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Sunday, May 15, 2022

Football

The opposition: Previewing UH’s matchup with No. 19 SMU


UH football looks to make it seven wins in a row Saturday night when the Cougars host undefeated SMU in an AAC showdown. | James Schillinger/The Cougar

UH football looks to make it seven wins in a row Saturday night when the Cougars host undefeated SMU in an AAC showdown. | James Schillinger/The Cougar

Two of the top teams in the American Athletic Conference will meet face-to-face Saturday night at TDECU Stadium as 6-1 Houston squares off against 7-0 and 19th ranked SMU.

Here’s everything you need to know about Saturday’s matchup between the Cougars and Mustangs:

Mustangs offense

No one has been able to slow down SMU’s high-powered offense this season, which ranks sixth in the nation in both points per game, averaging 42.7 points, and yards per game, averaging  525.4 yards a contest.

Oklahoma transfer quarterback Tanner Mordecai has found his groove in the Mustangs’ offensive system, ranking top 10 in the country in passing yards and completion percentage and tied for the FBS lead in touchdown passes with 29.

Surrounding Mordecai is a boatload of versatile playmakers who cause opposing defenses problems in a variety of ways.

The Mustangs have two different styles of running backs in Ulysses Bentley IV and Tre Siggers.

Bentley, who has only carried the ball twice in the month of October due to injury, is lightning quick and was tearing defenses apart before he begin dealing with an injury. Bentley has eclipsed the 400 yard mark on the ground, averaging 7.4 yards per carry on the season.

Bentley will be the biggest test that the UH defense will have to face all season according to Doug Belk, the Cougars’ defensive coordinator.

“Bentley, I think he’s really special,” Belk said. “I think he’s the best guy that we’ve played overall. He can run the ball. He can catch the ball. Really good jump cut runner and is explosive once he gets into the open field.”

Siggers, Bentley’s counterpart, is a big, bulldozing type back. Siggers leads the Mustangs backfield, rushing for 473 yards and four touchdowns on 101 carries this season.

“(Siggers) is powerful and he’s explosive,” Belk said. “He can run around you and he can run through you.”

On the outside, the Mustangs have four guys with more than 300 receiving yards and at least three touchdown receptions.

Danny Gray leads the Mustangs in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns while Reggie Robinson Jr., who is in his fourth year with the program, has bounced back from knee injury he suffered in 2020 and once again established himself as a centerpiece in the SMU receiving game.

Mustangs defense

It’s been a good thing that the SMU offense lights up the scoreboard every week because the Mustangs defense has struggled all year keeping their opponents in check.

Amongst the FBS, the Mustangs rank 50th in points per game allowed, 82nd in yards allowed per game giving up nearly six yards each play, 64th in rush defense and 99th in pass defense.

SMU’s defense has especially struggled on the road, giving up an average of just over 31 points per game in its three road games this season.

Defensive ends Gary Wiley and Turner Coxe lead the SMU pass rush, combining for seven of the Mustangs 12 sacks this season.

Linebacker Delano Robinson leads the defense with 43 tackles

How does UH match up with SMU?

The game will be won in the trenches as a dominant UH defensive line, which brands themselves Sack Avenue and ranks second in the nation with 4.14 sacks per game, goes up against an SMU offensive line that has only allowed two sacks all season.

SMU’s stellar offensive line has allowed Mordecai all the time in the world to unleash his rocket of an arm and tear defenses apart all season.

Getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks has been key to the UH defense’s success all season and will once again play a major factor if the Cougars are to pull off the upset.

On the other side of the ball, the UH offensive line is coming off a rough performance after allowing a season-high five sacks against East Carolina.

If the UH offensive line can bounce back hold its ground, then the Cougars will be able to establish the run game and open things up for quarterback Clayton Tune, who should have plenty of opportunities to exploit a struggling SMU secondary.

How to watch

Kickoff is at 6 p.m. on ESPN2. The game can also be listened to on KPRC 950 AM.

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