The SMU Mustangs will take on the University of South Florida Bulls at 3 p.m. Saturday inside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. The series is tied 1-1 and both the 2013 and 2014 matchups were tightly contested games.
Last season’s game was one of the only close contests the Mustangs had all year. Though the game was a defensive battle throughout, USF managed a 13-point fourth quarter comeback, winning the game on the last play when quarterback Mike White found Andre Davis on a 4-yard touchdown pass with just seconds remaining on the clock. The heartbreaking loss was the only one-possession game the Mustangs played until their win against UConn in the season finale.
Brian O’Donnell, Sports Editor:
Both teams come into this week in similar situations as last season. USF is 3-3 but has looked better. The Bulls played No. 9 Florida State closely in week two and lost only by a touchdown to a Memphis team that just beat SEC powerhouse Ole Miss.
USF is riding a two game win streak in which they averaged over 500 total yards. The team is led by running back Marlon Mack, who is averaging over 100 yards per game and 6.5 yards per carry. Quarterback Quinton Flowers has also played fairly well this season. He is a dual threat who has used his legs often this season, but has the ability to beat teams through the air.
SMU has struggled against these kinds of quarterbacks this season, and I expect that to continue this weekend. However, Flowers has thrown six interceptions this year. If SMU is able to come up with a turnover or two, it can slow Flowers down.
The Mustangs have reached a point in the season where people are becoming disinterested. They desperately need a win, and it’s going to be up to the defense to get it. The offense has proven that it will score in bunches, but up to this point, the defense has always given the points right back. It will need to force some punts if SMU is going to have a chance.
I am expecting another hard-fought game, just like the last two meetings. But this time, there will be a lot of points on the scoreboard. The Mustangs will emerge with the victory.
PREDICTION: SMU 38 – USF 30
Breck Spencer, Associate Sports Editor:
Going into this weekend’s game against USF (3-3), the Mustangs are 1-5, and on paper, don’t have a good chance of beating the Bulls. However, I truly don’t believe that SMU’s record accurately reflects the team’s ability.
Three of the Mustangs’ five losses came from undefeated top 25 teams who are all in the national top 50 in total scoring. In their other two losses against East Carolina and James Madison, the Mustangs simply failed to play to their potential. In addition, SMU is coming off of a bye week, giving the team more time to prepare. All of these are good signs for the young SMU team as it seeks its second win of the year.
I expect this to be an evenly matched game offensively, considering that SMU and USF rank 53rd and 56th respectively in offensive yards per game. However, if SMU hopes to improve their record to 2-5, then the Mustangs must improve on the 570.7 yards per game allowed on defense. While this statistic might be skewed due to games against TCU and Baylor, the defense needs to put consistent pressure on the quarterback and not allow a high percentage of third down conversions. This is something I expect SMU to struggle with given their youth, inexperience and lack of confidence.
PREDICTION: USF 35 – SMU 24
Patrick Engel, Sports Columnist:
SMU is fresh off of a bye week and the best week of practice since fall camp, Chad Morris said at Tuesday’s weekly media availability. I’m not saying that automatically means SMU will win, but it’s a good sign for a team that won’t fold or quit despite its struggles. Morris continues to preach that the team needs to stop beating itself and play a full four quarters, which it hasn’t done all season.
Before the season started, I identified this game at South Florida as one SMU should and will win. Obviously, SMU isn’t as good as I thought they’d be, and South Florida is finally starting to have some success with the talent that Head Coach Willie Taggart has signed.
SMU will face yet another spread offense with a mobile quarterback, but not as strong as the others the Mustangs have already faced this season. Quarterback Quinton Flowers has made progress as a passer but still struggles with accuracy at times. The Bulls like to ride their star running back, Marlon Mack, a lot, so the offense can be a little one-dimensional at times. Flowers still hasn’t been forced to beat a team with his arm just yet, although Taggart has more confidence in him this year.
What I’m predicting: SMU will come out motivated and healthy after a 16-day layoff and will put together its cleanest four quarters of the season.
PREDICTION: SMU 31 – USF 28