The Bearcats return to the football field Saturday to face the SMU Mustangs. For the past half-decade the face of the program has been June Jones, who was hired away from Hawaii after an extremely successful 12-1 season. But he’s never reached the same success at SMU. That’s not to say Jones hasn’t impacted the Mustangs in positive ways; he did take them to their first bowl game in 25 years. But after reviving the program in 2008 SMU seems to have plateaued at seven or eight wins in recent years. They just can’t seem to get over the hump and compete for championships on a regular basis.
Now in 2013 the Mustangs are sitting at 3-4 with a 2-1 AAC record but arguably their toughest opponents upcoming. It’s conceivable that Jones will lead them to yet another bowl game this year, which is commendable, but SMU will have to pull off some miracles over the next month to claim a conference championship.
The Mustangs, as all teams coached by June Jones, are all about offense. This is a pass-happy system that the SMU head coach brought over with him from Hawaii and new offensive coordinator Hal Mumme has refined. Currently the Mustangs are averaging 380 yards per game which paces the AAC and is good for 5th nationally. Three SMU receivers are over 500 receiving yards on the season and four are averaging more than 79 receiving yards per game. Clearly the Bearcats can’t key in on one single receiver like they’ve had the luxury of in recent weeks.
Everything in this offense starts with senior quarterback Garrett Gilbert (#11), a transfer from Texas. And I mean everything. Gilbert also leads the Mustangs in rushing yards, galloping* for 224 yards and five touchdowns this season. But it’s his arm that does most of the damage. Gilbert boasts the ideal measurables for a quarterback at 6’4″, 223 lbs and has the strength to put the ball anywhere. But despite all of his raw abilities Gilbert’s achilles heel since he was a Longhorn was his decision making. This is his first season when he hasn’t thrown more interceptions that touchdowns. Maybe as a senior he’s finally turned the corner in his final year of eligibility.
The problem with SMU is that there is a ton of pressure on the offense to put up video game-like numbers every week because the defense is a giant sieve. Case in point, their AAC games against Rutgers and Temple. Against the Scarlet Knights the Mustangs scored 52 points… and lost. Then, three weeks later against the Owls, SMU got into a shootout with Temple and put up 59 points but only won by ten.
On the season the Mustangs are allowing an AAC-worst 42 points and AAC-next-to-worst 449 yards per game. It’s surprising, really, because SMU boasts a front seven that can create pressure. They’ve sacked the quarterback 20 times this year (if you include a take down from DB Ken Acker (#21)) which is good for 36th nationally. The one to worry about along that front is junior defensive end Beau Barnes (#94). There’s a Texas name if I ever saw one. The 6’5″, 241 lbs edge rusher has notched five sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss this season. But despite the decent penetration the front seven has, SMU’s secondary can’t stop anybody and aren’t generating takeaways. In short, this is a team you pass against
FINAL THOUGHTS AND PREDICTION
I hope Brendon Kay’s arm is healthy and he’s ready to throw the ball around quite a bit on Saturday. The Mustangs’ defense is just begging to be attacked through the air. Plus the fact that SMU’s offense can score in a flash means that Cincinnati’s own offense will probably need to score in the 40-50 range to win. Overall, despite the 3-4 record, this is the Bearcats’ most complete opponent since Illinois. Really that speaks to how putrid UC’s strength of schedule has been this season more than anything but I would still be wary of this Mustangs squad. Expect a good ol’ fashioned Texas-style shootout at Nippert Stadium on Saturday, with the Bearcats emerging as the victors when the dust clears.
Cincinnati – 48
SMU – 35