Mustangs look to keep their perfect record alive on Friday against the Green Wave
The injury bug hit the Mustangs (4-0, 1-0 AAC) hard two weeks ago in their last-second victory of Memphis as star receiver Reggie Roberson Jr. and starting running back TJ McDaniel both suffered leg injuries that will end their season. SMU still has plenty of offensive firepower remaining on roster, starting with quarterback Shane Buechele, who leads an offense that ranks in the top five nationally in both yardage and scoring.
Tulane (2-2, 0-2 AAC) is coming off of a disappointing 49-31 loss at Houston in which they blew a double double-digit lead against an AAC opponent for the second time this season. The Green Wave continue to be without top running back Tyjae Spears, who was lost for the year with a torn ACL, and the running game was abysmal against the Cougars, accumulating 70 yards on 45 attempts.
SMU at Tulane
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. ET
Spread: SMU -6.5
When SMU Has the Ball
It hurts losing players like Roberson and McDaniel, but head coach Sonny Dykes is known for offense, so of course he will have talented players in the pipeline ready to step up as replacements. McDaniel was the starter in name at running back, but the talent lies with his backup Ulysses Bentley IV, who is averaging over eight yards per carry with seven rushing touchdowns. Bentley struggled, though, against Memphis after being thrust into the starting role with just 32 yards on 13 attempts and will now face a Tulane defense that is allowing just 2.95 yards per carry in 2020.
Roberson's injury was a brutal blow, as he was off to what looked to be a career day against the Tigers with five receptions for 243 yards and two touchdowns before leaving the game. The only positive with this situation is that SMU is absolutely loaded at wide receiver and has more than enough depth to withstand such a loss. Junior college transfer Danny Gray is lightning in a bottle once the ball is in his hands, averaging 15 yards per catch, and is second on the team with three touchdowns. He steps into the No. 1 role now with Roberson out, but don't forget about sophomore Rashee Rice either, as he has 17 receptions on the year. Junior Austin Upshaw and former Arkansas transfer T.Q. Jackson will be in the mix for the third spot in the starting lineup.
As for Buechele, he continues to thrive this season as a senior, completing a career-high 69.1 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns. Expect plenty of yardage against a Tulane pass defense that is giving up 271.3 yards per contest.
When Tulane Has the Ball
The Houston offense gashed Tulane last week, as the Green Wave surrendered 476 total yards and 49 points last week, both of which were season highs. Now they have to take on an SMU offense averaging 44.0 ppg and over 558.8 yards per contest, both of which are top-five marks in the nation. For the Green Wave to remain competitive in this matchup, they have to control the clock with their ground attack, which struggled mightily against the Cougars, averaging less than two yards per attempt. Starter Cameron Carroll, who rushed for seven touchdowns in the first three weeks, was limited to just 34 yards and at 1.89 yards per carry. That must improve, along with getting more contributions from backup Stephon Huderson and playmaker Amare Jones.
After wrestling away the starting QB job from Keon Howard against Southern Miss, true freshman Michael Pratt also had his struggles against Houston with only 132 total yards and a 44.0 percent completion rate. Tough ask for a true freshman making his first start on the road in primetime, but Tulane needs balance on offense to limit defenses from loading the box. When Pratt takes to the air, look for him to target 5-foot-9 sophomore Jha'Quan Jackson who has found the end-zone in each of the last two games.
Maybe SMU wants to think about letting Tulane score a few touchdowns in the first quarter before ramping up the offense, as the Green Wave have struggled to hold leads in 2020, losing both AAC games after being up by double-digits. Even with the losses on offense of Roberson and McDaniel, this SMU team is still too talented on offense, especially with Buechele coordinating the ship, to suffer much of a drop-off. Tulane is 2-5 ATS in its last seven as an underdog, and I don't think they have the horses (or should I say Mustangs) to keep up with this SMU offense.
Prediction: SMU 35, Tulane 27
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.