Houston Cougars receiver Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell runs across the field at TDECU Stadium during the team’s 42-27 win over USF on Oct. 29. (Courtesy Houston Athletics)
Houston (5-3, 3-1 American Athletic Conference) vs. SMU (4-4, 2-2 AAC)
Game time: 6:00 p.m. CT
TV/radio: NFL Network/KPRC 950 AM
What’s at stake: Houston is looking to keep pace with Cincinnati and Central Florida for second place in the conference. Currently, all three teams are tied with a 3-1 conference record and are behind Tulane, who stands alone in first at 4-0. SMU is looking to remain in the mix at having an outside chance of getting to the AAC Championship game with a win.
When the Cougars have the ball: Houston quarterback Clayton Tune will look to continue his sensational play, which has correlated with the team’s three-game winning streak.
Against South Florida, Tune once again put together an offensive player of the week performance by going 31-of-37 for 380 yards and four touchdowns en route to putting up 42 points. Houston has scored 33 or more points in each of its last three games.
When SMU has the ball: The Mustangs have an offense that always has the foot on the gas, and the two factors behind the serious horsepower are quarterback Tanner Mordecai and receiver Rashee Rice.
“They got the No. 1 passing offense in our conference,” Houston defensive coordinator Doug Belk said. “They’re top 10 in the country in passing and 25 in total offense. (Rice) has been targeted well over 100 times, and he’s got 60+ receptions.”
“Mordecai is really what makes it all go,” Belk said. “Very talented, can make every throw. Ultimate competitor. You see the passion, you see the fire when he plays.”
Key Cougars to watch: Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell could be the key UH player to watch every week, but he makes the list, in particular, this week because of who is running routes on the other side of the field for the Mustangs.
While Dell has put together a strong season for Houston, SMU’s Rice trumps Dell in categories like receiving yards per game and receptions per game. It will be a must-see to watch which receiver can come out with bragging rights after the interstate matchup.
“I got to go out and show out,” said Dell.
The bottom line: Houston will face its toughest test so far since the beginning of the three-game winning streak. A high-powered SMU offense could be what stands in the way between the Cougars and a simpler path to the AAC Championship. A loss and the road becomes much narrower.