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Quick Look: SMU Mustangs

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The Ponies are riding high after a miracle win Saturday.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 03 Memphis at SMU
Danny Gray and Reggie Roberson form a lethal 1-2 punch for the SMU Mustangs.
Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Did you see it?

If you didn’t, well, take a moment to see how SMU pulled off a come from behind victory in the “former Oklahoma quarterback bowl”, as Tanner Mordecai got the best of Austin Kendall and the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Saturday in Ruston.

Already undefeated on the young season, the Mustangs roll into Fort Worth Saturday riding high and with all the momentum against a TCU team that’s been stewing for two weeks about how relatively poorly they played in beating Cal.

Should be fun.

This is the 100th meeting of the two programs as they battle for the famed Iron Skillet, and TCU leads the all-time series 51-41 with seven ties, and while the Ponies have beaten the Frogs just three times in the Gary Patterson era, they own the most recent win of the series.

It should be a fun one in Funky Town this weekend.

OFFENSE:

Sonny Dykes has found a winning formula in Dallas: go get Big 12 also-rans at quarterback and turn them into stat machines in Big D.

So far, so good, as former Texas QB Shane Buechele turning losing his job in Austin to some guy named Sam Ehlinger into a prolific career at SMU that ultimately led to him making the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squad.

Now, it’s former Oklahoma QB Tanner Mordecai’s turn; the former four star recruit got stuck behind Jalen Hurts then got beat out by Spencer Rattler, but earned the nod for the Mustangs by beating out highly-touted freshman Preston Stone. He’s been great for Dykes and co so far, completely nearly 73% of his passes, compiling over 1,000 yards through the air and finding the endzone 16 times in just three games so far. Mind you, the competition has been less than stellar, but those numbers pop off the page no matter who you’re playing.

It helps that he has nearly as much talent to target as he did in Norman; Reggie Roberson is a legit NFL talent and former TCU commit Danny Gray has proven to be a perfect compliment. The duo have combined for 30 receptions and five scores already, with Rashee Rice (10 receptions, four touchdowns) turning the duo into a terrifying trio. Add in another former Sooner star, tight end Grant Calcaterra (12 receptions, nearly 200 yards, and three scores), in his triumphant return from what was believed to be a career-ending injury — and a wounded TCU secondary that has proven itself vulnerable to the big play ought to be having nightmares all week long.

And in case you figured “let’s just drop a guy in coverage”, the running game of SMU is no slouch either: the Ponies average nearly 200 yards per game on the ground thanks to the efforts of guys like the amazingly named Ulysses Bentley IV (83 ypg, 7.6 ypc) and Tre Siggers (nearly 50 yards per game).

The TL;DR: The Ponies can score a lot in a lot of different ways, and while they haven’t played an elite defense yet in 2021, well, the Frogs haven’t proven they’re an elite defense yet either.

DEFENSE:

Okay, so SMU hasn’t exactly been known for defense since, well, ever, and Sonny Dykes hasn’t exactly prioritized that side of the ball since arriving on the Hilltop, instead focusing his efforts on attracting elite offensive skill talent and going with the philosophy of “it’s okay if my guy drops 30 points because I’m going to score 40”. It’s worked for the most part: SMU Football is 22-23 since Dykes took over, winning ten games for the first time since 1984 in 2019 but yet to finish higher than third in the AAC. This team is fun to watch, scores a bunch, but can’t win the big game — because they can’t seem to stop anyone when they need to.

So how about the 2021 group?

Well, they seem to be terrible between the twenties, but in a change of pace, lock opponents down in the red zone.

Though the Ponies’ defense allows well over 400 yards per game, opposing offenses are putting less than 20 on the scoreboard on average, so the damage has been minimal. But with opposing QBs averaging over 300 yards through the air and opposing running games racking up nearly 125, the Frogs certainly have some holes to exploit.

Linebacker Gary Wiley has two of the Mustangs’ five total sacks this season, and the leading two tacklers are linebackers as well, with Delano Robinson and Shaine Hailey collecting 21 and 19 respectively. SMU has done a good job of blowing up plays behind the line of scrimmage, collecting 13 TFLs so far this season, and their six interceptions and four forced fumbles are certainly eye-popping.

When you’ve played ACU, UNT, and La Tech, well, it’s hard to make a judgement about how good you are as a football team. And really, the Bulldogs got what they wanted when they wanted for the most part last Saturday, carving up the Ponies through the air with relative ease. But hey, they’re 3-0 and the defense has been good enough to help them get there, and unless we see a different TCU team Saturday, that’s enough to have Frog fans concerned.

PREDICTION:

TCU is home. TCU has owned the Mustangs. TCU is, on paper, more talented — especially on defense.

But man, the Frogs haven’t exactly inspired confidence through the first two games of their season, and with the Texas game looming, looking ahead is certainly to be expected. I do believe that Gary Patterson, who has put a lot of weight in this rivalry recently, will have his team ready to play, but that might not be enough to slow down this potent Ponies’ scoring attack and an offense that far eclipses what Chase Garbers and Cal have talent-wise, and we saw what the Golden Bears did up and down the field the last time TCU took the field.

If you had told me TCU was 3-1 at the end of their first four games, this is the game I would have expected to have fallen on the wrong side of the win column. But hey, I am an unabashed homer, so I going to say the Frogs run their record to 3-0, enter into Texas week ranked in the Top 25, and get to 4-0 when it’s all said and done.

TCU Horned Frogs 41, SMU Mustangs 38. Tre Tomlinson with a pick in the red zone with less than a minute to play to seal the win.