Houston (3-3) at SMU (2-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, October 18, 8:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Gerald J. Ford Stadium (32,000) -- Dallas, Texas. Television: FSN. Home Record: Houston 2-2, SMU 1-2. Away Record: Houston 0-1, SMU 1-2. Neutral Record: Houston 1-0, SMU 0-0. Conference Record: Houston 2-0, SMU 1-1. Series Record: Houston leads, 17-9-1.
GAME NOTES: The Houston Cougars try to keep the ball rolling as they square off with the SMU Mustangs in a Conference USA bout at Ford Stadium.
Houston is coming off of a 39-17 win over UAB, which was its third in a row. The Cougars now aim for their first winning record after their discouraging 0-3 start. Coach Tony Levine seems to finally have settled into his position as his squad has won its last three games by an average of 22 points per game. Houston is a perfect 2-0 in league action.
SMU also begin the season in a non-spectacular fashion as it was 1-3 with its only win coming over Stephen F. Austin of the FCS prior to league play. The Mustangs seemed to be clicking as they shut out Texas-El Paso, 17-0, in their C-USA opener, however they were upset by the previously winless Tulane Green Wave in a thriller last week. Coach June Jones and his team have a lot to prove after allowing Tulane to snap its FBS leading 15-game losing streak last week.
Houston holds a 17-9-1 in its all-time series versus SMU. The Cougars extended their lead last season with a 37-7 win at home behind 318 passing yards courtesy of Case Keenum's golden arm.
The Cougars led the entire FBS in total offense and scoring offense last season, but it appeared like they would experience a rebuilding season after their season opening 30-13 loss to Texas State. However, a change to the offensive coordinator after the season opener has brought Houston back to its old ways. In the five games since Travis Bush has taken over the Houston offensive play-calling duties, the Cougars have totaled 2,878 yards of total offense for an average of 575.5 yards per game.
David Piland has done a decent job filling Keenum's shoes with the exception of a five-interception performance versus UCLA. However, Piland has completed 74.1 percent of his passes for 683 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in his last two outings. The junior QB clearly has the ability to be successful and his decision-making seems to be catching up.
Piland's life is made easier by a pair of reliable targets, Dewayne Peace and Daniel Spencer. Peace leads the team with 38 receptions for 417 yards and two scores while Spencer is close behind with 415 yards and two touchdowns on 29 catches. Four other Cougars have more than 100 yards and a touchdown grab as well.
The rushing attack is the key to Houston's success. The Cougars improved to 6-0 all-time when running back Charles Sims records 100+ rushing yards. Sims rushed for 133 yards, his third straight 100-yard rushing game, in last week's triumph over UAB.
Houston's defense has been making strides in recent weeks as well. After allowing 41 points per game in their first three, the Cougars have held their last three opponents to just 17.3 ppg.
Last week versus UAB, Houston's defense recorded a season-high eight sacks. The Cougars came into the game with just 12 through the first five games. Phillip Steward anchored the defense with 13 total tackles, three tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and an interception.
SMU could be in trouble if Houston's defensive front continues to pressure the quarterback, as Graham Gilbert's first season at the team's starter has been filled with mistakes already. Gilbert has thrown seven touchdown passes and 11 interceptions, while completing only 49.4 percent of his attempts. The junior was expected to thrive in the C-USA after transferring from Texas, but he has tossed at least one pick in every game this season.
The Mustangs may have to defer to their all-conference running back Zach Line more to take pressure off of Gilbert. Line led the league in rushing in each of the past two seasons despite dealing with injuries which caused him to miss games. His bruising style led to a season-high 177 yards last week against Tulane. Line is second to Sims on the C-USA's rushing leaders list.
SMU's defense is inconsistent from week to week. It allowed 59 points to Baylor and 48 to Texas A&M, but limited TCU to 24 points and held UTEP scoreless. The standout player on the unit is DE Margus Hunt, who owns the NCAA career record with 10 blocked field goals. His size and athleticism makes him a priority for blocking schemes. Randall Joyner has been steady all season and leads the team with 48 total stops. Joyner also leads the C-USA with three interceptions.
Jones will find out what his team is made of this week. After being embarrassed by Tulane in their last outing, the Mustangs must have a chip on their shoulders. However, the Cougars are operating efficiently and playing with loads of confidence at this point. SMU needs Gilbert to protect the football or its misery will continue.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Houston 38, SMU 24
10/17 10:47:31 ET