SMU scheduled two big-conference opponents this season. They lost their first matchup when they traveled to Maryland last week, but this game was different. TCU-SMU is a rivalry, partially because the schools are so similarly aristocratic yet occupy sister cities that are generally referenced in the same breath and acronym but would prefer individualistic identification. The annual grudge match felt more personal than ever in its 101st meeting, as Sonny Dykes took the sideline at Ford Stadium wearing the right/wrong color, depending on your allegiance.
There was plenty of Methodist musing that as soon as TCU had set its sights on Dykes, the coach wouldn’t be lured. SMU “ponied” up a lofty salary to retain their former honcho, but Fort Worth was just too attractive. Maybe it was the major-conference presence, the team prestige, or even simpler things like a field that doesn’t balloon when it floods and play clocks that work — only Dykes knows his ultimate motivation. It seemed on Saturday that he pledged allegiance to the correct side of North Texas, but the Pony fanatics showed up in record quantities to try and disgrace the defector.
Little went the way of the Mustang during the opening half. TCU, thanks mostly to running back Kendre Miller (#33), ripped off a five-play 74-yard opening drive for 6. That was one of four first-half touchdowns the Frog offense produced. Max Duggan (#15) was sympatico with his new coaching staff, completing passes with impressive regularity in a system that isn’t asking more than he’s capable of. Duggan’s final stat line is impressive: 22 of 29 passes completed for three scores through the air. Mad Max missed only once during the first half, a deep ball slightly too far toward the boundary for receiver Quentin Johnston (#1) to stamp a foot in bounds.
The ’Stangs reached the end zone for the first time, thanks to a 75-yard drive culminating with a one-yard run on fourth down to thwart an impressive red-zone stand by the Frog defense. SMU mounted a 98-yard drive in the third quarter to bring the game to within one possession, as the TCU offense cooled.
Ultimately, it was Dykes’ rushing attack and superior athletes who decided this game. TCU scored two additional touchdowns after a scoreless third quarter, and those drives featured six runs by Miller, one rush and a pass from Duggan, and three carries by Emari Demercado (#3), including a 63-yarder that sent the home faithful scrambling for the parking lots. SMU scored again after Demercado’s scamper, but the Frogs recovered the onside kick. A strange progression featured a Miller would-have-been touchdown run prematurely whistled dead, before the game ended after an SMU defender hurdled the personal protector for TCU’s punter. The wild and wacky Iron Skillet finished as a shootout, and two interceptions by SMU QB Tanner Mordecai (#8) loomed large as the Ponies surrendered the Skillet.
The Dykes era has begun 3-0 as TCU starts conference play next, hosting Oklahoma on Saturday morning. The Sooners — fresh from another loss against Kansas State — are looking to bounce back, and history says that they will. OU has lost consecutive conference games only once in the last decade, which was in 2020 after losing to Kansas State in Norman — like they did last week — before tripping over Iowa State on the road. During that same span, TCU has won only a single spat against the Sooners, when the crimson and cream fell short at Amon G. Carter. That 8-5 season was uncharacteristic for the school that has been the year-in/year-out team to beat in the Big 12. The Wildcats exposed the land stealers as particularly vulnerable against a quarterback who can run. Duggan came closest to pulling the upset his freshman season when the Frogs lost by four points but hasn’t finished closer than a two-touchdown deficit since.
If TCU is going to make a game against OU’s higher-powered offense, they’ll need to stymie the scoring pace by controlling the clock with the running game. Max needs to continue to be effective enough while avoiding turnovers. Defensively, there were stretches of the Iron Skillet matchup that gave purple fans pause. Rashee Rice (#11) is an NFL-caliber receiver, and the Frog secondary either surrendered chunk receptions or were pelted with yellow laundry trying to cover him. The pass rush against Mordecai was also pedestrian, as he wasn’t pressured in the pocket often, despite making mistakes that might suggest he had been. The Sooners feature a more complete overall receiver unit, though they might not have a single go-daddy to focus on like the Mustangs did. TCU is capable of beating their I-35 foes, but they’ll need a clean game with a few favorable bounces from the football gods to avoid the wrath of a Sooner squad who can’t wait to escape to the SEC so they never have to play Kansas State again.