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TCU vs SMU Football Preview: Taming the ‘Stangs

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The Mustangs’ defensive is much improved, but injuries on offense will make it tough for them to pull the upset.

SMU v TCU
The 2015 Frogs holding the Iron Skillet after defeating SMU in Fort Worth.
Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

It’s unusual lately that TCU and SMU both have a winning record by the time they meet up for their annual preseason showdown. The last time that happened was was 2011, when TCU was still playing in the Mountain West Conference. That year it was two 3-1 teams facing off. This year, both teams are 2-1.

That 2011 season was also the last time that SMU beat TCU, a 40-33 overtime victory for the Ponies in Fort Worth. In fact, in the last 16 years SMU has only beaten TCU twice. The other win was a 21-10 upset by SMU in Dallas back in 2005.

While TCU has been dominating the rivalry over the past decade and a half, things have historically been more balanced. The overall series record is 48-40-7 in favor of TCU, and from 1972-1986 SMU recorded 15 straight victories over the Frogs. So, while the rivalry may not burn as hot as it used to, those of us from the modern era who remember the 2011 and 2005 losses, not to mention the TCU alums from the 70s and 80s, still revel in the idea of dominating the Mustangs.

Offensive Preview

SMU was set up for a breakthrough year offensively, with senior quarterback Matt Davis finally being surrounded by experienced skill players who know how to run coach Chad Morris’ system. That worked out well in a 34-21 victory over North Texas to start the season, but it was a costly win, as the Mustangs lost Davis to a season-ending knee injury.

Redshirt freshman Ben Hicks, a four-star recruit out of high school and Morris’ first recruit as head coach, took over the reigns and all of a sudden the offense is a bit on the young side again. Hicks has shown signs that he can get the job done, throwing for a combined 470 yards in the last two games. But he has just two touchdowns to five interceptions during that time, with four of those interceptions coming in the red zone.

Sophomore wide receiver Courtland Sutton has continued to play like a stud at 6’4”, 215 lbs. He has 13 catches so far this season for 336 yards and four touchdowns. He also led the Mustangs against TCU last year, with four catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. Hicks has also shown the ability to spread the ball around to other contributors like James Proche and Xavier Castille, who have combined for 25 catches and 250 yards this year as well.

The Mustangs also have plenty of options in the running game. Xavier Jones got off to a hot start, rushing for 115 yards on 11 carries with a touchdown in the opener against North Texas. He has been sidelined with a hamstring injury since that game, but could be back for this week’s matchup with TCU. Braeden West has led the way in Jones’ absence, rushing for 332 yards and scoring two touchdowns while averaging 6.4 yards per carry. Ke’Mon Freeman is another weapon, a freshman bruiser who used his 200+ lbs frame to put together 81 yards on 19 carries against Baylor.

Defensive Preview

SMU’s defense as a whole has been vastly improved over last year. It’s not a great sign that two of their top tacklers, Darrion Millines and Jordan Wyatt, are defensive backs, but those two have also combined for five interceptions, four pass breakups and a forced fumble through three games this year. The defense, and primarily the secondary has been a turnover machine, with a total of nine interceptions and one fumble recovery. That’s what you expect to see from TCU’s defense in non-conference, and it’s really impressive.

Justin Lawler, a 6’4”, 262 lbs junior defensive end, leads the defensive front seven with 18 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and two quarterback hurries. Behind him are linebackers Kyran Mitchell (So) and Anthony Rhone (Jr), who have combined for 30 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one pass breakup and one quarterback hurry.

On the year the Mustangs have held opponents to 25 points per game, significantly better than TCU’s 34 points allowed per game. In terms of total yards they are giving up an average of 403 per game. Still, most of that was against North Texas and Liberty. Against Baylor, the only power 5 team they have played, they game up 536 total yards, including 275 on the ground.

Score Prediction

This SMU team is better than you think, but still not good enough to beat the Frogs. Assuming, of course, that TCU plays up to their ability. Rivalry games are always a wild card, and while TCU’s football team has been consistently more talented than the Ponies during the Patterson era, we’ve still lost a couple of times.

I don’t see that happening this time though. Ben Hicks isn’t the threat in the running game that Davis was, and TCU is pretty good at stopping the run when they don’t have to deal with a running quarterback. If TCU’s secondary can blanket Sutton and shut him down the same way they did Lazard last week, they should be able to control the game. The offense shouldn’t be a problem. I just hope they can find a way to get rolling in the first quarter this week.

Score: TCU 48, SMU 23