Date: Saturday, October 27th
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. EST
TV: CBS Sports Network
Betting Line: Cincinnati -7.5, FPI: 76.1%
Series Record: Cincinnati leads, 2-1
Last Meeting: SMU won, 31-28, on October 21, 2017
Last week was just what the doctor ordered. The conference win against Tulane gave SMU sole possession of second place, as they are now a direct threat to Houston.
The Mustangs were able to get back on track after defeating enigmatic Tulane. SMU found their quarterback as they just let Ben Hicks play. Hicks was a leader throughout the game, even when things looked bleak for the Mustangs. He was able to lead his team on the final drive and put up six points to take the lead. The 67-yard passing touchdown from Hicks to James Proche ultimately would seal the game for SMU. Hicks finished the game 21-40 throwing for 291 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
Overall, the offense was successful. Reggie Roberson and James Proche almost had 100 yards receiving. The running game was still average, but having Xavier Jones back there is still a good threat to have. Jones was not able to produce much in the run game, but was able to factor in on the receiving end by catching three passes for 60 yards and a touchdown.
Another great part about last week was the Mustangs defense. Weather could have potentially played a factor in Tulane’s offensive deficiencies. Even if it did, SMU was able force three turnovers. For a team that is not known for defense, this is a great trend. They will play similar teams closer to Tulane’s talent level for the rest of the year. So if they played this well, it should be an expectation that they will meet expectations the rest of the season.
This week will be tough for the Mustangs though. They welcome one of the sleeper teams of the conference, in Cincinnati. The Bearcats have looked dominant up till last week where Temple shut them down.
The Bearcat offense looked sub-par last game. Desmond Ridder was limited in the passing game as he threw for only 111 yards and threw the game-ending interception in overtime. The Temple defense was constantly pressuring Ridder into making freshman mistakes. Michael Warren II was the bright spot for Cincinnati as he rushed over 100 yards once again.
The defense, though, looked like themselves. The Owls were shut down in the run game by Cincinnati’s fierce defensive line, led by Cortez Broughton. While Temple did not have Ryquell Armstead, the Cincinnati defensive line has proven that they can play with the best teams in the country. It was not just their defensive line though. Their secondary looked exceptional against Anthony Russo and company. They were able to force three turnovers, all interceptions from Russo. While the defensive line does get much of the attention, the secondary has looked good as well. They were the only reason Temple did not win in regulation.
While they left Philadelphia disappointed, the Bearcats know that they are still a solid team. Ridder’s favorite targets in Khalil Lewis and Josiah Deguara have been unsung heroes for Cincinnati. Combine that with Luke Fickell’s coaching leadership, and Cincinnati has a chance to still be in the hunt for a conference championship.
SMU Keys to the Game
- Beat Cincinnati through the air. Cincinnati’s defensive line is too good to run on. Hicks will have to be effective throwing the ball in order to win.
- Put pressure on Ridder. From last week’s game, it was easy to tell that Ridder does not do well under pressure. Expect the SMU blitz versus Ridder’s ability to get the ball out quickly to be the key match up of the game.
- Get ahead early. Cincinnati started slow last week against Temple. This might be the start of a trend that SMU has to take advantage of.
Cincinnati Keys to the Game
- Get Ridder’s confidence back. The Temple game was a step back and frankly his worst game of his career. Fickell needs to get his confidence back with easy completions and a strong running game.
- Continue to force turnovers. The Cincinnati defense was exceptional against Temple. They need to have that same success against this inconsistent offense.
- Take care of the football. They failed in doing this last week. The Bearcats had a lot of trouble with ball security. That lack of security led to early points for the Owls. Fans can only hope that was a one game fluke.
I think this is going to be a closer game than expected. While Cincinnati is undoubtedly the better, more consistent squad, SMU appears to be figuring stuff out. Dykes appears to be rolling with Hicks, who had a great game against Tulane. Where SMU does have a clear advantage is playing at home and getting Cincinnati on the road for a second straight week. Just working with that alone, SMU should win this game. Give me the Mustangs in an upset win.
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