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Cougars put perfect season on line against Mustangs

The 11th-ranked Houston Cougars will try to extend their undefeated season and climb up the national polls further this weekend, hosting the SMU Mustangs in Conference USA action.

SMU has lost three of its last four games, and is coming off a 24-17 non-conference loss to Navy last weekend. The Midshipmen were able to gash the SMU defense, while the Mustangs couldn't complete a fourth quarter rally and committed two turnovers. Following its road trip to Houston, SMU will host Rice in the season finale on November 26th.

Houston's latest blowout came in New Orleans, where the powerful Cougars' offense overcame being shutout in the first quarter and dropped Tulane for a 73-17 victory. It was the second time in three weeks that the Cougars hung 73 points on an opponent, as Houston leads the country in scoring (54.7) not to mention total offense (628.8). The Cougars are off to their best start in school history, and are enjoying their highest ranking since the 1991 season. The Cougars will travel to Tulsa next weekend in the regular-season finale.

"Our guys are excited for what they have accomplished already this season," said Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. "They also understand what is out in front of them. I think how we approached it says a lot of how our seniors have led us over this past season and have kept the focus."

Against Tulane, Case Keenum threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns, which seemed like a quiet afternoon for the Heisman Trophy Candidate. The Cougars dropped a donut in the first quarter before hanging up 35 points in the second quarter to take command. It didn't matter much that Keenum was held to just 325 yards passing, however, as Charles Sims rushed for 207 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries. It was a statement-like performance for Houston's running game, serving as a late-season reminder that the Cougars can be very dangerous not only through the air, but also in the run game. Patrick Edwards added five catches for 129 yards and three touchdowns for the Houston offense which outgained Tulane 735-331.

Keenum's assault on the NCAA record books has been widely documented all season long, and against Tulane he brought his numbers up to 3,951 yards and 37 touchdowns this season, with just three interceptions. Keenum is second in the country in passing efficiency (193.3) and Houston ranks first in the country in passing offense (455.7).

The Houston defense isn't quite as prominent as the offense, but it has still been a productive unit that has made important strides this season. Opponents have scored just 30 points combined in the past two games, and the Cougars currently rank third in the C-USA in scoring defense (22.8) and fifth in total defense (181.4). SMU has some pretty good offensive players, especially Zach Line, but Houston counters with a bevy of athletes on the defensive side of the ball, namely linebackers Sammy Brown and Marcus McGraw. Brown is leading the country in tackles for loss per game with 2.15, and is sixth in the country in sacks per game with .95. McGraw is the veteran leader of the unit and is 20th in the country with 9.90 tackles per game.

Against Navy, Line had another stellar performance, rushing for 135 yards to give him his eighth 100-yard rushing performance of the season. Cole Beasley added two rushing touchdowns for SMU, and J.J. McDermott completed 26-of-36 passes for 249 yards and one touchdown, but was also intercepted twice. Line is first in the Conference USA in rushing and sixth overall in the country, averaging 122.4 yards per game. he has also scored 17 touchdowns on the ground. McDermott is eighth in the league in passing efficiency (128.6), and helms an offense that is currently averaging 412.1 yards and 27.4 points per game.

"Zach Line is a heck of a player at 230 pounds and has rushed for over a hundred yards in eight of ten games," said Sumlin. "They have good skill on the outside."

On the defensive side, SMU had no answer for Navy's vaunted rushing attack, which racked up 335 yards total. Navy's Kriss Proctor didn't complete a pass, but rushed for 107 yards to lead the Midshipmen in the win. The defense should expect a tougher assignment this weekend against the nation's most prolific offenses. Getting pressure on Keenum will be paramount, and SMU has proven to be a pretty aggressive squad in 2011, averaging 2.4 sacks per game and 5.4 tackles for loss. The Mustangs boast the second ranked defense in the league, as the unit gives up 345.2 yards per outing.