College football isn’t exactly something that comes to mind when you here the words “Friday night lights.” Nonetheless, the TCU Horned Frogs will be in for a change of scenery this week, as they are set to take on the SMU Mustangs Friday evening in Dallas – the first road game for the Frogs in 2016.
While it’s easy to call the Frogs a lock for this game considering the Big 12 vs American Conference mismatch that this matchup has presented since 2012, it will be the first time since 2011 that Gary Patterson and the Horned Frogs (2-1) take on a Mustang squad with a winning record (2-1) having defeated North Texas and Liberty while falling to Baylor.
Now, one team will improve to 3-1 while the other falls back to .500 in this year’s annual Battle of the Iron Skillet. Here’s what to watch for as this historic rivalry plays out at Gerald J. Ford Stadium.
A rivalry that dates back to 1915, the Horned Frogs and Mustangs have met 95 times leading up to this game, with the TCU holding a 48-40-7 lead all-time over SMU. To build on the positives, the Frogs have won four straight against the Mustangs and have also prevailed the last the last four times the game has been played in Dallas. In 2014, the Frogs dominated with a 56-0 shutout win at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. The most recent time SMU prevailed over TCU was in a 40-33 overtime stunner in Fort Worth in 2011.
Throw out all of those past stats though. SMU has shown great improvement since hiring head coach Chad Morris following a one win 2014 season. Last season they were five points short of mounting a 25 point comeback on the Frogs in Fort Worth, and just two weeks ago they were able to hang in with No. 16 Baylor before letting the game get away from them in the second half.
For the Frogs, this will be first time since 2012 that TCU has taken on SMU without Trevone Boykin at quarterback, and it will be interesting to see how Kenny Hill plays as he steps onto SMU’s home turf for the first time in his college-career. SMU however is also having to answer many questions at the position of quarterback, having lost starter Matt Davis for the season to a knee injury two weeks ago. The quarterback duties now lie in the hands of redshirt freshman Ben Hicks, who has thrown for 583 yards and two touchdowns this season.
While Hicks is still a novice by his standards, the Frogs will have to be on the lookout for stand out wide receiver Courtland Sutton. The sophomore has been named to the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award and leads the nation with his average of 25.8 yards per catch. On the other side, SMU’s defense has also shined three games in, tied with Ohio State and Cincinnati for an FBS best nine interceptions on the season.
What a win means for TCU:
We’ve said this more times than we would have liked to entering week four, but a large margin of victory for the Frogs in this one will finally give TCU the respect from those who have criticized the Frogs if not having already written them off since the loss to Arkansas. TCU has been unranked the past two weeks, and a win that is reminiscent of 2014 could put the Frogs back in the top 25, even if just barely. Such a victory without the presence of sophomore wide-receiver KaVontae Turpin will also be of some reassurance to TCU heading into a tough one against a rested Oklahoma team, granted the Sooners are in a nightmare situation with a 1-2 start to the season. If the Frogs don’t win by at least 21 points in this one, the skepticism that has been around this team the past few weeks will only carry over in to week five.
What a win means for SMU:
An upset win for SMU Friday night would do more than just give the Mustangs their best start since 2011. It would be a signature win for Chad Morris in only his second year with the program, and SMU football might slowly but surely become relevant again if they are able to keep up their winning should they prevail in this one. I’m not saying that the Mustangs will automatically be talking about heading to a Power-5 conference. The first step to that would be winning the American Conference title, which would entail defeating No. 6 Houston. Nonetheless, a win under the lights Friday night would be a serious boost to a program that has suffered tremendously the past 30 years.
TCU players to watch on offense and defense:
Taj Williams – WR) – With KaVontae Turpin out for this contest (and for the foreseable future) expect Williams to be one of Kenny Hill’s favorite targets Friday night. The Juco transfer leads all active TCU wide receivers with 184 receiving yards and two touchdowns on the season, and Williams as shown some serious agility outside of his quiet performance against Arkansas in week two. Williams’ 14 receptions on the season trails only Kyle Hick’s 15 catches among all active TCU players this season.
Ty Summers – LB) – Summers has been one of the biggest playmakers on defense for the Frogs three weeks into the season, leading the Big 12 in tackles with 26 thus far. Last weekend he totaled 16 against Iowa State, and 10 against Arkansas in week two. With his experience combined with the inexperience of SMU quarterback Ben Hicks, expect Summers and the rest of the TCU defense the pour the pressure onto the Mustangs’ offense.
Quote to Note: “Everyone competes. We all try to better each other, learn from mistakes, and build from that. All of us have good chemistry and we work hard.” – TCU wide receiver Emanuel Porter.
Reasons for concern:
We hate to talk about the TCU injury bug, but it looks like it may be making a comeback. TCU will be forced to replace their top wide receiver and kick returner KaVontae Turpin after he left last Saturday’s game with an apparent knee injury, and Turpin isn’t alone. Defensive end Josh Carraway also limped off the field in the second half last Saturday and did not return, though it was not serious enough of an injury to rule him out for Friday night’s game. Patterson said that a “lack of emotion” was partially to blame for players getting hurt, and if the Frogs don’t play with more emotion this week against the Mustangs, you’d have to be concerned about more playmakers getting banged up at a very inopportune time. Quite frankly, TCU cannot afford that as it enters a make or break contest against Oklahoma next week.
Dean Straka’s prediction:
This is the best SMU team that TCU has seen in five years, without a doubt. Players like Courtland Sutton are not ones to take lightly, and of course this is the first time in 2016 that we see how the Frogs handle playing away from the friendly confines of Amon G. Carter Stadium. SMU has certainly proven that it can hang with the big boys as they did for one half at Baylor two weeks ago, but TCU will benefit greatly in this one from the absence of starting quarterback Matt Davis. Ben Hicks has not necessarily been bad, but the competition in the American Conference (Houston aside) is nothing like what you see against Power 5 programs. For that reason, I expect TCU to take full advantage of Hicks, recording at least one defensive score on the night. SMU will probably get one too with their defense on the roll that it is, but the Frogs will overpower the Mustangs by a few scores for their fourth straight win in Dallas.
TCU 42, SMU 21