For those of us who watched TCU fail against the Ponies during the 100th Battle for the Iron Skillet Saturday, I have worse news. That’s 3.5 hours of your life you’re never going to get back. These are the first consecutive losses to Shhmooo since “Baby Got Back” came out. Since writing about the Horned Frogs, I’ve become especially adept at divorcing myself from emotional responses to Patterson’s squad playing like garbage, but even I was especially pissy after this loss. TCU-SMU is a rivalry, and despite Mickey Mouse’s best efforts, college football is still first and foremost a regional game of proximity prowess. TCU was simply dominated physically during this game. After Cal, it was clear that the defense of Fort Worth wasn’t of its typical pedigree. After Saturday, it’s time to upgrade the alarm status to DEFCON 4 and put our collective fingers on the full-release button. There’s plenty to dissect after any loss to SMU, so we’ll start with the obvious: defense.
Six touchdowns aren’t typically scored at Amon G. Cater by a group-of-five squad. Injuries along the defensive line and secondary demanded new faces attempt to fill the void, but the overall effort from the defensive line just seemed half-assed. I predicted that Sonny Dykes’ offense would be troublesome for the purple secondary, but the Pony running attack won best in show. SMU gained 350 yards on the turf from 52 carries. Two Dallas running backs eclipsed 100 yards along with their bruising fullback-style back gaining more than 50. A Patterson defense hadn’t allowed that many on the ground since the 2019 matchup against Oklahoma when the Sooners pounded the ball 64 times with current Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts shouldering the majority of them. It’s safe to say the TCU front needs marked improvement.
The purple secondary, despite many opinionists maligning them, was acceptable against a talented quarterback in Tanner Mordecai (#8) behind his veteran-laden offensive line. TCU’s ball hawks picked off Mordecai three times, and he’d been picked only twice on the season. The SMU slinger finished with 245 yards on 17 completions and four touchdowns, which isn’t world beating but plenty when complemented by their rushing statistics. Other than a blown coverage touchdown, the secondary functioned well enough, considering their big boys were ground to a pulp in the trenches.
Offensively, Doug Meacham’s unit seemed like they performed well, but there are layers to this failure onion. Fans are experiencing a box-score bait and switch. I will concede scoring 34 points, in many cases, should be enough to win. However, against an average, at best, SMU defense, Max Duggan (#15) could and should have scored 60 points or more. Duggan, for all of his great qualities, doesn’t throw a catchable deep ball. Mad Max and 6-4 receiver Quinton Johnston (#1) can’t seem to sync up. Johnston worked himself behind herds of Ponies all day only to be overthrown time and time again. Both teams went punch for punch in the first half, the only obvious slipup coming from the Frogs failing to convert a mid-field interception into points after Griffin Kell (#39) missed a 38-yard field goal. SMU even paid for their aggressiveness at the end of the half when Mordecai was picked in the end zone as time expired when Dykes could have easily kicked the conservative three.
Halftime, where longtime fans rely on magic to happen via adjustments by Patterson, the brilliant defensive technician, was followed up by absolute disaster when Pony defenders sack-stripped Duggan at the 3-yard line on the first play from scrimmage. The ensuing touchdown created a nine-point lead but also a sense of impending doom for Fort Worth faithful. Dykes’ offense continued to gallop while Duggan and company floated on their lily pads collecting field goals. There were two demonstrative failures in the half, other than the fumble. A stuffed fourth-and-one turnover on downs was bad, and a three-and-out after Frog defenders intercepted Mordecai a third time was worse. Duggan and company needed 16 yards for a touchdown. The result? A field goal.
Football purists are going to disagree with me, but the majority of the blame for this loss falls with TCU’s offense. They botched the most opportunities to convert game-changing plays. The defense, while brittle and occasionally hapless, was playing against a good unit. SMU and Dykes put all their horses on offense, while the defense is a C+ at best. The talent on Meacham’s side should have been the difference when their teammates were struggling against the running game. This rivalry is still very much hot, so maybe we should remind the Horned Frogs next year that they should still care about this game. Even worse, legend says that when the Ponies possess the Iron Skillet, the ghost of Craig James’ victims will haunt the streets of Fort Worth on Halloween.
The Longhorns are driving in for TCU’s fourth-consecutive home game. Bevo is fresh from a 70-35 win over Tech, and I expect Patterson to have his team mentally ready to compete better than last week, despite Texas being a superior team to SMU. Sadly, the Longhorns seem ready to prove naysayers wrong this season as they pack up their Winnebago for SEC country. Horned Frogs are no longer flying under the radar for UT. The Ausinites have been told all too often how many wins TCU has since the two reunited as conferencemates: It’s seven out of nine in case anyone forgot. Expect a spirited effort on Saturday from Patterson’s players, but ultimately a loss because of an offense that can’t consistently convert plays when they matter.