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SMU looks to rev up again vs. Houston

SMU looks to rev up again vs. Houston

The SMU Mustangs have generated pride and respect over how they've handled every aspect of their program during this season ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By cultivating and maintaining a tight circle around players and staff, the Mustangs have played 10 games and reported only three positive coronavirus tests since September. However, an expected drawback of the program lockdown is mental fatigue that has the Mustangs weary.

SMU (7-3, 4-3 American Athletic Conference) will host Houston (3-3, 3-2) on Saturday night in a conference game originally scheduled for Nov. 21, before COVID issues in the Houston program forced the postponement. The Mustangs have dropped consecutive games during that stretch, crumbling late against Tulsa in a 28-24 loss before stumbling 52-38 against East Carolina after trailing by 38 at halftime.

"I think we're dealing with a little bit of that (mental fatigue)," SMU coach Sonny Dykes said. "I think that's why we've probably been a little bit flat coming out of some ballgames for a couple of weeks. I think it's drained us a little bit emotionally, and I think that the key for us is to get back going again."

"That's what we need to do, and I think we will," he added. "We had a really good conversation about everything (over the weekend). I think our guys have a pretty clear understanding of what's going to happen moving forward in our program just in terms of schedule and what we're doing, and there's some relief in sight. I think that's been a big positive for our players."

Following postponements against SMU and Tulsa over consecutive weeks, the Cougars are approaching their second set of preparations for the Mustangs with an understandable measure of confidence blended with trepidation resulting from a season ravaged by stops and starts.

After losing the bulk of its non-conference schedule to coronavirus issues, Houston found a groove Oct. 8 against Tulane in its delayed season opener. The Cougars reeled off six consecutive games relatively unscathed, only for their season to come to a halt.

"We had a good little stretch there of nine weeks where we were ready to go," Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said. "Got disappointed a couple of times and maintained faith and optimism and lined up and played six weeks in a row. And every time we lined up and got a chance to play I said, 'Let's be thankful that we get a chance to play because it's reality.'

"I don't think anything that comes our way is going to faze us one way or another. The clock's ticking on 2020 and the clock's ticking on the season and we have the opportunity to play. We're going to relish the opportunity to be able to line up and play."

The Cougars were hamstrung by injuries as the calendar turned to November, so one benefit of the unexpected time off is a return to relatively optimal health. Holgorsen was hesitant to say who could return for the Cougars against SMU, but the expectation is that several sidelined contributors might be back. That should bolster the Cougars' hopes.

The adversity has done little to dampen how Houston has prepared through the sudden delays. Experience has shaped the Cougars, and with an opponent on the horizon, eagerness reigns.

"I've been happy with our guys as far as just maintaining the proper attitude to come in and work hard," Holgorsen said. "Coaches get to coach the ones that are here, and looking forward to Saturday, lining back up and playing again."

--Field Level Media

Updated December 2, 2020

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