The 5-1 Temple Owls head to University Park, Texas to take on the #24 SMU Mustangs on Saturday at 3:30PM ET. Who are the SMU Mustangs? What are the top matchups to watch? Here is a breakdown of the upcoming SMU vs. Temple matchup, along with a game prediction.
A controversial call ultimately gave the Temple Owls the victory over Memphis last Saturday. Catch or no catch, Temple is now tied for first with Cincinnati in the East Division. Temple and SMU have faced each other only three times, with Temple winning the last two games. In their most recent matchup in 2016, Temple beat SMU 45-20 with Ryquell Armstead rushing for 159 yards and two scores on just 15 carries.
Quick Look at the SMU Mustangs
The SMU Mustangs are 6-0, coming off a triple overtime victory over Tulsa from the previous week and already with more wins than they had in 2018. SMU hasn’t won more than 7 games in a season since 2011. They’ve only had one bowl game in the previous six seasons, including a blowout loss to Louisiana Tech in 2017. Let’s take a quick look at the Mustangs previous game vs. Tulsa (2-4).
It wasn’t pretty, but SMU showed a ton of heart overcoming a 21 point deficit in the fourth quarter vs. Tulsa. An unbelievable walk-off touchdown pass to James Proche will surely go down as one of the top plays in the American Athletic Conference this season. Yes, SMU is 6-0, but let’s take a closer look because the box score doesn’t tell the entire story.
The SMU Mustangs really struggled vs. Tulsa through three quarters. Their first eight offensive possessions netted just three points, and SMU didn’t have a single offensive touchdown in the first three quarters. Tulsa missed three field goals and were never able to put the game away as they should have. Reggie Roberson, one of SMU’s top wide receivers, left the game in the third quarter with a potential concussion. All reports indicate that Roberson should be good to go this week against Temple.
The biggest win of the season for the Mustangs this year was in Fort Worth vs. #25 TCU. Shane Buechele contributed three touchdowns, and it was SMU’s first victory over TCU in the seven previous contests. Let’s go beyond the box scores and take a quick glance at the SMU Mustangs.
The Mustangs feature eight starters returning on defense and Texas transfer quarterback Shane Buechele. Similar to Temple, SMU has played beyond expectations through six games. Prior to the season, the Mustangs were predicted to finish towards the bottom of the American Athletic Conference. SMU head coach Sonny Dykes is in his second season, and his offense is clicking (2nd most total yards per game in the American).
When comparing these two teams, there are some striking similarities between SMU and Temple. Let’s take a look.
Shane Buechele vs. Anthony Russo
The Mustangs have a high powered offense with a nice balance in the air and on the ground. Their 44.2 points per game is second behind UCF. SMU junior quarterback Shane Buechele is currently tops in the American Conference with 1,665 yards and 2nd in touchdowns (12, second to UCF QB Dillon Gabriel). The Texas transfer has been very efficient this year, featuring the 3rd highest QB rating (153) in the conference and the second best completion percentage (67%) on the year. Buechele is primarily a pocket passer and won’t be a major threat with his legs (75 yards rushing on the season).
From the outside, junior quarter Anthony Russo had a very good game vs. Memphis. However, when you take a closer look, he’s been becoming more and more inconsistent. The Temple offense has struggled the most in the red zone this year, largely due to some very questionable throws by Anthony Russo. Russo leads the American with 6 interceptions, and Temple has begun utilizing backup sophomore dual threat QB Todd Centeio to keep defenses off balance.
Whichever quarterback limits mistakes will likely come off with the victory on Saturday. While these two quarterbacks can put points on the board, they are also prone to making some throws that will leave you scratching your head. Anthony Russo must play a smart, turnover free game if Temple’s offense wants to keep up with SMU.
Xavier Jones vs. Shaun Bradley
It doesn’t get any easier for the Temple defense next weekend. After matching up with the American’s top rusher in Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis) last Saturday, they will now face Xavier Jones. Jones is a 5’11” senior running back who has more than 100 yards in four of the Mustang’s six games this season. He has the second most carries (114) and is tied for most touchdowns in the conference (12).
Xavier Jones is a terror in the open field, and the spotlight will be yet again on senior Temple linebacker Shaun Bradley. Shaun Bradley and the Temple defense did just enough to slow down a high powered Memphis offense last Saturday. They held Kenneth Gainwell to just 106 yards and made crucial stops when it mattered in the guts of the second half.
Most importantly, Shaun Bradley’s defense forced Memphis into four turnovers, and that ultimately was the difference in the game. Temple must contain Xavier Jones and force SMU into long third downs. Temple’s defense struggled on third down vs. Memphis (7-12), and this is a huge area to watch this weekend.
James Proche/Reggie Roberson vs. Harrison Hand/Christian Braswell
SMU’s high powered offense also features two very good receivers in James Proche and Reggie Roberson Jr. Reggie Roberson Jr. is currently 2nd in the conference in receiving yards (545), with senior wide receiver James Proche right behind him at 3rd (529). While James Proche is Buechele’s main end zone threat (7 touchdowns), Reggie Roberson Jr. has major big play ability, evident by his 16 yards per catch.
Temple’s secondary, most notably Harrison Hand and Christian Braswell, will have a tall task this weekend. Harrison Hand was all over the field last Saturday, finishing with 9 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, an interception, a forced fumble, and a pass deflection vs. Memphis. Christian Braswell also had a strong game, finishing with 5 tackles and two pass deflections.
If Temple’s secondary can limit the Mustangs’ big play offense on Saturday, the Owls have a very good chance of coming out of the game with the victory. Temple’s defense is currently 5th best in the conference against the pass and 2nd best in the conference in holding teams on third down (28.7%).
I think this game will boil down to which team makes more mistakes on offense and gives up more big plays on defense. SMU’s defense gave up some explosive plays vs. Tulsa two weeks ago, and this should be an area where Temple finds success. I expect Jaden Blue and Branden Mack to have huge days vs. the Mustangs. I also expect Owls’ secondary to make one or two plays that will ultimately lead to a Temple victory. Temple wins 37-34.