TCU has gotten off to uncharacteristic starts in their last two games against Louisiana-Monroe and Portland State, trailing each matchup after the first quarter. The Horned Frogs would go on to win both games by large margins, of course, but a slow start against SMU Saturday might not be as easy to overcome.
In their last three games, the Mustangs have started off fast, scoring a combined total of 75 points in the first half of those games. Quarterback J.J. McDermott is getting more comfortable running June Jones' offense and he's getting into a groove, completing 59.7 percent of his passes and averaging 283.3 yards a game.
Last weekend against Memphis, McDermott threw three touchdown passes, the longest a 44-yarder to Der'rikk Thompson.
"J.J. has done a lot of good things," Jones said. "He's getting closer."
McDermott, who was thrown into the Texas A&M game in a whirlwind first quarter after having never started for SMU, has steadily been gaining more confidence through the first third of the season.
"I'm coming along pretty good," he said. "We keep improving, so that's a good thing. From week to week the offense's numbers have gone up. The goal is always to be a better team the following week than we were the previous week.
"I didn't play my best at A&M and I don't think I've played my best up to this point, honestly."
Against TCU, he'll have to be the best he's been all year. And he'll have to do it without starting slot receiver Cole Beasley, who is out with a knee injury.
"You just have to try and be as confident as possible," McDermott said. "All the guys are looking at you to be confident in what we're doing. I feel good about getting the ball in the end zone and conveying that is the best thing I can do."
The last time SMU beat TCU for the Iron Skillet was in 2005. That was also the last time the Mustangs beat a ranked team.
Also unfavorable to SMU is the fact that the results of the past four years have been in TCU's favor—The Frogs won 41-24 victory last year, 39-14 in 2009, 48-7 in 2008 and 21-7 in 2007.
"We've gotten better over the years but TCU has kind of beaten down on us," McDermott said. "I think we've got a good shot this year. We're gonna go there and try to make something happen."
There's no question the Frogs aren't as good as last year's team that went 13-0 and won the Rose Bowl, but they're still big, fast and will take advantage of teams who make stupid mistakes.
"Just on film they don't look any different to me than they did 10 years ago," Jones said. "They just keep putting people in, doing what they do and that's why they're good.
"They don't change what they do; they stay and make people adjust to them. They might do one thing new for you a game, but they're going to do what they do and they're going to beat you. That's their attitude."
Every day after practice this week, the Mustangs would end up in a huddle and yell, "BEAT TCU!" It's the first time all season the team has done something like that.
"A win would be a great present for the fans," safety Chris Banjo said. "They've been great at sticking by us all this time."
SMU's keys to the game:
-The Mustangs' defense is currently ranked No. 10 in the country, holding opponents to an average of 257.3 yards per game. TCU quarterback Casey Pachall isn't as developed as Andy Dalton, but he has a lot of confidence and good receivers who can make plays in tight coverage, get downfield and run good routes. SMU needs to force turnovers. They're minus-eight in turnover margin and must play fast and cause TCU's offense to make mistakes.
-The defense will also have to watch for Frogs wide receiver Josh Boyce, who is averaging 100 ypg and has connected with Pachall for three touchdowns so far this season.
-Though McDermott won't have Beasley as a safety blanket to get downfield, he will have Darius Johnson out wide and will probably look to him most of the game. He'll also need to get comfortable with Der'rikk Thompson and Jeremy Johnson. TCU's secondary is ranked 86th in the nation, allowing teams 247.3 passing yards per game. McDermott must exploit that weakness.
-TCU's rush defense is allowing 150 yards per game, so Zach Line shouldn't have a problem getting his 100-yard-plus game in.
Prediction: SMU 27, TCU 24
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