SMU is 7-1 and with only three games left in the regular season the Mustangs are in control of their own fate for a shot at the AAC championship game. That get’s us to SMU’s next “toughest” game in the 2020 season, The Tulsa Golden Hurricanes.
SMU’s Next “Toughest” Game
But in Sonny Dykes fashion, the toughest game of the season is the one immediately ahead of them. Tulsa is up Saturday. The Golden Hurricanes are 3-1 overall and 3-0 in conference play. They are outscoring opponents by eight points per game and they outrush opponents by 38 yards per game. Having said all that, they have no one who has gained so much as 300 yards rushing on the season. Deneric Prince leads the team with 299 yards on 47 carries. SMU’s Ulysses Bentley IV was more than a hundred yards past that number after four games and on a handful fewer carries.
The Golden Hurricanes have also not thrown for more than 275 yards in a game this season. Their best passing output of the season was the 273 yards against UCF in week two.
Can Tulsa’s Offense Keep Up?
Even though Dykes, like any coach, says this is the toughest game they have to deal with because it is the one that is next, let’s take just a moment to dig deeper into those stats. Redshirt senior Zach Smith has started every game for the last two seasons. He is completing 59% of his passes for 924 yards to go with seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
His counterpart, SMU’s Shane Buechele leads the nation in passing yards with 2,581. He is also sixth in the country with 20 passing touchdowns, (against only three interceptions). He is competing 66% of his passes. While Tulsa has gotten to 273 yards passing once this season, Buechele is averaging 322 yards per game.
Prince is averaging 75 yards per game rushing with two touchdowns for Tulsa. Bentley is just under 100 yards per game with 10 touchdowns for SMU. The Mustangs are out-passing their opponents per game. They are out-rushing their opponents per game. And of course, at 7-1, they have been outscored only the one time against Cincinnati.
So, the coach speak says it is the toughest game, even if the comparatives don’t. “Every game is important,” Dykes said this week. “If we had lost last week, then this game would not have mattered as much. And there are so many games that have yet to be played in our league, that who knows how all this stuff is going to play out.”
The Star Is On Defense
Dykes put emphasis on Tulsa’s front seven on defense. “They are very talented. Look at their defensive front. It’s good, and you look at their linebacker play,” Dykes said. Of particular note is linebacker Zaven Collins. AT 6-4, 260 pounds, he is a physical presence.
He had a career best 97 tackles last year as a sophomore. With 28 total tackles in four games this year, he is well on his way to surpassing that. “There is nobody that is his size, and that strength, and runs that well, and has that kind of instincts, that is that productive.” Dykes said over his years in the game he has seen guys that grade out well at the NFL Combine with regards to stats and analysis but are not as productive in game time. Dykes said that is not the case with Collins. “He is a very, very, very good football player. He just stands out on film. You see this huge guy that is making all these plays and playing really hard.”
The recurring theme that continues to pop up for Dykes and the Mustangs. They need to get off to a faster start and they need to maintain that level of play for 60 minutes. SMU got off to a slow start last week at Temple, but had the talent to overcome that. Last year, Tulsa had a 30-9 lead over SMU after three quarters before the Mustangs came back to win 43-37 in triple overtime.
In 2018, it was again Tulsa jumping out early, and the Mustangs did not have the time or ability to catch up in a 27-24 loss. “They are not going to beat themselves,” Dykes said. “You are going to have to execute at a high level to have a chance to win the game.” Dykes added that includes getting off to a faster start than SMU has been at times, and match Tulsa’s intensity all throughout the game.
On a non-football note, Monday was Dykes’ 51st birthday. He noted the occasion by telling the press gaggle, “You know how it is when you get to this age. You kind of really don’t want to get much older, but you are thankful that you are.”