On short rest, UH looks to dethrone undefeated, ranked SMU
With Houston set to take on No. 16 SMU Thursday night at TDECU Stadium just five days after its 24-17 victory over UConn, its first American Athletic Conference win of the season, UH is back to days of short rest.
The Cougars, who struggled early in the season with quick turnaround between games, enter the short week following a hard-fought grapple against the Huskies where UH was held to only 284 yards of total offense.
Houston’s defense and special teams made crucial plays to secure the win, getting an interception that set up the offense at the 30-yard line, which led to a touchdown in the second quarter, and two punts over 50 yards.
SMU comes to Houston off a dominant 45-21 win against Temple in which junior quarterback Shane Buechele threw for 457 passing yards and six touchdowns.
The Mustangs had 655 total yards and forced three fumbles, recovering one.
Navigating tough schedule
The Cougars faced a grueling schedule to start the 2019 season, and the toll it has taken on the team is evident with its 3-4 record.
They also played against three ranked opponents in their first seven games, losing to all of them.
In comparison, No. 4 Clemson and No. 1 Alabama, as well as the AAC-leading Mustangs, have only played against one ranked opponent through the first seven games of their respective seasons.
Houston is also on short rest, which the Cougars are no strangers to after the 2019 start that saw the first quarter of their schedule played in under 20 days.
Behind enemy lines
The first-place Mustangs enter TDCEU Stadium with a perfect 7-0 record, which groups them with only nine other FBS teams in the country that remain undefeated.
Led by Buechele, who has 2,112 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions on the season, SMU ranks No. 7 in the nation in total offensive yards with 3,648.
Senior running back Xavier Jones, a substantial supplement to the Buechele-led offense, leads the team in rushing with 751 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Buechele’s top receiving target, junior wideout Reggie Roberson Jr., has 795 reception yards and has caught six touchdowns.
What to watch
The Cougars head into Thursday night battered following their first AAC win of the season.
Sophomore quarterback Clayton Tune had injury issues after his two games as starter, sitting out in favor of freshman Logan Holgorsen against the Huskies.
The Carrollton-born Tune has thrown for 308 yards since taking over for Houston, while Holgorsen has completed eight of 18 for 128 yards in his four appearances for UH.
Tune’s status has been questionable since he suffered a hamstring injury against North Texas, a game in which he threw for 124 yards.
Holgorsen, likely to make his fifth appearance for the Cougars on Thursday, tossed for 123 yards and a touchdown in his first collegiate start versus the Huskies.
Regardless of who’s been under center for Houston, junior wide receiver Marquez Stevenson has been a reliable target for the Cougars’ quarterbacks, hauling in 445 receiving yards while also catching four touchdowns.
Also a receiver, sophomore Jeremy Singleton has been a contributor to UH’s attack, including in the game against UConn where he caught a 58-yard touchdown reception.
Houston’s defense, however, will be the biggest factor determining how successful it is against SMU.
Junior safety Grant Stuard, Houston’s defensive leader with 63 total tackles, has been lights out for the Cougars in 2019, and UH’s matchup against SMU will likely require his continued assistance.
In just one of his career-high 15 tackles in the game, Stuard staved off a Huskies touchdown by stopping UConn junior running back Kevin Mensah dead in the tracks of his 58-yard rush.
As demonstrated against Temple, SMU can score points in bunches, and UH opponents have averaged 475.7 total offensive yards this season.
Should the Cougars want to upset one of the country’s hottest teams, their defense must continue to step up.