The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Mustangs hope to overcome Houston air attack

BYE-BYE-BYE. The Ponies had to feel as if they were stuck in a horrendous N’Sync album after playing only once in the last 28 days. That one game was a 27-7 Homecoming weekend thumping of the Rice Owls in Ford Stadium to move to 3-6 on the season and 2-4 in C-USA play.

The long streak of inactivity will be broken as SMU returns to action against a Houston Cougar squad that is on the cusp of being bowl eligible, this after the Cougars’ impressive 27-24 win over then Eastern Division Co-Leader Southern Mississippi on Sunday. The chase for a bowl has not really entered Houston Coach Art Briles’ mind, though. “Right now, our only scenario is beating SMU and winning the football game Saturday,” he said, “and if we take care of our business, we will end up in a very respectable and exciting bowl game, no doubt.”

Key Match-Up

Houston’s Passing Offense vs. The SMU Secondary

Rice might be the worst opponent to have before playing the Cougs because of the fact that while Rice prefers to run on every down, Houston will pass at every opportunity.

The key is the triggerman Kevin Kolb, the three-year starter from Stephenville High School. The last part is important, because he has played for Briles and directed the same spread offense for six out of the last seven years, with Briles’ sole year at Texas Tech as the running backs’ coach being the only break in the string.

Kolb is already second in total offense all-time at Houston, sits in the top five of every major passing category in school history and has thrown for over 300 yards five times this season. The experience with the offense allows Kolb to understand all of the reads at the line and usually know where he is going with the ball before he receives it, as the spread scheme manipulates the defensive formation before the ball is snapped. This season, that knowledge has often caused Kolb to find Vincent Marshall, last season’s second team All-CUSA performer. Marshall has 54 catches for 713 yards on the season as he tries to put up back-to-back 1000-yard receiving seasons together.

Alongside Marshall is the coach’s son and possession receiver, Kendal Briles, and a pair of talented youngsters in Anthony Alridge and Donnie Avery. Avery has had three games of over 100 yards and and Alridge opened his first college game with 103 yards on just three catches against the Oregon Ducks. Houston will also use TE/SB Blade Bassler and lanky wideout Jeron Harvey in a multitude of four- and five-receiver sets to spread the Mustang defense out.

SMU counters with its most consistent unit, the defensive secondary. Joe Sturdivant not only leads the team in tackles (85) and passes defended (14), but also picked up his second straight C-USA defensive player of the week award with his 10 tackles and an interception. Sturdivant is paired with Jamey Harper, the four-year starter who is third on the team in tackles with 60 and tied for first on the team with three interceptions. Rolando Humphrey is fifth on the team with 53 tackles and has put together a consistent year in being the anchor of a unit that is allowing only 235 yards a game through the air.

It’s possible that former starting safety Rico Harris might see more time on the field in pass coverage. In addition, corners Brandon Jones, Jonathon Lindley and Johnnie Fitzgerald all need to be superb to reign in an offense that is putting up 275 yards a game.

Mustang success on Saturday will probably hinge on how well the secondary can control the intricate offense of the Cougars.

Key Players

SMU’s Chris McMurtray

A kicker being a key? Well, when you are starting to bring down school records you start getting top billing. The senior made his 11th straight field goal against the Owls, breaking the former record of 10 set by Roy Rios and Brandy Brownlee. His record-breaking kick was from 48 yards, a career long that appeared like it would be good from at least 55 yards.

McMurtray has been key in giving the opponents bad field position all year, as he has 18 touchbacks on 36 kickoffs.

Houston’s Kade Lane

The rough and tumble approach of the senior defensive end is something that makes Coach Art Briles smile.

“I don’t figure he will gloat over it,” he said, “but he has played exceptionally well for a long time for us, and we are very proud of them.”

Lane was the C-USA defensive player of the week (remember Sturdivant’s was a week ago due to the bye) for his six tackles and game-saving fumble recovery in the win against Southern Mississippi. Lane has started 44 consecutive games for the Cougars and garnered C-USA third team honors for his 52 tackles last season.

This season, Lane has 22 tackles, three quarterback hurries and five pass breakups, and he hopes to end his career by going to his second bowl game in the last three years.

Inside the Mustangs

Unlike business, the Mustangs are happy in the red

SMU has been perfect in the Red Zone in C-USA play, scoring on 17 straight trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Although the coaches would hope that the more of those possessions would result in touchdowns rather then interceptions, the ability to come away with points has been impressive.

The success can be traced to the continued consistency of McMurtray, and the power running of DeMyron Martin giving the Mustangs power back when there are just a few yards to gain. Each are in the top 20 in the conference in scoring, with McMurtray 10th with 5.56 pts/game and Martin seventeenth at 4.67 points per game. Jerad Romo’s increased confidence has also shown in the scoring zone, as he has fit a couple of balls in for touchdowns, but also he has thrown balls away rather then throw picks to ensure his team walks away with points on the scoreboard.

The team still would like to see more touchdowns then it’s getting, but its improved play inside the 20 has been a reason the ‘Stangs have been more competitive this season.

Inside the Cougars

We can run the ball, too?

When a team plays the spread offense like the Cougars, they tend to get characterized as pass only. Many backs (like former Oregon State great Ken Simonton, who ran for four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons out of the spread) will tell you that running in the spread opens up rush lanes just as much as it does passing lanes.

This season, the Cougars have really exploited this look, as they have rushed for over 175 yards a game. This has been mostly without the services of last year’s leading rusher Anthony Evans, who has gotten only 114 yards on the season because of a nagging knee injury.

The loss of Evans has allowed senior Ryan Gilbert to have a banner season. Gilbert has rushed for 821 yards and eight touchdowns, including four games over 100 yards. Last week, against the vaunted Golden Eagles’ defense, Gilbert set career highs with 23 carries and 144 yards. The Mustangs can’t stay too focused on the pass, or Gilbert will gash them for big games like he has done against the rest of Conference USA.

Trent Redden is a senior accounting and public policy major. He may be reached at [email protected].

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