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Keys to Victory: TCU vs. SMU

We take a look at how TCU will earn a victory over SMU this weekend.

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

It’s rivalry week for the TCU Horned Frogs! The SMU Mustangs will travel across the metroplex to what should be a raucous Amon G. Carter Stadium for the 102nd matchup between these two teams. SMU has won 2 of the last 3 matchups, and they’ve all been 1 score games. I expect nothing different from the game this year. I went back and broke down the SMU/Oklahoma game. Let’s dive into it.

SMU Offense

Head coach Rhett Lashlee enters his second year at the helm. Lashlee is an accomplished offensive coach. His scheme is similar to Gus Malzahn. Lashlee was the offensive coordinator for Malzahn in the 1 year they were at Arkansas State, and then the 4 years following that at Auburn. They took Auburn to the 2013 national championship game where they lost to Jameis Winston and Florida State. So if you watched Auburn during that time period, you have an idea of what this offense will look like. It’s also worth noting that Lashlee was Sonny Dykes’ OC at SMU prior to Garrett Riley.

SMU has a new face at quarterback this year - one that fans are excited about. Tanner Mordecai transferred to Wisconsin, so in steps the sophomore Preston Stone. Stone has thrown for 798 yards with 9 touchdowns and 2 interceptions this year. He’s completing about 63% of his passes, and he seems to be getting better each week. The Mustangs have 4 wide receivers with at least 100 yards this season, so they like to spread the ball around. In the run game, LJ Johnson and Jaylan Knighton are splitting the load. Both are former 4-star recruits, coming in from Texas A&M and Miami respectively. There’s plenty of talent to go around on this offense, and the TCU defense will need to continue to perform well to come away with a win this week.

SMU spends most of its time on offense in 11 personnel. They’ll go to 10 personnel in passing situations and employ some 2-back stuff, but 11 personnel is the base. The run game is mostly inside/outside zone with some GY counter mixed in. The backs run HARD, and they look like they want to run someone over on every play. They like to play fast if they get 8+ yards, and they’ll often run the same play if they get big yards on a run. The passing game is built off trickeration and play-action, and they utilize the receivers a lot in the screen game. The goal is to be throwing to wide-open receivers. Finally, this offense isn’t just going to line up and snap the ball every play. There will be lots of motion, some shifts, sugar huddles, and even trick plays (SMU ran 4 trick plays against OU).

The clip below is a great example of what SMU is trying to do in the passing game. Play-action, a great route from the 2 receiver, but Stone misses the throw. And he misses the throw because he doesn’t step into it. Instead, he’s falling to his left. More on that later.

In the next clip, we get another great route from the receiver. This time Stone completes the pass, but if you watch closely he still isn’t stepping into the throw. If he steps up into this throw it’s probably a touchdown.

Last but not least for the offensive clips. As we’ve discussed, Stone doesn’t step into his throws quite often, and it finally comes back to bite him. I’m honestly surprised this didn’t happen sooner.

TCU will need to be disciplined on defense this week. I expect a handful of trick plays. Lashlee will use play-action to put defenders in conflict and help his quarterback make throws. They’ll play fast, so TCU will need to get calls in and get lined up quickly! This is a talented offense that should’ve put up more points against Oklahoma. Stone has only been sacked one time this year. If TCU wants to make life easier, they’ll need to scheme some things up to create pressure. If they can create pressure, Stone will turn the ball over.

*Last note - SMU’s starting right guard got hurt against OU and did not play last week. I do not know if he’s still out (I think he is because it looked like a knee injury) but it’s definitely an area TCU will need to exploit.

SMU Defense

This defense is solid. It’s the best that TCU has seen so far this season, and could end up being one of the best they see all year. The only real knock I have on them is that they aren’t creating turnovers. SMU allowed just 156 yards in their 69-0 victory over Prairie View A&M. They held Oklahoma to 365 yards and 28 points, and Louisiana Tech only had 269 yards and 14 points. This puts the SMU averages at 263 yards allowed and just 14 points allowed per game, ranking 13th and 23rd nationally.

The Mustangs are multiple up front, they’ll give odd and even looks which can create confusion for the offensive line. The defensive line is good. Defensive ends Elijah Roberts and Nelson Paul have combined for 5 sacks already. This unit consistently created pressure, and disrupted the run game, against Oklahoma with a 4-man rush.

In the secondary, the Mustangs are led by a graduate transfer at safety - Jonathan McGill. I love the way he plays, and he’s leading the team in tackles with 15 currently. Kevaris Hall is the better of the 2 cornerbacks, and he checks in at 6-3, 202 pounds. I think outside of those 2, the TCU offense can find ways to exploit this secondary. SMU bases out of cover 3. They really like to keep McGill as a high safety and let him make plays. They also play a lot of man free.

Oklahoma struggled to move the ball for most of the game, but they were able to score on their opening possession. It looks like SMU is playing man in the clip below. When 1 releases vertical and 2 is out, the safety should take 1. He doesn’t, and it’s an easy score for OU. It’s worth noting that OU did not score again until halfway through the second quarter, so that tells me this coaching staff does a good job of adjusting.

The next clip here highlights what Jonathan McGill does all game, and it’s why I love the way he plays. Just take a look at this PBU.

As mentioned earlier, SMU plays a lot of cover 3. One way to mess with cover 3 is using motion. Combining motion with play-action is just filthy. Jeff Lebby drew this one up perfectly. The Sooners did get lucky though...

I have no doubts that TCU will be able to move the ball against this defense, but I don’t expect it to be as easy as last week. This is the most talented defense that TCU has seen this year, and they’re going to force Chandler Morris to make good decisions in the passing game. If TCU can take care of the ball, and avoid silly mistakes, they’ll be able to score plenty.

I expect this to be a good game, which means that special teams will be even more important than usual. I think this is where TCU can steal an advantage and possibly even win. The kicking game becomes crucial when offenses aren’t moving the ball, and SMU had a punt get blocked against OU. I won’t be surprised if TCU tries to block one.