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“[Insert Rashee Rice comments here]”: A Q&A with Joseph Hoyt of the Dallas Morning News

How much does this one mean for SMU? We talk to the man that made sure we all knew the answer.

Audience with the Enemy Melissa Triebwasser

Suddenly, it seems Saturday’s Battle for the Iron Skillet has a little more heat, than usual, as the two fanbases have traded barbs over social media all week leading up to the 100th matchup between these two teams.

Well, some of that heat can be attributed to a quote from Mustangs’ receiver Rashee Rice, one that was shared on twitter by this week’s Q&A guest. ICYMI:

Joe Hoyt, who is not *just* some hack from the DMN was kind enough to talk Skillet with us this week. Thanks to Joe, and support local journalism — even when it’s a Dallas paper ;).

Frogs O’ War: The Big 12 once again announced its intentions to expand, and — once again — SMU was left on the outside looking in. How do those around the football program feel about being passed over once again and do you think choosing Houston over SMU was the right choice for the conference?

Joe Hoyt: I think there was an overall feeling of disappointment regarding the latest Big 12 Conference expansion. Remember, SMU pitched to join the conference years ago, but the Big 12 elected not to expand at that time. Being told “maybe one day” only to see that day come and it not work out has to hurt. In our stories we’ve outlined why Houston to the Big 12 ultimately made some sense, especially when it comes to number of alumni and fan attendance, but whether it was the right decision remains to be seen.

Frogs O’ War: Shane Buechele elevated the program during his tenure, but Tanner Mordecai might be an even better fit for Sonny Dykes’ offense. What are the early returns on the former Sooner and how he’s fitting in in Dallas?

Joe Hoyt: Let’s start with the obvious: Tanner Mordecai’s numbers are exceptional. He leads the nation in touchdown passes with 16 and he’s the first SMU quarterback since Garrett Gilbert in 2013 to throw for more than 300 yards in each of his first three starts for the Mustangs. Going from Lincoln Riley’s offense to Garrett Riley’s offense proved to be an effective transition, highlighted by a school record seven touchdowns in Week 1. Against North Texas, though, Mordecai experienced some growing pains and the Mustangs offense struggled, aside from a handful of big plays. He was very impressive against Louisiana Tech, though, and his progression is exciting to SMU fans.

Frogs O’ War: Reggie Roberson absolutely torched the Frogs the last time these two teams played, gaining 120+ yards on just four receptions. He was off to a slow start in 2021, but made quite possibly the play of the young season in catching a deflected Hail Mary to send the Ponies to 3-0 last week. How has Roberson’s role evolved this season, and what can the momentum of a play like that do for him and the Mustangs as a whole?

Joe Hoyt: Roberson still has a brace on his knee after his second season-ending injury of his college career, placing him on an early snap count to start the season. That Hail Mary, while magical, was his first touchdown catch of the season. He’s still working back to full health, but when he gets there, he’s shown he can be one of the best receivers in the country. I’d bet he doesn’t get there against TCU, though.

Frogs O’ War: Danny Gray, a one time TCU commit, has been unbelievable this season, turning one in every four receptions into a touchdown. What are his strengths as a receiver and how much damage can he, along with Roberson, due to a Frogs’ secondary that got torched by Cal?

Joe Hoyt: TCU head coach Gary Patterson was very complimentary of the SMU receiving corps – for good reason. The Mustangs have a ton of weapons, and Gray is surely the fastest. He’s explosive in the open field and dangerous when he gets the ball in his hands. He’s dealt with a handful of drops to start the season, though, which is something he needs to correct, but there’s a reason he’s a NFL prospect. Getting pressure on Mordecai should help that TCU secondary, if the Horned Frogs can make that happen.

Frogs O’ War: If there is something that has held the Ponies back the last few seasons, it’s the defense; the 2021 edition is allowing a ton of yards to opposing offenses but less than 20 points per game. Is this a bend, don’t break philosophy? Is this a unit that can play at a high level as the competition steps up?

Joe Hoyt: In the first two games it was definitely a bend, but don’t break defense. Louisiana Tech, however, broke the SMU defense more time than the Mustangs would like. Tackling in particular was a big issue, but aside from that SMU’s defense looks like it’s taking strides under new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. Pressure, aside from Nelson Paul’s emergence last week, has also been hard to come by. If SMU can’t get pressure and struggles with its open-field tackling, it could be a long day against Zach Evans and Co.

Frogs O’ War: This is the 100th meeting of the Battle for the Iron Skillet, a rivalry that has at times felt immensely important and completely irrelevant. These days trends toward the former, as the programs have battled for recruits, Sonny Dykes has spent time on the staff at TCU, and frankly, SMU has just gotten a lot better. What is the feeling around the SMU program when it comes to the rivalry in general and this year’s game especially?

Joe Hoyt: [Insert Rashee Rice comments here] lol. But seriously, this is a big game for SMU, especially in light of how realignment has played out and will continue to play out. Sonny Dykes often talks about building credibility and this might be SMU’s biggest chance to do it.

Frogs O’ War: Outside of the big names, who are a couple players on offense and defense that TCU fans should be keeping an eye out for on the SMU roster?

Joe Hoyt: On offense, keep an eye on tight end Nolan Matthews-Harris. The former Frisco Reedy tight end transferred from Arizona State and is a part of SMU’s three-man rotation with Oklahoma Transfer Grant Calcaterra and former Cornell tight end Tommy McIntyre. Defensively, I already said one – Paul went from not paying against North Texas to being a Pro Football Focus first-team edge rusher last week. The one caveat though: he left last week’s game late and looked a little knicked up. If he can go, he could add that pass rush SMU needs.

Frogs O’ War: What’s your prediction for the final score and how do we get there?

Frogs O’ War: TCU 35, SMU 32. This is a big game for SMU and I think they’ll hold nothing back, including a successful two-point conversion to make it a three-point deficit late. I think the x-factor in this will be Zach Evans. He could have a huge day, and if he does, SMU could be in trouble.

Thanks to Joe for his time and insight. You can give him a follow on twitter: @JoeJHoyt