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Monday, December 4, 2023


Cougars pony up for potent SMU offense

This week the Cougars will be tasked with stopping SMU running back Zach Line, Conference USA’s top rusher. | Brianna Leigh Morrison/The Daily Cougar

Regardless of how complicated the BCS formula is, the solution for UH is easy: One win at a time.

The Cougars need to win three more games before the dreams of a big bowl game can become a reality. The SMU Mustangs (6-4, 4-2 Conference USA) are the latest obstacle standing in the way.

“It’s a place all teams want to be,” senior quarterback Case Keenum said. “You don’t want to have to count on any other games, any other teams, or any other committees to decide where you want to play. As far as our mindset, it hasn’t changed a whole lot.

“We can treat it like a playoff like we have every week, because college football is like a playoff every week. It doesn’t matter what’s happened or what’s going to happen. All that matters is this week.”

SMU had a strong start to the season, but back-to-back losses to Southern Miss. and Tulsa derailed the Mustangs’ hopes to win the C-USA West Division. Though the Mustangs may be out of C-USA contention, they still boast plenty of talent.

Senior running back Zach Line leads the conference in rushing with 1,224 yards and 17 touchdowns. Senior quarterback J.J. McDermott is the second-leading passer in C-USA behind Keenum.

“Here is a team that has had some quality wins and beat TCU,” head coach Kevin Sumlin said. “Zach Line is a heck of a player at 230 pounds and has rushed for over 100 yards in eight of 10 games. They have good skill on the outside. By starts, they have the most experienced offensive line. (Head coach) June Jones knows what he is doing, they are going to have a plan offensively.

“They have done some things across the board. They are a good football team and have shown that this year. They are confident and are going to play well.”

The Mustangs were limited to a total of 10 points in their losses to the Golden Eagles and Golden Hurricane. But Sumlin and the Cougars are not doubting SMU’s ability to play spoiler on Saturday.

“They are another competitive Conference USA team,” Keenum said. “They always come out and play really well. They are very well-coached, and I have a lot of respect for them and for coach Jones and what they do. Especially with teams like this that we get to play a lot, we know a lot of stuff that they do and they know a lot of stuff that we do. It makes it competitive and fun.

“They rush really well, they have a good defensive line, their linebackers are solid, and in the back end they are sound. It should be a good game. I’m excited to play another good opponent and it should be a fun senior day.”

The last time UH (10-0, 6-0) lost to SMU was in 2005, and the Cougars have won the last five matchups. Sumlin is yet to lose to the Mustangs the three times he has coached against them.

“They have lost four games,” Sumlin said. “You look at the league and every week there is a surprising score. A lot of teams in this league are capable of beating anybody. They have some good players and are well coached. You have to come to play every week. They are not going to be intimidated coming in here at all.”

The game kicks off at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday at Robertson Stadium, in what could potentially be the last home game of the season. UH must beat Tulsa on Nov. 25 in order to host the C-USA Championship game on Dec. 3.

It will be televised on Fox Sports Network and will be broadcast on 790 AM.

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