By Zach Walker
In my head, during the course of the USF game, I was wondering how the Mustangs would fare against these Houston Cougars. The injury to Garrett Gilbert made me almost instantly write the game as a total loss, the USF game and the Cougars game. Then the rest of the Mustangs team really tightened up and helped get the Mustangs within one win of a bowl bid. The freshman quarterback Neal Burcham coming in for Gilbert, actually played a pretty impressive game, complete with a highlight play, a 37-yard touchdown strike to Der’rikk Thompson on a 4th and 2. The way that K.C. Nlemchi and Prescott Line ran the ball didn’t burn up the stats sheet, but their running was effective.
The Mustangs should hope Gilbert gets back quickly, but not rush him. Burcham, with a few practices as the starter (if necessary) should have a sharper all-around game. What won’t be on his mind, is who he has to depend on to make the tough catches, because, as we’ve all seen all season long, the Mustangs have possibly the most rounded group of receivers. The receiving corps of reliable weapons actually extends to about seven players, so at any time, Burcham shouldn’t have a problem finding someone to get the ball to. The Mustangs defense was able to get solid stops on 3rd downs, and was able to contain USF’s most dangerous weapon, running back Marcus Shaw, holding him to 39 yards on 11 carries. And when the Mustangs’ defense had USF in a few favorable, long 3rd down situations, the pressure was effective and safety Jay Scott was able to meet the ball in the air and make the interception, twice. The win against USF was a very good team win, and if it wasn’t for a great punt return, the Mustangs might have blanked the Bulls.
After starting the season hot, but with three straight losses, the Cougars have cooled. Last week, despite the score being a close 24-17 victory for Cincinnati, the Cougars were absolutely dominated. The Bearcats outgained the Cougars, by almost 300 total yards, and out rushed Houston 172 to 33 yards. The Cougars had their moments in the game, like a great goal line stand with the ball on their own 1 yard line on a 4th and 2, and a 15 yard fumble recovered for a touchdown. But the Cougars had zero answers for receivers Anthony McClung and Shaq Washington, who had 19 catches between the two of them (McClung 9/Washington 10) and 269 yards (McClung 137/Washington 132). The Cougars might have their hands full with the Mustangs receivers, especially when the Mustangs spread the defense out in the Mustangs four wide receiver sets. Quarterback John O’Korn is playing some very effective football, but his accuracy could be better, he’s only completing 59.8 percent of his passes. His top receiver, Deontay Greenberry, has epic numbers, 76 catches for 1106 yards and 10 touchdown catches, and his 6’3″, 200 pound frame is a matchup problem for many cornerbacks, but Kenneth Acker isn’t just another corner.
The Mustangs should roll Neal Burcham into Reliant Stadium and hope to play the same kind of game they played against USF, solid running game and a defense that gets the opposing team off the field on 3rd downs. The run game for an inexperienced quarterback is vital, and a solid combination of K.C. Nlemchi and Prescott Line could remedy any possible problems that might crop up. Burcham just has to take each play at a time and trust his receivers and get into a nice rhythm, because the Mustangs offense thrives on rhythm. It would be difficult to predict which receiver will have the biggest impact on Burcham, but he did look Der’rikk Thompson’s direction often in the USF game.
Matchup of the Game
Neal Burcham vs first start on the road: No one’s expecting Burcham to be Garrett Gilbert on Friday, but he can’t put himself in a position of trying to do too much, he eased himself very nicely into the USF game, and he needs to do the same. All that being said, Burcham is a quarterback also, and there is a reason he’s on the team, maybe a showcasing of what he can bring to the Mustangs is on the horizon.
It should be restated, the Mustangs need to win one of the last two games, to become bowl eligible, this game at Houston or the final game of the season, at home against UCF, which is a very stout team.
Prediction: SMU 21 – Houston 17: Houston has struggled to score points lately, not breaking 20 points in the month of November, and let’s face it, I’m picking SMU to win because I want them to win. And even if they lose, it sets up for a dramatic finish against UCF.