Tulsa (9-2) at SMU (5-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 24, 12 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Gerald J. Ford Stadium (32,000) -- Dallas, Texas. Television: FX. Home Record: Tulsa 6-0, SMU 4-2. Away Record: Tulsa 3-2, SMU 1-4. Neutral Record: Tulsa 0-0, SMU 0-0. Conference Record: Tulsa 7-0, SMU 4-3. Series Record: SMU leads, 12-7.
GAME NOTES: The Tulsa Golden Hurricane will try to keep their Conference USA rival out of the bowl season when they visit Gerald J. Ford Stadium to tackle the SMU Mustangs.
The Golden Hurricane reserved a spot in the Conference USA Championship last week by submitting a strong second half performance on the way to a 23-21 win over UCF. The contest was a showdown between the only two teams left in the C- USA without a loss in a league play and a rematch in the championship seems very likely. The win gave the team its fourth outright West Division crown and its 18th win in its last 19 conference games. Coach Bill Blankenship now has to prepare his alma mater this week as it chases its first league championship since joining the conference in 2005.
SMU was expected to become bowl eligible last week when it visited Rice with a 5-5 record. Owls' quarterback Taylor McHargue denied the Mustangs their wish by amassing 335 total yards of offense and three total touchdowns. Now coach June Jones's team needs a victory to reach six wins and a school-record fourth- straight bowl berth. The good news for the Mustangs is their crucial regular season finale will be on their home field in Ford Stadium, where they are 14-1 versus C-USA rivals since the start of the 2009 season.
This will be the 20th time these programs tangle on the football field. SMU holds a 12-7 series edge including a 7-3 record in games played in Dallas. Tulsa was dominant last season's meeting and came out on top, 38-7.
Although most of the C-USA's members operate air-it-out offenses like SMU's, Tulsa is one of the few that relies on its rushing attack for production. It is hard to argue with the results as the Golden Hurricane rank 13th in the FBS in rushing offense (241.4 ypg) and second in the conference in scoring offense (35.9 ppg). The team racked up 461 yards of total offense including 209 rushing yards last week versus UCF, which came into the contest with averages of just 343.9 total yards and 152.3 rushing yards per contest.
Tulsa's smash-mouth style is powered by a stable of talented backs, whose different styles continuously keep opposing defenses off-balance. Ja'Terian Douglas (817 yards, six TDs) and Trey Watts (767 yards, three TDs) have both shown off tremendous speed and vision when handed the ball to motor the offense. Alex Singleton (132 carries, 572 yards) is not as explosive as his co-workers in the backfield, but his power running style has yielded 18 rushing touchdowns and a conference lead in points scored.
With a run-first offense, Cody Green is normally just a game manager. Last week was a different story as he led the way by completing 21-of-34 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns.
Keyarris Garrett was the recipient of all three touchdown passes versus the Knights. The sophomore wideout finished the contest with seven receptions and a career-best 130 yards. Garrett accounts for eight of the team's 15 TD catches.
The Tulsa defensive unit is ranked right behind UCF in the C-USA rankings in both scoring defense (22.9 ppg) and total defense (360.6 ypg). The unit has made big plays in the backfield consistently with 92 tackles for loss, 43 sacks, and 23 total takeaways.
DeAundre Brown has been one of the best linebackers in the country, filling up the stat sheet with 112 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, nine sacks, and an interception. Senior DL Jared St. John is right behind Brown with 8.5 sacks and Dexter McCoil will be looking to break Gilbert's no-interception streak to add to his team-best total of four interceptions.
Jones has not changed up his offensive philosophy too much since migrating to the Lone Star State from Hawaii. SMU has more than twice as many passing yards (2,734) as rushing yards (1,355). In fact the Mustangs have one of the worst rushing offenses in Conference USA (10th), averaging only 123.2 yards per game on the ground despite the presence of the bruising running back Zach Line.
Line eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on the ground for the third consecutive season two weeks back. The senior running back has been an absolute workhorse this season with 235 carries for 1,126 yards and nine touchdowns. To put into perspective how much the team relies on number 48, no other running back has more than 12 carries or 60 yards.
Line's consistency has not led to a stellar record because the offense lives and dies with quarterback Graham Gilbert, who started for the Texas Longhorns as a true freshman before transferring across the state. The junior quarterback has thrown for 2,607 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, but he has also been picked off 13 times and completed only 54.1 percent of his pass attempts, which is at best a mediocre rate in a spread attack. Gilbert seems to be making the adjustments needed as he has been interception free over the past four games.
Gilbert's favorite targets are Darius Johnson and Jeremy Johnson. Darius has reeled in 58 catches for team-highs of 712 yards and four TDs, while Jeremy has made seven more receptions for 671 yards and three scores. Sophomore wideout Der'Rikk Thompson is a difference maker both as a pass catcher (374 yards, 32 catches) and as a return man with an average of 26.7 yards per kick return.
The SMU defense is one of the better units in the conference with third place rankings in both scoring (27 ppg) and total defense (382.9). Although those averages are middle of the road when placed among all FBS programs, the Mustangs are leading the nation with six pick-sixes and rank fourth in the FBS with 30 total takeaways.
The prize of Jones's defensive is DE Margus Hunt, who is still relatively new to football. The senior never played organized football before 2009, but his raw athleticism and towering size helped him break the NCAA record with nine blocked field goals. He has also recorded 14.5 career sacks.
The Golden Hurricane clearly hold the upperhand over SMU going into this one. The Mustangs will need a huge game out of Gilbert to keep their season alive.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tulsa 31, SMU 24
11/21 10:50:50 ET