The Southern Methodist University Mustangs have been trampling opponents with a stampeding offense in recent games, but they take on Tulane on Thursday, facing a stingy defense that could spell the end of the Mustangs’ three-game win streak. Tulane is on the bubble to make a run at the American Athletic Conference playoffs and must win before facing No.2 Cincinnati next week to stay in the running.
SMU’s Rhett Lashlee comes from an offensive coordinator background, and that is no surprise when looking at the gaudy numbers that quarterback Tanner Mordecai and receiver Rashee Rice are tagging on defenses this season.
Just two weeks ago, Mordecai set records with nine touchdown passes and a touchdown run in the highest combined scoring game in college football history. Lashlee must pull out all the stops against a Green Wave defense that allows only 19 points per game.
Rice is a player that NFL teams will be watching when he takes the field for the Reese’s Senior Bowl, largely viewed as the beginning of the NFL draft process. Rice has 1,167 receiving yards this season and is rapidly approaching doubling his previous best numbers. He leads the Mustangs with nine touchdown receptions and is a constant downfield threat with the ability to turn and burn on any opportunity.
Mordecai has likely been on NFL scouts’ radar for many years, and his performance this season has been stellar. After jumping ship from OU, backing up the likes of Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts, and Spencer Rattler, Mordecai joined the Mustangs and has excelled in the opportunity to lead the offense. He has 2017 completions, 2,780 yards, 27 touchdowns, and only seven interceptions this season.
On the ground, Tyler Lavine has been the bell cow, toting the rock 76 times and scoring seven touchdowns. Lavine is joined in the backfield by Velton Gardner, who matches Lavine in yards-per-carry but has only one rushing TD. Camar Wheaton has seen more on-field action recently and carried a season-high 14 times last week against South Florida, racking up 115 yards in the process and earning his first two touchdowns of the season.
Tulane lost its first AAC contest of the season when the Wave broke against the University of Central Florida Knights 38-31. Despite putting up three passing touchdowns and 236 yards in completions, Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt could not overcome a 31-14 third-quarter deficit.
Tyjae Spears led the rushing attack with an inflated 130-yard day, 70 yards coming on one play. No Tulane running back scored a touchdown against the Knights. Pratt finished the long run with a short TD to account for all four scores against UCF.
The Knights found success in the option, with John Rhys Plumlee rushing for 176 yards on 18 carries out of the quarterback position and RJ Harvey adding another 83 yards.
SMU’s Mordecai isn’t the most mobile quarterback and has not had double-digit runs this season. Against pocket-passing quarterbacks, Tulane has been very good, with 14 sacks and eight interceptions on the season.
Tulane represents one of the better defenses in the AAC and is a big part of why the team is currently in first place in the conference. If the secondary can take Rice and Mordecai out of the game while preventing Lavine, Gardner, and Wheaton from picking up first downs, the Green Wave will be on the way to settle the AAC once and for all — or at least 2022 — in the final game against the Bearcats.
Lashlee has the SMU offense firing on all cylinders, particularly when the unit can run in a hurry-up format that prevents defensive substitutions. Power running early and cunning use of play action options may open opportunities for Rice and Mordecai to stack points and put the Green Wave away.
Current sports betting lines have Tulane favored to win, and ESPN Analytics gives the Green Wave a 65 percent chance at victory. Kickoff is from Yulman Stadium in New Orleans at 6:30 p.m. CST on Thursday.