SMU (4-4) at UCF (6-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, Nov. 3, 7 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Bright House Networks Stadium (45,323) -- Orlando, Florida. Television: CBSSN. Home Record: SMU 3-2, UCF 3-1. Away Record: SMU 1-2, UCF 3-1. Neutral Record: SMU 0-0, UCF 0-0. Conference Record: SMU 3-1, UCF 4-0. Series Record: UCF leads, 3-1.
GAME NOTES: The SMU Mustangs will try to snap the Knights' four-game winning streak when they challenge UCF at Bright House Networks Stadium as they both vie for a spot in this season's Conference USA Championship.
Since suffering a heartbreaking 27-26 loss to Tulane in New Orleans, SMU has won two straight and outscored its opponents by an average of 30.5 ppg. Coach June Jones has motivated his squad, which started 1-3, back to the .500 mark. SMU's setback to the Green Wave is the only blemish on its C-USA record this season. The Mustangs control their own destiny and will punch their ticket to the C-USA Championship if they manage to win out.
UCF is the only remaining team in the East Division without a C-USA loss. The Knights picked up their fourth win in row and became bowl eligible last week by leaving Huntington with an impressive 54-17 victory over Marshall. Their only losses on the season came courtesy of Ohio State (31-16) and Missouri (21-16). UCF was hit with a bowl ban by the NCAA for recruiting violations over the off season. However, news recently broke that the Knights' appeal will not be heard until after the season, which makes UCF eligible to become this year's C-USA Champions. Coach George O'Leary had guided the program to a bowl game four times since taking over in 2004.
This will be just the fifth meeting between these conference rivals. UCF holds a 3-1 edge in the all-time series. Both programs will see each other in the future as each of them are migrating to the Big East for 2013.
Despite having all-conference running back Zach Line healthy this season, SMU has passed for more than twice as many yards (2,138) as it has run for (940). Line has accounted for nearly all of that production on the ground with 844 yards and six touchdowns on 173 carries. No other running back has more than 10 attempts. Line is second in the conference in yards per game (102.4).
The Mustangs' passing game is operated by the gun-slinging Garrett Gilbert, who has thrown for 2,011 yards this season. The former Texas QB needs to quickly hone his suspect decision-making which has led to 12 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. Gilbert is coming off his best overall performance in an SMU uniform, as he went 25-of-35 for 353 yards and one score, with two rushing TDs and no interceptions.
Gilbert has been able to keep a handful of his teammates involved, with four different receivers having at least 20 receptions and 250 yards. Jeremy Johnson leads all receivers in receptions (52), yards (531) and his tied for touchdown receptions (three). Darius Johnson is the second option with 42 receptions for 486 yards and three scores. De'Rikk Thompson also has three touchdown grabs and 311 yards on only 22 catches.
Unlike this week's foe, SMU has also been victim to large offensive numbers by the opposition, as teams are racking up 401.9 yards and 26.6 points per game. What SMU has been able to do very effectively to keep opponents at bay is force other teams into miscues. After recovering two Memphis fumbles last week, SMU has now forced 27 turnovers this season, which is tops not only in the conference but in the nation. Nine of those turnovers have been cashed in for defensive TDs.
Randall Joyner and Kenneth Acker have each nabbed three interceptions this season, while Joyner has a team-best total of 56 tackles. Taylor Reed (eight tackles for loss, four sacks) and Margus Hunt (six tackles for loss, five sacks) have been effective up front as well.
The Knights were a stellar offensive team in the month of October, averaging 41.8 ppg. during a four-game span. Blake Bortles has shown development in his first year as a full-time starter and is coming off a season-high 277 passing yard-performance on 15-of-21 efficiency. Bortles also threw two picks in the win over MU, which gives him 14 touchdowns passes to seven interceptions through eight games.
UCF has a trio of effective wideouts in J.J. Worton, Rannell Hall, and Quincy McDuffie. Worton leads with 33 catches for 487 yards. Jeff Godfrey started at quarterback last season before moving to wideout in the spring. He had his best game as a receiver with five receptions, 71 yards, and a touchdown at Marshall.
McDuffie made a big time impact on special teams by returning two kickoffs back to the house to power the rout. No other player had returned two kickoffs for a touchdown in the same game in C-USA history.
The Knights' rushing attack features two dangerous weapons in Latavius Murray and Storm Johnson. UCF gained a season-high 278 yards on the ground against Marshall its last time out. Murray picked up 156 yards and a career-high three TDs on 16 carries. He is the sixth leading rusher in the conference with 538 yards and eight touchdowns on 73 carries despite missing three games with an injury.
Johnson is second on the team with 423 yards and four TDs on 97 attempts, but he has only rushed the ball five times total in his past two games.
While O'Leary's offense is serviceable, his defense is even more impressive. The Knights lead the C-USA in total defense and scoring defense with averages of 354.3 allowed yards and 214 allowed points per contest. Ohio State is the only team to score 30 or more points in regulation versus the Knights this season. Last week UCF held Marshall to 364 yards of total offense. The Thundering Herd's previous season-low was 491 yards.
Senior defensive backs A.J. Bouye and Kemal Ishmael are playmakers for UCF. Both have two interceptions and Ishmael is tied with Terrance Plummer for the team-lead in tackles with 67.
UCF's ball-hawking secondary could make a huge impact in this one with the turnover prone Gilbert under center for SMU. The Mustangs have played very well in recent weeks, but they have faced mediocre opponents. The Knights should be able to take one step closer to clinching the East Division when this one is in the books.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UCF 37, SMU 20
10/31 10:46:17 ET