College Football

SMU-Houston Preview

The city of Houston lies in wait for Saturday’s matchup against the SMU Mustangs.
Photo by Smiley N. Pool/ Houston Chronicle

SMU visits the city of Houston on Saturday to play the Cougars in a matchup between two outstanding but rather unnoticed football programs this year. In a season full of upsets, highlight games, and huge performances, SMU and Houston have passed under the radar for the most part. The Mustangs of SMU come in ranked 19th in the country with a spotless 7-0 record, though they did require a Hail Mary TD to beat Louisiana Tech a few weeks ago. The Houston Cougars opened the season with a loss to Texas Tech, but are now riding a six-game winning streak into Saturday’s game.


The Mustangs aren’t horrible defensively, ranking 50th in the nation in points per game allowed and 63rd in rushing yards allowed. They struggle to stop the pass (103rd), but part of that issue may be that SMU finds themselves ahead a lot in the second half of games and other teams are throwing a lot more to catch up.

Where SMU really shines, however, is on the offensive ledger. They average 42.7 points each game, good for 6th in the nation. They are smoking opposing defenses for 525.4 yards a game, ranked 5th in the country. The “worst” part of their offense is the running game which still averages 190.5 YPG (#41).

The offense is led by Tanner Mordecai, who transferred from Oklahoma after backing up Jalen Hurts and Spencer Rattler in consecutive seasons. Mordecai is now tied for first in the country in TD passes with 29, while he also ranks in the top ten in completion percentage and passing yardage.


It may be fair to ask if Houston really has a chance to win this game after considering SMU’s not-too-bad defense and smoking hot offense. The answer is yes, in fact, Houston has an excellent chance to win this game. The Cougars bring one of the best defenses in the country with them every week, so good they rank #4 overall in yards allowed and #14 in points allowed. They do everything well defensively, from covering the passing game to stopping the run. Their really is no weak spot on this defense, no easy way to move the football.

The absolutely fascinating part of the Cougars football team is that they take a not-too-bad passing game(#90 or so), mix it with a not-too-awful running game (top 65), and somehow produce 36.3 points each week, good for 20th in the nation. While that might seem to be a statistical anomaly at first, the Cougars are really taking good field position from the defensive effort and mixing that with a flexible offense that takes care of the football.


This game should be very close. Vegas thinks so. The statistics indicate a good matchup. Houston should slow down this SMU offense, but not stop it. The Cougars are playing at home, with efficient play on both sides of the football. Tanner Mordecai will put up good yardage numbers for SMU, in spite of the excellent defense opposing him. Mordecai may be the best player on the field Saturday, but Houston looks to have an edge overall. Our prediction: Houston-31, SMU-30.

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