It’s been two weeks since SMU upset then-No. 20 TCU for the first time since 2005.
That’s in the past. Now it’s time for a rematch of last year’s conference championship game against UCF.
“We’re pretty much over the TCU win now,” said Zach Line, who is averaging 116.6 rushing yards per game this season. “We’ve got a swagger about us right now.”
Last year the Knights beat the Mustangs 17-7 in the conference championship. Coach June Jones noted this week that his team was just 5 of 14 on third down conversions in that game.
SMU linebacker Taylor Reed shook his head when he was asked to recall his thoughts from that game.
“All I remember is them accepting that trophy and us saying what could have happened and what we should have done,” he said.
To SMU, this matchup is about revenge.
“That’s all we been hearing, man…that conference championship,” he said. “We lost to them. They took our rings. They’re going to be wearing our rings off the bus. We hear that. We definitely need to make a statement in our house.”
Today marks the first of a tough three-game stretch, as SMU will head on back-to-back conference road trips against Southern Miss and Tulsa starting next week. The Mustangs are 2-0 at Ford Stadium this season and haven’t lost at home since last October.
“You have to win home games in your conference,” Jones said. “If you don’t, you got no chance at winning your division. It’s too hard to win on the road consistently.”
The Mustangs (4-1, 2-0 C-USA) are coming off a much-needed bye week where they mainly worked on their endurance and nursed injuries.
Reed said defensive coordinator Tom Mason has been preaching the importance of four quarters because his team played well against TCU for three, but allowed the Horned Frogs to score 23 points and force overtime in the fourth.
“We looked back and watched that fourth quarter over and over and we saw how we got dog tired,” Reed said.
UCF dual-threat quarterback Jeff Godfrey, who’s averaging 213.8 yards of total offense per game, likes to keep the ball in his hands when they’re in the red zone. If SMU’s rushing defense, who ranks second in C-USA allowing opponents just 85.4 yards on the ground per game, can contain him and the Knights’ power running game, they can win.
UCF’s defense has been solid all season. Led by cornerback Josh Robinson, their secondary is ranked No. 1 in the nation. They’ve only given up one touchdown this year.
But J.J. McDermott is coming off a 349-yard, four-touchdown performance against TCU and SMU is averaging 326.8 ypg in the air.
“They’ll give us some stuff underneath, a lot of times it’s a bend-but-don’t-break kind of deal,” McDermott said. “Eventually they’ll give us a look. Everybody does at some point in a game.”
“They do a great job in their scheme,” Jones said. “If you don’t put it on the money, they make you pay. We gotta execute and keep the ball moving.”
The Knights (3-2, 1-0) also boast the conference’s top rush defense, but SMU has Line, who leads C-USA in rushing yards per game (116.6) and touchdowns (11).
Other things the Mustangs must do to win?
“Turnovers,” Reed said. “Force turnovers. That’s key. We have to play them close.”
Forcing turnovers has been an issue for this group. SMU is ranked 11th out of 12 teams in C-USA and 118th out of 120 Football Subdivision schools with a minus-8 turnover margin. A component of their overall game they must improve upon.
Other than that, Jones said this week that everyone should be healthy and ready to play, including Cole Beasley (knee), Keenan Holman (ankle) and Ja’Gared Davis (hamstring).
“The past few days have been sharp,” Jones said. “Hopefully they’ll play that way.”
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