Major implications are in play on Saturday in the AAC race as the SMU Mustangs take on the Tulsa Golden Hurricane in a crucial conference matchup.
The Mustangs (7-1, 4-1 AAC) have rebounded nicely following a disappointing loss to Cincinnati, comfortably defeating inferior opponents the last two weeks and averaging 49 points in that span. SMU will be challenged against a Tulsa (3-1, 3-0) defense that ranks second in the AAC in total yards allowed and scoring, giving up just 21.3 ppg.
There is an interesting contrast of styles for Saturday night's contest as both teams try and keep pace with Cincinnati and keep their conference championship hopes alive.
SMU at Tulsa
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Tulsa -2.5
When SMU Has the Ball
Offense continues to be SMU's calling card in 2020, averaging 526.3 yards per game and scoring more than 30 points in all but one game this season — the lone loss to Cincinnati. Quarterback Shane Buechele is producing at a similar clip, with at least two touchdowns in six of his last seven games, including four in last week's win over Temple in which SMU rolled up 549 yards of total offense. No Reggie Roberson Jr., no problem for the Mustangs offense, as they continue to have receivers step up in his absence, namely Tyler Page and Rashee Rice, who combined for 190 yards and three touchdowns in last weekend's win.
Known to be an Air Raid offense under head coach Sonny Dykes, SMU has been a pleasant surprise running the ball in 2020, with redshirt freshman Ulysses Bentley IV leading the way at just under six yards per carry and 10 rushing touchdowns. Backup Tyler Lavine has filled in admirably in place of the injured TJ McDaniel, rushing for three scores in the last two games. The Mustangs will need to find balance this week against a Tulsa defense that boasts one of the best secondaries in the conference, spearheaded by cornerback Allie Green IV and safety Kendarin Ray. Tulsa has allowed just five passing touchdowns in four games.
When Tulsa Has the Ball
Tulsa has relied on a stingy defense to get to 3-1 this season, ranking 24th nationally in scoring defense, holding opponents to just 21 ppg. The offense is starting to come around of late, scoring 30 or more points in each of the last three games, and quarterback Zach Smith has jumpstarted much of the scoring with six touchdown passes in that stretch. He is completing 59 percent of his throws on the season but has at least one interception in every game and holds a 53.4 QBR, which is 84th nationally.
Tulsa has found much of its offensive success on the ground in the tandem of Deneric Prince and T.K. Wilkerson, who lead a backfield that is averaging 169.8 yards per game. The Golden Hurricane will look to this duo involved often on Saturday against an SMU defense that is allowing 189.1 yards per game on the ground and has given up 16 rushing touchdowns this season.
Better play is needed from wideouts like Keylon Stokes and Josh Johnson, as the Tulsa receivers have combined for seven drops this season.
This is a tough one to call with SMU's explosive passing game going against arguably the best secondary. The Golden Hurricane have competed very well this season against the top teams in the nation as well, playing Oklahoma State down to the wire in the opener and defeating UCF in October. SMU is 4-0 on the road this season but is just 2-2 against the spread away from home. Slight edge to Tulsa here, as the Golden Hurricane have the running game to give this SMU defense issues and a secondary that can limit the explosiveness of Shane Buechele and this passing attack. Tulsa in a close one.
Prediction: Tulsa 34, SMU 31
Podcast: Week 11 Preview and Predictions
— 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.
(Ulysses Bentley IV photo courtesy of @SMU_Football)