|East Carolina-SMU Preview|
East Carolina and No. 25 SMU enter their game Saturday with different mindsets coming off close losses against ranked teams last week.
The Pirates (3-6, 0-5 American Athletic Conference) were losers of three straight games by double-digits before losing on a last-second field goal last week against visiting then-No. 17 Cincinnati. The Mustangs (8-1, 4-1) lost their first game of the season last Saturday in a 54-48 shootout at then-No. 24 Memphis.
Both teams took the losses hard, but East Carolina came away from its setback to the Bearcats feeling more confident of their potential.
"Our locker room is very quiet," Eastern Carolina coach Mike Houston said after the game. "They invested a lot. When you invest a lot, it hurts when you don't achieve what you set out to achieve. But that's part of sport. I told them this continues to validate everything we're doing. The kids had a great week of practice. They pushed themselves to get better every day. We're leaning on our core principals to get better."
SMU coach Sonny Dykes, in only his second season, led the Mustangs to their first 8-0 start since 1982 season. They are ranked in the top 25 for the first time since the program received the NCAA's death penalty in February 1987.
Dykes will learn how his team handles a loss when the Mustangs host East Carolina on Saturday at Gerald J. Ford Stadium at University Park, Texas.
"You don't know until you deal with it until you have to deal with it," Dykes said. "So we'll see how our guys respond. I think they'll respond well. We talked a little bit about it in the locker room."
SMU's "Air Raid" offense played to form with quarterback Shane Buechele completing 34 of 54 passes for 456 yards, James Proche having 149 yards receiving and Rashee Rice producing a career-high 122 receiving yards.
The Mustangs rank eighth nationally, averaging 509.6 yards per game. Buechele is also the No. 8 quarterback in the nation, averaging 309 passing yards per game while throwing for 2,781 yards with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
"The season's not over from this loss," said safety Rodney Clemons. "We've got to focus on what we do. We've got to come out, beat ECU, beat Navy, and then beat Tulane, the last game of the season. And if we do that, we'll look up and see where we're at."
East Carolina's 46-43 loss to Cincinnati marked the most points the Bearcats have yielded this year, other than the 42-0 loss to current No. 1-ranked Ohio State in the Bearcats' second game.
Sophomore quarterback Holton Ahlers set an East Carolina record with 535 yards passing and true freshman C.J. Johnson had 283 yards in receiving, setting both school and conference records.
"We had some incredible individual performances. The thing that you focus on is what a great effort by our kids," Houston said. "We talked about believing in ourselves, not hesitating, and going and making the play. Take our shot. It's been a theme and we hammered it this week, justifying the things we believed in. And the kids went out and did that."
--Field Level Media