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Cougars try to get back on track against SMU

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HOUSTON (AP)

The Houston Cougars and their normally high-powered offense have struggled in the last three weeks and it has resulted in a three-game losing streak.

On Friday the Cougars will try to get back on track when they host SMU.

Houston had scored 20 or more points in each of the first eight games, going 7-1 in that span, with the only loss a tough 47-46 defeat to BYU.

Since then the Cougars have combined for 34 points in three games, scoring 14, 13 and 17 in games against Central Florida, Louisville and Cincinnati.

Houston coach Tony Levine said the easiest way to rebound is to start making more big plays.

''It's something we've got to get back to,'' Houston coach Tony Levine said. ''We've got to throw the ball down the field and give ourselves opportunities to make plays.''

Houston has lost its four games this year by a total of 20 points. In this three game skid, the Cougars failed to gain more than 300 yards in the last two, including gaining just 195 yards against Louisville two weeks ago. The longest play in the three-game losing streak was a 36-yard gain on a pass from Greg Ward, Jr., to Xavier Maxwell late in the third quarter against Cincinnati.

Levine hopes his team can figure out how to get back to playing how they were early in the season as the Cougars prepare for the season-finale against the Mustangs.

''It gave us momentum, gave us confidence,'' Levine said. ''We have to get back to doing that, I don't want to say I'm concerned that we haven't the last couple of weeks, but it's something we need to do this week.''

Five things to know about the SMU-Houston game:

MUSTANGS CAN BECOME BOWL ELIGIBLE: A win over the Cougars will make SMU bowl-eligible for the fifth straight season. After starting 1-4, the Mustangs have won four of their last five, with their only loss coming in a 28-25 defeat at Cincinnati Nov. 9. With a loss, SMU would need to defeat conference leader No. 17 UCF at home next week to become bowl eligible. With a win, SMU could remain in the hunt for the conference crown.

STEWART A TURNOVER MAKER: Houston defensive back Trevon Stewart leads the nation with a combined 10 turnovers - six fumble recoveries, including one he returned for a touchdown Saturday against Cincinnati, and four interceptions. Stewart set the Houston single-season record with his sixth fumble recovery Saturday against Cincinnati. The six fumble recoveries also lead the nation.

GILBERT QUESTIONABLE: SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert is questionable for the game after leaving the Mustangs win over South Florida with a knee injury. Gilbert has averaged 459 yards of offense, including 420 yards in the last five games before the injury. In those five games, he had 17 touchdowns and just one interception. Gilbert leads the American Athletic Conference and is third in the nation in total offense and completions a game and ranks fourth nationally in passing yards. Gilbert has thrown for 3,528 yards and 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions, completing 66.5 percent of his passes. Neal Burcham relieved Gilbert against the Bulls, throwing for 91 yards and a touchdown while completing 9 of 18 passes.

WARD BECOMING BIGGER PART OF OFFENSE: Freshman quarterback Greg Ward, Jr., is taking a larger role in the Cougars' offense over the last couple games. Ward has played quarterback and wide receiver over the last two games. Ward has completed 18 of 26 passes for 300 yards and a touchdown this year, and he has caught four passes for 49 yards. Against the Bearcats, Ward was 5 of 9 for 74 yards and caught 3 passes for 42 yards.

NEEDING MORE OUT OF THE `D': SMU has struggled to keep teams off the board this season, allowing 30 or more points in six games, with five of the games being the first five games of the season. Four of those five games were losses, with the one exception being a 31-30 win over Montana State Sept. 7. In the last three games, the Mustangs have held each of their opponents under 30 points. SMU has also struggled with turnovers this year, with a minus-5 turnover differential, but over the last three games, the Mustangs have a plus-5 turnover differential.

Tagged: Southern Methodist, Cincinnati, Houston, Garrett Gilbert

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