Scouting the opposition: SMU shouldn’t be overlooked
Tom Herman’s Cougars (4-0) are on a quick turnaround this week, facing in-state rival SMU (1-4) tonight at TDECU Stadium, just six days after defeating the Tulsa Golden Hurricane 38-24 Saturday afternoon.
The Mustangs are coming off one of the worst years in the school’s illustrious history, finishing 1-11 under interim coach Tom Mason after seven-year head coach June Jones resigned two games into the 2014 season.
In the offseason, SMU brought in former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris to take the reins of the program. The first-time head coach helped the Tigers to a 41-11 record, an ACC Championship and four bowl games during his time there.
Thus far in 2015, Morris’ Mustangs have shown dramatic improvement in many areas, particularly on offense, where SMU is averaging 84 more rushing yards, 77 more passing yards and 20 more points per game than a year ago.
Though they have made strides, their progress has not translated into the win column and the Mustangs are currently at the bottom of the West Division in the AAC.
Despite the gap in records between the two schools, this nationally televised game is a still a critical match-up for both teams.
“We are the only two teams in the state of Texas in this conference,” Herman said. “For us, this is a really big game because we run into these guys in just about everything we do from exposure, to media market, to you name it. We want to make sure we have bragging rights for the entire year in the great state of Texas.”
In order to get those bragging rights, the Cougars first have to contend with SMU’s primary weapon in junior quarterback Matt Davis, a dual-threat in the same mold as the Cougars’ own junior passer, Greg Ward Jr.
Like Ward, Davis is a very capable thrower. He is able to stand in the pocket and pick apart a defense, but he is also explosive player with his legs, serving as his team’s leading rusher as well.
Just as the Mustangs must find a way to stop Ward first and foremost in order to have a chance to win against the Cougars, UH’s defense has to contain Davis to get the “W.”
“We have to stop the quarterback,” Herman said. “If you give the kid time he will hurt you with his arm, but if you are not disciplined in how you attack him and get after him a little bit then he’ll hurt you with his feet.”
Davis’ top target is red-shirt freshman wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who leads SMU with 21 receptions for 450 yards and five touchdowns, good for ninth in the NCAA.
The young receiver is off to a phenomenal start to his career, with two 100-yard games and four straight games with a TD to open the season. At 6 feet 4 inches tall, 215 pounds, Sutton is another mismatch for the Cougar secondary who can stretch the field and make a play deep for the Mustangs.
The SMU defense has been a mixed bag through the first five games. They rank near the bottom of the NCAA in both passing defense, 123 with 308 yards allowed per game, and rushing defense, 127 with 274 yards allowed per game.
Conversely, the Mustangs have been one of the best teams in the nation at taking the ball away, with nine interceptions and two fumble recoveries in five games, good for the 12 spot in the NCAA.
Leading SMU in the turnover department are a pair of talented defensive backs in junior Horace Richardson and redshirt-freshman Jordan Wyatt, who each have two interceptions on the season.
While senior linebacker Jonathan Yenga leads the team with 30 tackles and one fumble recovery, sophomore defensive end Justin Lawler has been the Mustangs’ biggest defensive threat and has been all over the field with 2.5 sacks, 2.5 tackles for a loss, one pass break-up, one QB hurry and 28 tackles of his own.
SMU would seem to be an easy victory for the undefeated Cougars after losing by an average of 20 points per game in their four losses. Two of the losses came against top five teams however, No. 3 TCU and No. 4 Baylor, and UH can’t afford to look past this SMU squad.