Five keys for SMU in the Compass Bowl

SMU wide receiver Darius Johnson

In order to beat Pitt in Saturday's Compass Bowl, SMU cannot turn the ball over, J.J. McDermott must play like he did in his first five games as a starter, Rishaad Wimbley will be key, Chase Hover will have to kick like he did pre-mono and the team will have to rise above all the coaching madness that occurred during the bowl break.

1. SMU cannot turn the ball over against Pitt.

Ranked dead last in the nation with a minus-17 turnover margin, the Mustangs have got to hold grip. They've had 31 giveaways and it doesn't matter how good or bad the opponent is. It's hard for teams to win when they cough the ball up.

2. Speaking of turnovers, quarterback J.J. McDermott has had five weeks to shake off his last six games in which he threw 11 interceptions.

After starting his college career 5-0, the first-year starting quarterback hit a rough patch and finished the regular seasons with as many touchdowns (16) as turnovers.

In his first five games, McDermott completed 58 percent of his passes for 1,586 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions (one in each game). In his last six games, four of which were losses, McDermott had a better completion percentage (60 percent), but threw for less yards (1,342) and had just six touchdowns to 11 interceptions.

3. Both SMU and Pitt had the luxury of falling back on two of the nation's best running backs for much of the season until both were sidelined due to season-ending injuries—the Mustangs with Zach Line (foot) and the Panthers with Ray Graham (torn ACL).

So for SMU, Rishaad Wimbley needs to be big again.

In his most recent outing in SMU's regular-season finale against Rice, the 6-foot, 265-pound defensive tackle-turned-running back ran for a career-high 115 yards.

After the game, coach June Jones joked, "I'm sure Rishaad never figured he'd be rushing for 100 yards in Division I game 10 months ago."

The true freshman, who says he can run the 40 in 4.7 seconds, needs to be a weapon against Pitt's rush defense, which ranks fifth in the Big East and allows over 121 yards per game.

4. One of SMU's biggest problems its last two outings was the kicking game. The Mustangs lost starting kicker Chase Hover (illness), who turned out to be a crucial walk-on, right before the Houston game.

Before he got sick, Hover made 8 of 10 field goals and 34 of 36 PATs. In his absence, backups Mike Loftus and Brad Namdar combined to miss four field goals and a PAT.

But Hover is healthy and will kick against Pitt in the Compass Bowl on Saturday.

5. A major key for SMU on Saturday will be the players' attitude. Will there be a hangover post-coaching craziness that occurred during the bowl break? The Mustangs almost lost Jones to Arizona State and did lose Adrian Klemm to UCLA.

In the last half of the season, the SMU sideline seemed quiet and the players didn't appear like they were into the games, although they claimed to be when asked about their lack of oomph in press conferences.

Will the players just mail it in or will they show up to play Pitt? It will be the seniors' job to get everybody ready.


For more SMU coverage, follow Laken Litman on Twitter!

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