Written By: Ryan Lippert|@Lippert42
Heading into week eight of the 2020 college football season, we have seen a lot of exciting matchups so far. As is typically the case, most of the biggest/most anticipated games have come from teams in the Power 5 conferences. However, things are different this weekend as we have an intriguing matchup between two of the hottest teams in college football, both from the AAC. The ninth-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats and 16th ranked SMU Mustangs have taken the college football world by storm this season with both of them off to an undefeated start and setting them up for a showdown with huge College Football Playoff implications on Saturday night. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at this week’s College Football Game of the Week between the SMU Mustangs and Cincinnati Bearcats.
Can SMU Offense Stay Hot Against Stingy Bearcats Defense?
The SMU Mustangs have been one of the hottest teams in college football this season largely due to their high-powered offense. This offensive attack has been led by Texas transfer Shane Buechele at quarterback. Buechele has been off to an outstanding start, throwing for 1,710 yards with 12 touchdowns and only two interceptions so far. Unfortunately, the Mustangs lost their star receiver, Reggie Roberson, for the season with a knee injury, but Buechele still has a variety of weapons to throw to. Their leading remaining receiver is Rashee Rice who has 24 receptions for 411 yards and a touchdown. Danny Gray is right behind him with 19 receptions for 331 yards and four touchdowns. Receiver Tyler Page and tight end Kylen Granson have also been key contributors in the passing game.
While SMU’s offense has been dangerous, averaging 563.2 total yards per game and 42.6 points per game, they are facing their toughest defense yet. The Bearcats’ defense has been extremely impressive this season, allowing only 12.3 points per game. They have been solid against the pass, allowing only 171.7 yards per game with zero touchdowns while coming away with seven interceptions. Their secondary has a great senior leader in free safety James Wiggins, who is joined by fellow senior Darrick Forrest at strong safety. They also have a pair of impressive cornerbacks in sophomore Ahmad Gardner and senior Coby Bryant who each have two interceptions on the season.
The Mustangs have also gotten some great production out of the run game this season. True freshman Ulysses Bentley IV leads the team in rushing with 74 carries for 506 yards and eight touchdowns. Sophomore Tyler Lavine should also see some carries with backup TJ McDaniel out for the season with a leg injury.
They are facing a Cincinnati defense that has also been strong against the run this season. The Bearcats have allowed 135 yards per game on the ground and only three rushing touchdowns so far. Their front seven is led by senior outside linebacker Jarell White who has 31 total tackles. He is joined in the linebacker core by two seniors in Darrian Beavers on the outside and Joel Dublanko in the middle. In front of them, the defensive line consists of two seniors in Curtis Brooks at tackle and Elijah Ponder at end, who are joined by junior Myjai Sanders at the other end.
Will Cincinnati Keep up on the Scoreboard?
While the Bearcats have been at their best on the defensive side of the ball, they haven’t been terrible on offense either. Cincinnati is averaging 35.7 points per game and 396 total yards per game this season. Their offense is led by junior quarterback Desmond Ridder who has thrown for 597 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions so far. His top target has been junior wide receiver Jayshon Jackson who has caught eight passes for 132 yards. Receivers Alex Pierce and Michael Young are also key contributors in the passing game along with three solid tight ends in Bruno Labelle, Leonard Taylor, and Josh Whyle. Senior running back Gerrid Doaks has also been dangerous in the passing game with six catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
Ridder will be facing an SMU defense that has given up 25.4 points per game and has struggled at times against the pass. Their secondary has allowed 237 passing yards per game with ten total passing touchdowns while coming away with six interceptions so far. The Mustangs do have a solid amount of experience in the secondary with grad transfer Brandon Stephens and junior Ar’mani Johnson at the corners with junior transfer Chevin Calloway at safety. They are joined in the secondary by sophomore Chance Cromartie at the other safety. Sophomore Brandon Crossley, who leads the team with three interceptions, will also rotate in at corner.
The Bearcats have also had solid contributions from the run game this season. Doaks is their leading rusher with 45 carries for 145 yards and four touchdowns so far. They will also get a good amount of carries from freshman transfer Jerome Ford and sophomore Charles McClelland.
They are facing an SMU defense that hasn’t been great against the run either, allowing 170.4 rushing yards per game this season. The Mustangs’ front seven is led by senior inside linebacker Delano Robinson who leads the team with 36 tackles. He is joined at linebacker by grad transfer Richard McBryde on the inside with junior Turner Coxe and senior transfer Trevor Denbow on the outside. The defensive line consists of sophomore Elijah Chatman at nose with juniors Toby Ndukwe at end and Harrison Loveless at tackle.
As I have already mentioned, this game will have huge implications on the College Football Playoff standings. Both of these teams are undefeated and very much in the hunt for a spot in the early part of the season. This game will be close down to the wire and I truly believe it will come down to which team’s defense breaks first. The Bearcats have been outstanding on the defensive side of the ball but they have yet to face an offense like SMU has. I see this being a huge opportunity for Shane Buechele to prove himself worthy to be in both the Heisman and NFL draft discussion. With all of the weapons at his disposal, Buechele will rise to the occasion and lead his team to a huge victory. I have the Mustangs holding on in a 38-34 victory to remain undefeated.