yards allowed per game. Where the Knights hold an edge is in points allowed per game. UCF is the epitome of a “bend, don’t break” defense. Even though it gives up over 350 yards per game, it allows only 16.8 points per game, good for No. 15 in the nation.

In order for the Mustangs to win this game, the team will need to turn it into a 60-minute dogfight like it did against Navy. SMU held Navy under its average point total, and it will have an even bigger task ahead of it with UCF’s offense. If SMU can hang around until the end of the game, it will have a chance to pull off the upset.

For UCF, the game plan will be simple. The Knights just need to limit turnovers and continue to do what it does best. If UCF does that, it should have no problem running its win streak to 18 games. The Knights are favorites in each of their remaining games, so if it wins this game, this win streak may last for a while.

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