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MMQB Week 4: It’s Always Sonny in Fort Worth

The Frogs brought Iron Skillet back in the 101st meeting between TCU and SMU

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 24 TCU at SMU Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Iron Skillet returned to Fort Worth this weekend after a high-scoring win over the Mustangs in Dallas. The final score was 42-34 as some second-half mistakes made this a closer game than it probably should have been after the Frogs were up 28-7 in the second quarter.

The Good:

The poise of Max Duggan: Duggan made his second start of the season on Saturday and delivered a solid, composed performance despite inconsistent pass protection by the o-line and a second-half comeback by SMU. Duggan finished with 278 yards and 3 touchdowns on the day and had a few nice designed runs as well. His first touchdown of the day stood out as an unblocked blitzing linebacker came through the A gap and Duggan calmly rolled out to his right and delivered a perfect pass to Savion Williams in the end zone. Duggan did a good job keeping the ball out of harm’s way even with consistent pressure making smart decisions with the ball. He has no interceptions so far this season and a turnover-free game this Saturday against OU is key to the Frogs’ chances at a win.

Derius Davis: Derius Davis proved once again just how dangerous he is with the ball in his hands taking a touch pass 80 yards to the house and a few very solid returns. Davis took one kickoff return across midfield for 57 yards and gave the Frogs good field position on the other two times SMU kicked/punted to him. Davis continues to be a sparkplug for the TCU offense providing big plays in almost every game.

Run Defense: In the 2021 edition of the Battle for the Iron Skillet, TCU let up 350 yards on the ground to the Mustangs on an average of 6.7 yards per carry. The run defense in 2021 was not good and was a major area of concern coming into the season for the Frogs as they lost two of their top defensive lineman in Ochaun Mathis and Khari Coleman to the transfer portal. So far in 2022, the run defense has been excellent and Saturday was no different. SMU running back Tre Siggers was held to 60 yards on 19 attempts for 3.2 yards per carry. His longest run of the day was only 13 yards and the SMU offense was largely one-dimensional for most of the game. Nose tackle Damonic Williams continues to impress as a true freshman taking on double teams and holding his ground. Navy transfer Johnny Hodges had a very good game at linebacker with 7 tackles, 2 of which were behind the line of scrimmage. The linebacking corps as a whole has had a very strong start to the season as Jamoi Hodge and Dee Winters are both doing an excellent job in the new system.

Kendre Miller: Kendre Miller is a stud. Miller is averaging 6.6 yards per carry so far this season and torched the SMU defense for 142 yards and a touchdown on just 17 carries. Miller displays tremendous patience and vision as well as good balance to break arm tackles. Jump cuts are Miller’s move of choice when finding a running lane and he has excellent timing with them to get through holes right as they form. Miller has the ability to be a three-down back with solid hands that he flashed on Saturday with a contested catch on the sideline for a first down. Miller had a big game against Oklahoma last year and could be in for another very successful game on the ground as the run defense for OU has not been good this season.

First-half playcalling: A complaint Frog fans have had in seasons past has been the reluctance of the coaching staff to give their quarterbacks rhythm throws early in a game. These easy throws allow the quarterback to gain a bit of confidence and serve a similar purpose as warm-up throws before an inning for a pitcher in baseball. Offensive coordinator, Garrett Riley, did a great job Saturday giving Duggan easy, quick read throws to help him find his rhythm quickly. This led to a very fast start for the offense as they put up 28 points in the first half. Screens and swing passes are essentially an extension of the running game and there were many of these plays run by the Frogs early in the game and early in drives which is a step in the right direction for the coaches putting Duggan and the passing attack in a position to succeed.

Run blocking: The offensive line was dominant in run blocking on Saturday for the Frogs, resetting the line of scrimmage down the field and doing a nice job climbing to the second level. Multiple big runs were made possible by solid second-level blocks along with very good downfield blocking by TCU receivers. Quentin Johnston specifically stood out by making some very nice downfield blocks leading to extra yards for TCU running backs. Johnston did not see as many targets as many TCU fans would’ve liked to see but still had a positive impact on the game with a very high motor for blocking on runs as well as screen passes. Run blocking takes a team effort and Max Duggan even had a nice block on a linebacker after Kendre Miller reversed field leading to a chunk gain. A high effort level by players without the ball is a sign of buy-in and great team chemistry and the Frogs look to have both.

The Bad:

Third quarter: The third quarter represented all the fears Frog fans have about this team coming together to let SMU back in the game after having a 21 point lead at one point. The offensive gameplan for the third quarter needs to be fired into the sun as it reverted back to the playing not to lose, conservative style that has plagued the offense for years. SMU made an adjustment to the quick passes that the Frogs ran often in the first half and the Frogs had no answer on early downs. Early down playcalling consisted almost completely of handoffs and screen or short passes which did not have as much success as it did in the first half. An adjustment needed to be made to get more aggressive on early downs to avoid obvious passing scenarios on third down when the SMU pass rush could solely focus on getting to the quarterback. The Frogs have the athletes at receiver to make this happen. Quentin Johnston, Savion Williams, and Jordan Hudson as bigger receivers for contested catches if not create separation as well as Derius Davis and Taye Barber in the slot with speed to burn. The RPO glance to Quentin Johnston worked multiple times on early downs against Tarleton State and could have been used on early downs again on Saturday.

Pass protection: While the run blocking for the Frogs was excellent on Saturday, the pass protection left a lot to be desired. Leaving A gap defenders unblocked is the cardinal sin of pass protection and it happened multiple times on Saturday. Whether this was a miscommunication between the line and a running back or a failure to recognize a blitz and adjust the protection accordingly, this issue needs to be fixed quickly. Duggan was sacked 5 times on Saturday mostly in obvious passing situations. Staying ahead of the chains with less predictable play calling can help with pass protection as rushers will not be able to sell out to pass rush on 3rd and short.

Referees: Offense is cool. Passing is cool. I understand that the rules in today’s game are geared towards the offense because a high-scoring game will draw in better ratings than a defensive showdown. However. Pass interference inconsistency is not cool. The most effective play for SMU on Saturday was to throw the ball in the direction of Rashee Rice and watch the flags fly. If receivers are going to be physical at the top of their breaks, that’s fine as long as DBs are allowed to play a bit physically as well. That was not the case on Saturday as TCU defenders were penalized for contact on passes that were often well uncatchable. Additionally, Quentin Johnston twice had to fight through contact to try and make a catch on deep balls yet no flag was thrown. Does TCU need to clean up their technique in the secondary to avoid being penalized as much? Definitely. Do the refs have room for improvement? Definitely.

Play of the Game:

Was there really any doubt?

Next Week:

The Sooners of Oklahoma will make the trip down to what should be a packed Amon G. Carter Stadium after losing to Kansas State last week at home. It’s parents’ weekend for the students, the Frogs are undefeated, it could be OU’s last trip to Fort Worth for the foreseeable future, the game is on national television, and it’s Oklahoma. Pack the Carter. Go Frogs.