NCAA Football

On the cusp of bowl eligibility, can Mustangs pass USF?

SMU vs USF

When: 11:00 am on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida

Records: SMU (5-4, 3-2 in AAC game), USF (1-8, 0-5 in AAC game)

Last date: SMU defeated USF 41-17 in University Park, Texas on October 2, 2021.

TV: ESPNU

what is at stake?

A two-game winning streak has led SMU to the precipice of bowl eligibility with three more games to play. The Mustangs can earn their bowl ticket with a win over a South Florida team that, on paper, looks like an easy win. One caveat, though: The USF fired head coach Jeff Scott this week, and teams with interim head coaches have a first-game winning record after losing their head coach. It’s a unique factor that the SMU will have to contend with on Saturday.

When the SMU has the ball

Okay, the odds of SMU posting 77 points and breaking records in consecutive weeks are probably pretty low, but the Mustangs seem to be hitting their stride offensively. There are a few reasons for this, starting with quarterback Tanner Mordecai’s health. He said he felt healthy after missing his first SMU game due to a concussion, and boy, did he ever feel that way against Houston. His 10 touchdowns set school and conference records. Speaking of health: Senior wide receiver Rashee Rice is also back to normal after dealing with a grass toe for nearly a month.

The biggest turning point for the SMU attack, however, may be Tyler Lavine taking the role back. The 215-pound road grader has been a force for Mustangs. Over the past two games, he’s forced a combined 12 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. Coaches said the cowboy collar wearing Cedar Park’s running back brought a throwback mentality to the SMU offense. He’s a ball carrier no player wants to face, helping SMU become an offense no defense wants to face right now.

The SMU must also have its chances against the USF defense. The Bulls allowed Temple 54 points last week, which was a new season high for Temple at 26 points.

When the USF has the ball

The USF offense, for the most part, hasn’t been the problem this season. The Bulls have scored at least 27 points in all but two games this year. They also played Cincinnati and Tulane, but that was mostly when Baylor transferred Gerry Bonhanon as quarterback. He was injured against Tulane and will miss the rest of the season.

In place of Bohannon, USF used Katravis Marsh. He has six touchdowns and one interception in four games and two starts. Running back Brian Battie and wide receiver Xavier Weaver are two stars that the SMU defense — a group that allowed 63 points for a talented Houston offense last week — should keep an eye out.

Prediction

Under Sonny Dykes, SMU was known to start hot and disappear in November. Over the past two weeks, SMU seems to be doing better all season. Under Rhett Lashlee, are the Mustangs a team that’s really playing their best ball at the end of the season? That’s what coaches hope to see.

SMU coaches also expect the USF to come out with punches they’ve never thrown before, supported by the fighting spirit of a team that just lost its head coach. Ultimately, I don’t think this will be enough to fill the gap.

Punctuation: SMU 52, USF 24

On twitter: @JoeJHoyt

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