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UH football: Previewing the lone star showdown against SMU

UH football senior quarterback Clayton Tune has taken home three of the last four AAC Offensive Player of the Week awards. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

UH football senior quarterback Clayton Tune has taken home three of the last four AAC Offensive Player of the Week awards. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

For one last time as a member of the American Athletic Conference, UH football will make the trip up I-45 to Dallas to take on in-state rival SMU on Saturday night.

The Cougars (5-3, 3-1 AAC) are looking to extend their winning streak to four and keep their hopes of a conference championship alive with a win over the Mustangs (4-4, 2-2 AAC).

A look at SMU

The Mustangs score a lot of points. SMU has put up 40 or more points in half of its games, averaging 35.6 points per contest.

SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai and receiver Rashee Rice have been the top offensive duo in the country. Whenever Mordecai throws the ball in his favorite target’s direction, good things tend to happen for the Mustangs.

Rice leads the nation in receiving yards with 982 and is tied for fifth in receptions with 62.

“He’s probably one of the most premier receivers in the country,” said UH defensive coordinator Doug Belk.

No other SMU receiver has more than 17 receptions or eclipsed 300 receiving yards.

In the backfield, the Mustangs have five running backs with over 100 yards rushing on the season led by junior Velton Gardner’s 277 yards on the ground. Tre Siggers, TJ McDaniel and Tyler Lavine have combined to score 13 of SMU’s 17 rushing touchdowns this season.

Struggles defensively are a large reason why SMU sits at 4-4 on the season. The Mustangs rank 105th nationally in yards allowed per game, giving up an average of 421.1 total yards.

While SMU has been solid against the pass, its rush defense has been one of the worst in the country. Through eight games, the Mustangs are allowing 201.9 yards on the ground per contest.

Key questions for UH

Will UH expose SMU’s poor run defense?

The ground game has been strong for the Cougars over their last two contests in a large part thanks to redshirt freshman running back Stacy Sneed’s 160 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries over that stretch.

Sneed and fellow freshman Brandon Campbell will likely see the majority of time in the backfield against the Mustangs but there is also a chance that senior Ta”Zhawn Henry, who had ankle surgery earlier in the season, returns and gets on the field.

With senior quarterback Clayton Tune playing lights out, winning three of the last four AAC’s Offensive Player of the Week awards, if UH can continue to get positive production on the ground it could make the Cougars offense nearly impossible to stop, resulting in a long night for the SMU defense.

Can the Cougars slow down Rashee Rice?

The SMU offense runs through Rice. If he gets going, the Mustangs are extremely difficult to stop.

Slowing down Rice will be a major focus for the UH defense and he will likely be double-teamed most of the night.

Responsibility will fall on the veterans in the UH secondary like cornerback Art Green and safety Hasaan Hypolite to limit Rice’s production.

If UH slows down Rice, the Cougars likely come away with the win.

How does UH match up with SMU?

Both offenses are high-powered and explosive meaning that this game will come down to which defense can get more stops and create turnovers.

The Cougars have the advantage defensively on paper as they are more balanced against both the run and pass compared to a Mustangs defense that has not stopped the run all year.

How to watch

The game is set to kick off at 6 p.m. and will air on NFL Network. It can also be listened to via radio on KPRC 950 AM.

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