The Horned Frogs and Mustangs meet each other in this annual rivalry game, dubbed the “Battle For The Iron Skillet.” No. 16 TCU (1-0) has won all but two of the last 18 and are heavy favorites to make this number 17. SMU (0-1) is coming off an embarrassing road opener, so they will likely relish the opportunity to play in front of their home crowd.
Questions still linger after opening week. What did we learn about the guys in purple after they beat up on a SWAC opponent in Week 1? Probably less than we will this week, when they take on an actual squad from Division I.
But there’s more on the line for both of these teams than just kitchenware. The Horned Frogs would love to enter next week’s game against Ohio State at 2-0 with the chance to move into the CFP conversation. The Mustangs, on the other hand, can get a signature win for Sonny Dykes, whose team might struggle to make a bowl game this season.
SMU comes into this game at 0-1 after losing their home opener to another in-state foe, North Texas, 46-23. Things really did not go well for the Mustangs in that game, as North Texas scored 36 unanswered points before SMU got some late scores in the fourth quarter.
His regular season debut was not what Sonny Dykes probably anticipated, and has many wondering what to expect from the former Cal head coach, who was 19-30 over four years in Berkeley.
Dykes took over a program that made measurable progress under departed head coach Chad Morris. The Mustangs went from averaging 11.1 points per game to 37.8 in three years under Morris. He also improved the defense slightly, and in 2017 got SMU to a bowl for the first time since 2011.
Dykes is an offensively-minded Air Raid disciple. That should mean that the offense, which returns starting junior quarterback Ben Hicks and 1,000 yard rusher Xavier Jones, won’t see much drop-off. Hicks might be the second best quarterback in the AAC, at least in spite of his underwhelming performance last week.
Of course, the defense is another matter. There are eight starters back, including senior cornerback Jordan Wyatt, but it would not be surprising to see the Mustangs struggle on that side of the ball in 2018. Dykes was known for having leaky defenses at Cal, and last year the Mustangs gave up 36.7 points per game.
Then again, the defense (thanks to some non-offensive touchdowns) actually gave up less than that against North Texas, so this might not be a unit to write off just yet. The back seven will probably be a strength for the Mustangs in 2018.
The players in that unit will have their work cut out for them in facing off against the Horned Frogs. TCU has a lot of speed and athleticism on offense – receivers like Jalen Reagor and Kavontae Turpin are always dangerous to take it to the house, while quarterback Shawn Robinson is a legitimate dual threat player.
Robinson threw for three touchdowns last Saturday behind an offensive line that remains unproven, and that is by far TCU’s biggest question mark. Playing FCS Southern probably did not provide much of a test, but the Horned Frogs’ first FBS opponent of 2018 will probably give us a better idea.
Gary Patterson’s defense looks as stout as always. Even though the defense lost a few standouts from last season, he has upperclassmen throughout the secondary and the linebacking corps. Look for new starters like safety Innis Gaines and linebacker Garret Wallow to continue to play well in the back seven.
The biggest concern for the Horned Frogs will be along their defensive line. Redshirt freshman Terrell Cooper is having to step up at tackle since Ross Blacklock was lost for the season. Blacklock might have been looking at an all-conference type of year, so it will be interesting to see how much TCU misses him Friday night.
Keys To The Game For TCU
Get The Ball To The Tailbacks – 2018 is going to be a long season, but it will be even longer if Shawn Robinson has to carry too much of the load. SMU has one of the weakest defensive lines in the AAC, and TCU should exploit that to get a bunch of carries for their talented running backs.
Know Your Role On Defense – Dykes runs an Air Raid that will absolutely punish defenders who are not committed to their assignments. If TCU defenders start to be more worried about making individual plays rather than working within Gary Patterson’s 4-2-5, it might open up unexpected holes for the SMU offensive attack.
Take Advantage On Special Teams – Last week, North Texas took a kick back all the way to the house on SMU, a feat that TCU has the talent to replicate. Patterson is very good at producing high quality special teams, so this is one dimension where his boys should shine. If you’re the Horned Frogs, you try to make as many plays here as you can.
TCU should win this game, but there are a lot of factors that will rightfully make you leery of this one being a total blowout. This is a Friday night rivalry game with the Frogs visiting SMU, a team that should be motivated to prove themselves after getting their lunch handed to them by North Texas.
Gary Patterson of course wins the matchup of the headsets against Sonny Dykes, but there’s a curious storyline to this one. Dykes was on staff as an analyst for TCU last season, so he should have intimate knowledge of the personnel and staff there. Will he be able to use that knowledge to make this one a close contest? As good as Patterson is, Dykes might have some tricks up his sleeve.
I will take TCU to win this one, but I will be keeping an eye on both lines of scrimmage for both squads. If either side is dominant in the trenches, this game will be over quickly. I’ll bet that SMU can keep it close long enough for them to cover the 23-point line, but TCU gets a decided victory here.