When the football is kicked off in Saturday’s New Mexico Bowl between SMU and BYU, the fans in attendance can expect plenty of fireworks — in the form of points on the scoreboard.
The high-powered offenses of SMU Mustangs coach Rhett Lashlee and BYU Cougars coach Kalani Sitake will take the field against a pair of struggling defensive units in a matchup that Vegas oddsmakers expect to feature tons of points.
While BYU is a 1.5-point favorite, the most intriguing number is the over-under — set at a lofty 74 points.
Averaging 38.4 points in a 7-5 season, SMU was a part of history on Nov. 5 when it beat Houston 77-63 in the highest-scoring regulation contest in FBS history. Quarterback Tanner Mordecai threw for a program and American Athletic Conference record nine touchdowns and rushed for another.
Meanwhile, BYU’s defense has been costly for the Cougars during their 7-5 campaign. In a stretch of mediocre play, the unit likely cost them in losses to Arkansas, East Carolina, Liberty and Notre Dame.
Sitake’s defense ranked 93rd in the nation, allowing 409.7 yards per game, but new defensive coordinator/associate head coach Jay Hill vows to improve that.
“I’ve never been a guy who wants to sit back and bleed a slow death,” said Hill, the former head coach at Weber State. “That is not me. I refuse to do that. I will blitz or put every guy at the line of scrimmage rather than just sit there and let people pound us.”
Lashlee’s offense was sixth in total passing, with an average of 324.9 yards per game. Mordecai, a senior, went 261-for-406 for 3,306 yards, with 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
The SMU coach said he has always admired BYU, saying, “I’ve always had a lot of respect, just the toughness stands out to me. It’s a tough physical culture.”
SMU star wide receiver Rashee Rice (toe) will miss the game and has declared for the NFL Draft. In 12 games this season, the senior playmaker had 96 receptions for a school-record 1,355 yards and 10 touchdowns. His average of 112.9 yards per game topped the country.
The Mustangs hold a 7-9-1 mark in bowl games, most recently a 52-28 loss to FAU in the 2019 Boca Raton Bowl.
The Cougars are 16-22-1 in bowls and playing in their fifth straight one. They lost 31-28 to UAB in last season’s Independence Bowl.
BYU holds a 3-0 lead in the all-time series, last played on Sept. 27, 1997 — a 19-16 outcome in overtime. They also beat the Mustangs in the 1980 Holiday Bowl — one of that decade’s wildest games.
In that one, the Cougars erased a 20-point, fourth-quarter deficit by scoring three touchdowns in the final 2:33. Quarterback Jim McMahon connected with Clay Brown on a Hail Mary as time expired for a shocking 46-45 win.
–Field Level Media