Houston Cougars (3-3, 2-1 Conference USA) at Southern Methodist Mustangs (4-3, 3-0 C-USA)
Kickoff: 2:30 PM, 10/23/10.
TV: CBS College Sports
I hate Dallas. The only good thing to come out of Dallas, as the joke goes, is Interstate 45. Ask John F. Kennedy which city is better: Houston or Dallas. Houston gave the world, "We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." Dallas...got JFK shot. As far as sports go, a Cotton Bowl official, back in the day, once observed that he didn't want the Houston Cougars coming to Dallas to play in the game, because, "half of these (Houston) people will come up here and eat at the 7-Eleven store, and the other half will be trying to hold it up." The same year, a Dallas columnist called the Cougars "cockroaches". Keep in mind, Houston is well-known as one of the first schools in Texas to racially integrate. But even if those previous comments don't strike you as somewhat insensitive, I'm guessing SMU students' decision to hold up a "Cage the CouGroes" sign during a contest against the good guys will draw your ire at least a little. Oh yeah, SMU. I hate SMU, too.
Sure, most of these things happened back before I was born. But sports is about holding grudges. If that school in Austin can claim they won't play us in football because of BleacherGate (which is another story for another day), then we can certainly hold a little animosity towards the Ponies. Although it's not as if Houston should need any extra motivation heading into this game.
Why do I bring this up? Because I'm going to tell you that, despite everything I've just said, a loss on Saturday isn't the end of the world. It would, for all intents and purposes, ends Houston's shot at a Conference USA title in 2010. But given the way that the football gods have turned into that guy with the jumpsuit and orange wig, delivering one nut-shot after another to the Cougar football program this year, I could make peace with cheering for a bowl appearance, and watching the team build for next year.
Of course, that's not ideal. Ideally, the Cougars beat the Mustangs so badly that it brings every last spoiled-rotten SMU student (that's all of them) to tears.
Here's how the match-ups break down:
SMU offense vs Houston defense
The Mustangs are in the driver's seat in C-USA's West Division, but it's not as if June Jones' offense is blowing people out of the water. SMU has reached 30 points in only two of its seven contests this year. Perhaps more surprising than the lack of scoring has been the way SMU has generated what offense there has been. Sophomore quarterback Kyle Padron's numbers are down from a year ago. His completion percentage has dropped nearly eight points, to under 60%. He has thrown for at least two touchdowns in every game, but it is power running back Zach Line (frighteningly, also just a sophomore) who has carried most of the load, to the tune of 635 rushing yards, and an average of 6.6 yards per carry. That's bad news for a Houston defense that is surrendering nearly 200 yards per game on the ground, and is so decimated up front by injuries that the Cougars used just two down linemen on several plays last week.
Still, it would be surprising if SMU is content to simply run the ball down Houston's throat. The Mustangs like to throw the ball around, and consequently, their success depends on it. In Padron's 14 career starts, the Mustangs are 8-1 when he throws for at least 230 yards, and 1-4 when he fails to do so. The one loss in a 230-yard game was last week against Navy, if that means anything.
Houston offense vs SMU defense
David Piland will once again be at the controls of the Cougar offense on Saturday, despite an 0-2 record as a starter. In fairness, while Piland has been far from perfect, most of the team's troubles the last two games have stemmed from positions on the field besides quarterback. The receiving corps has had a severe case of the dropsies. The run game, while better last week than it was against Mississippi State, was still less than inspiring. And, y'know, the defense hasn't been real good.
Still, there are things that Piland can control that must improve. His receivers haven't been helping out a lot, but an offense that focuses on the short pass as much as Houston requires higher than the 52% completion rate Piland has offered thus far. While the freshman has looked good going through his progressions at times, he still stares down receivers too often. One area where Piland has excelled is avoiding the pass rush, which is important, given the Mustangs' 14 team sacks, led by Ja'Gared Davis' seven.
Piland may be asked to throw the ball a lot, given that Houston hasn't had much success on the ground against tough run defenses, and the Mustangs are allowing just 3.5 yards per carry this year. It will be interesting to see if Bryce Beall and the offensive line can offer Piland any help.
On paper, the Mustangs should have an easier time passing and rushing the ball against the Cougars than vice versa. But the game may well come down to a battle of wills. Will SMU's desire to take a stranglehold of C-USA West be stronger than Houston's survival instincts? It's impossible to say, but just based on what we've seen from the two teams so far this year, I have to say,