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Keys to Victory: Secure the Skillet

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TCU and SMU meet again, and this one could be closer than you think.

SMU v TCU Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

I’ll be honest: this was the scariest September game on the schedule in my opinion. SMU isn’t the most talented team the Frogs have played to this point - that was Arkansas. And they aren’t the most important - that was Iowa State, the lone conference opponent to this point. But they are the most dangerous. Because in a series that has meant far more to the folks in Dallas than those in Fort Worth for the past decade plus, the Ponies always bring it. And we have yet to see this version of the Frogs bring it back in 2016.

Sandwiched between the Big 12 opener and the big, bad Oklahoma - and on a Friday night no less - sits a crosstown rivalry featuring two teams and two fanbases that have hated each other for 96 years. There’s so much more at stake for TCU, a team sitting just outside of the top 25, than for the Mustangs - who last sniffed a ranking in 1984 (wait, really? is that right?). And this is often a recipe for disaster in a rivalry game. There’s a long sordid history of the Ponies spoiling solid seasons by TCU, and if we don’t want to see history repeat itself Friday, the Frogs simply need to follow these five keys:

LIVE IN THE MOMENT:

Yes, the Sooners come to town a week later. And yes, the myth of the ‘trap game’ is absolutely real - especially when it comes against a longtime rival that hasn’t been able to consistently hold up their end of the bargain over the last several years. And finally, yes, this game means far more to SMU players and fans than it does to the opposition. When The Battle for the Iron Skillet is your Super Bowl (because it’s the only bowl you’ve played in since 2012), it’s easy to get your side of the field worked up. When you’re already being lambasted for your lack of emotion, just three games into the season, it can spell utter doom. If the Frogs don’t come out ready to play, and like this game still means something, they can very easily lose to a group that is talented as they have been in the past five years and finally has a coach who is worth his salt. Focus on the here and now, and the Frogs should be just fine.

SOMEBODY STOP SUTTON:

He is just SO good. Courtland Sutton is 6’4” and 215 pounds of pure talent on the outside, and he absolutely torched TCU a year ago to the tune of four catches for 115 yards and a score. Through three games this season, he has 13 catches, 336 yards, and four touchdowns - despite the fact he’s being thrown to by a redshirt freshman. For the second straight week, the much maligned TCU secondary will face an elite talent on the outside, and the question will be can they corral this Pony much like they did Iowa State’s Allen Lazard. If they make Ben Hicks made his second and third read, they could end up with their first (and second and third) interception(s) of the season.

With the Ponies only converting on 3-17 red zone touchdown attempts this season, expect Hicks to target Sutton inside the 20 Friday night.

THE DAY THAT SMU HAS A BETTER DEFENSE THAN TCU...

SMU’s defense has been good. No, really.

Through three games, the Mustangs are only surrendering 25 points to their opponents while holding them to 3.8 yards per carry and less than 400 total yards of offense per game. They have forced nine turnovers, held the opposition to a 40% third down conversion rate, and have generally wreaked havoc against lesser opponents. The best team they have played to this point is Baylor, and they had the Bears potent attack flummoxed at home... for a quarter, at least. Justin Lawler leads the D with 4.5 sacks, while Horace Richardson and Jordan Wyatt already have three picks a piece. Not far behind them is Darrion Millines with a pair of INTs and three PBUs. It’s an opportunistic group that could give Kenny Hill fits if the Frogs don’t get off to a quick start - something they have yet to do this season.

GET THE HYPE TRAIN ROLLING/WHO WANTS IT MORE:

The most disheartening thing coming out of Fort Worth is the continued insistence from Gary Patterson that his team seems to lack a little heart.

"We didn't have emotion and we knew what was going to happen...when you don't have emotion - people get hurt," Patterson said. "When you're the nail, not the hammer, you get hurt."

That’s not what you want to hear from your head coach.

Somebody in that locker room needs to light the fire that gets this team amped for a season that is as wide open as any in recent memory. Somebody needs to be the Derrick Kindred or Aaron Green or Josh Doctson - the guy who rallies the troops and ensures they don’t let up, regardless of the score. We know this Chad Morris has instilled in his team a never quit attitude - that’s something we need to see from the Frogs, starting Friday night.

WHO’S YOUR NUMBER ONE?

TCU has been led on offense by a different player in each game. In the season opener against SDSU, it was Taj Williams dominating from the outside. Verses Arkansas, it was the KaVontae Turpin and Kyle Hicks trading off big plays in the passing game. When Iowa State came to town, John Diarse amassed nearly as many catches in that single game as he did across the entire 2015 season.

So the question becomes: who is TCU’s number one receiver, who should it be, and do they even need one?

I do like that Kenny Hill has so many options to spread it around too, and isn’t as dependent as one guy as we saw the last two years. When Doc went out with an injury, the Frog offense stalled mightily. While there is fear that the loss of Turp could have a similar impact, there are still a plethora of playmakers that can pick up the slack in his absence. But I do want to know who Hill trusts in a big spot, or on a third and long, or when the stakes are at their highest. I want to know who is going to be the one we count on when a play has to be made. I think we may find that out tonight in Dallas.