This Friday night Tulsa opens up conference play as they host the 2-3 SMU Mustangs. SMU vs TU has became a rivalry of sorts in the AAC, so this nationally televised game should be a fun one. Tulsa has promoted this game pretty well, and even set-up a firework display for after the game. With the close proximity for SMU fans, and no major Tulsa-area high school games, I am hoping for a big crowd. Here is my preview for the game.
Last year: Despite HC Chad Morris’ initial success in their season opener versus Baylor, the Mustangs finished 2-10 with a 1-7 record in the AAC. The Golden Hurricane defeated SMU 40-31 last season in Dallas.
The stats: NCAA rank is in parentheses.
Scoring offense: 19.8 ppg (117th)
Rushing offense: 179.8 ypg (55th)
Passing offense: 236.2 ypg (67th)
Scoring defense: 30.6 ppg (88th)
Rushing defense: 167.2 (76th)
Passing defense: 266.2 (99th)
Best players: Lead WR Courtland Sutton (#16) has had a great start to his sophomore year. He has gone over 100 yards receiving in 3 separate games this season. His 6’4″ frame make him tough for smaller defensive backs to cover, and he has the speed to simply out run players. I expect him to garner Keanu Hill’s full attention. Defensively, the Mustangs have made serious strides in the secondary. Defensive backs Horace Richardson (#9) and Jordan Wyatt (#15) both rank first in the nation with interceptions, as they have each picked off 4 balls through 5 games. Wyatt has taken 2 of those back for touchdowns this season. Dane Evans will certainly have to keep an eye out for those ball-hawkers.
Uniform Advantage: For the second time this season, Tulsa is going to lose the uniform matchup. SMU’s colors are beautiful, and their new Nike uniforms are the perfect blend of class and flash. Adidas, pay attention to how SMU uses stripes!
— #PonyUpTempo (@SMU_Football) August 21, 2016
Tulsa’s Uniform Prediction: The University has been asking the fans to wear black, so odds are we see all-black in this game. I’m interested to see how it will look: I’m hoping they use the same black helmet from last year, plain black pants that match the white, blue, and gold ones, and black jerseys with white numbers outlined in blue and red. I think that black jerseys with blue numbers don’t offer enough contrast, and that white numbers are far too plain, but if they go with black jerseys, white numbers are the best way to do it.
Preview: SMU returned 8 starters from last year’s explosive offense, but the season-ending injury to Matt Davis has really caused the offense to struggle. Although new quarterback Ben Hicks hasn’t been the only problem offensively, his 9 interceptions through 4 games certainly hasn’t helped. Hicks is a redshirt freshman, so mistakes are expected, but he must limit those for the Mustangs to be successful. Chad Morris has always dedicated his offense to running the ball. This year they are about middle of the road in rushing offense, but not having a dual-threat quarterback has hurt their ability to keep the defense on their heels. Another thing that has hurt SMU offensively is their inability to score in the red-zone, they are 125th out of 128 teams in red-zone efficiency. On the other side, SMU’s defense is much, much improved. They have had a tough schedule with games against Baylor, TCU, and Temple which has inflated their stats, but this unit is now better than their offense. They only allowed 6 first half points to Baylor and TCU. The SMU rush defense was one of the worst in the country last year, but this year they have improved towards the middle of the pack. They are also built on forcing turnovers, leading the NCAA in interceptions with 12! Tulsa has 4 and they are in 52nd! They have also forced 4 fumbles through 5 games.
Keys to the game: SMU needs to focus on stopping the rushing attack of D’Angelo Brewer, and hope that Dane makes 2 or 3 mistakes that Wyatt and Richardson can capitalize on. Offensively, the Mustangs need to keep it simple for their young QB in the passing game, and try to mix it up in the running game. I don’t think SMU can run it right at this Golden Hurricane run defense, but I do think Sutton can create some separation in the secondary, especially if he gets off Keanu. For TU, they need to get after Ben Hicks with the pass-rush. The young quarterback has proven to be mistake-prone, and a little pressure in his face from Brubaker, and Smith won’t help. Also, limit the big plays. I’m usually not a fan of the “bend but don’t break” defense, but SMU has been terrible in the redzone this year. TU needs to keep everything in front of them, and don’t get burned like they have a few times this season. Offensively, the Golden Hurricane just needs to do what they know. Play fast, run the ball, and hit Keevan for touchdowns. Dane and everyone else must take care of the ball because SMU thrives on turnovers, but if TU can hold onto it I think they’ll have no problem moving the ball.
Prediction: Guess which team I am describing: Their defense has played much better than expected this year, but their offense has yet to be as explosive as it was last year. Trick question; it accurately describes both teams! Last year I said that SMU is very much like Tulsa, just a little worse in every aspect. Although the teams have changed a lot, I think the same holds true. This is an important game for Tulsa; they have some questions to answer after their scare in Fresno, and their biggest game of the season is just a week away. However, this is also an important game for SMU. They weren’t competitive last week vs Temple, and they need to at least show they belong on the same field as Tulsa if they are going to have any confidence going into conference play. This is SMU’s 6th game in as many weeks, so I think Tulsa will have a huge advantage having just had a bye week. I expect the defense to avenge their performance from Fresno, and for Dane and Brewer to carry the momentum they found into this week. Tulsa wins 38-14