TCU looks to stay undefeated as the Horned Frogs host in-state rival SMU
The TCU Horned Frogs are coming off of a great 28-7 win over SEC opponent Arkansas last week in Fayetteville. But while last week was all about stopping the Razorbacks' running attack, this week is about trying to slow down SMU's high-octane passing offense. The Mustangs are off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 2009 as head coach Chad Morris’ profile continues to rise nationally. This is the 97th edition of “The Battle of the Iron Skillet,” with TCU leading the series 49-40-7, including winning nine of the last 10.
SMU at TCU
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: TCU -19
Three Things to Watch
1. SMU passing attack vs. TCU secondary
The Mustangs are off to a 2-0 start, averaging 56 points per game in wins over FCS member Stephen F. Austin and Conference USA's North Texas. The 112 points scored through the first two games are the most in school history to open the season, and this marks the first time since 1928 that the Mustangs have scored 50 points in consecutive games.
Meantime, while it’s still incredibly early, TCU’s defense is off to a tremendous start, allowing 3.5 points per game and 166 total yards per game. Something has to give.
SMU quarterback Ben Hicks is coming off an Honorable Mention Freshman All-America season and has picked up right where he left off. His favorite target remains Courtland Sutton, who was a preseason All-AAC pick by several outlets and is living up to the hype so far. He already has 10 catches for 185 yards and five touchdowns over the two-game span and was named the AAC Offensive Player of the Week after his four-touchdown performance last week against North Texas. But TCU has plenty of experience in the secondary, led by Ranthony Texada, Nick Orr and Niko Small.
2. Kenny Hill’s improvement
Hill managed the game well enough last week and rode his running game to a victory, completing 68 percent of his passes for 166 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and 35 rushing yards. Hopefully he doesn’t revert back to “Kenny Trill” this week, because SMU could make him pay. SMU had 18 interceptions last season, which tied for ninth in the FBS, and finished tied for 18th in the country in takeaways with 26 (including eight fumble recoveries).
Hill may never live up to the hype from early in his Texas A&M days, but this TCU team can still be very good this season if he doesn’t make the “big mistake” that’s hampered him throughout his career.
SMU has some talent on defense in end Justin Lawler, who finished fifth in the AAC in tackles for a loss last season, and the secondary welcomes back Jordan Wyatt and Rodney Clemons, but it’s the linebacker group that remains suspect. It’s still a bend-but-don’t-break defense, and Hill will have opportunities to expose it.
3. TCU’s running game
The Mustangs are one of 11 FBS teams (and the only team in the American Athletic Conference) not to allow more than 75 rushing yards in a game. Early, yes, but give credit where it’s due. That being said, they haven’t seen anything close to this TCU three-headed monster of Kyle Hicks, Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua. Anderson leads the team so far in rushing with 173 yards, including a huge 106-yard game against Arkansas.
As previously mentioned, Lawler is the leader on the defensive line, but the Mustangs are going to need to stack the box to try and slow down this running attack. TCU head coach Gary Patterson has clearly put more of a focus on becoming a run-first team this season, which he expressed frustrations with towards the end of last season.
The Horned Frogs are back. After a subpar 2016 when the program went 6-7, TCU is loaded with seniors and looks like a much more focused and disciplined group than the one from a season ago.
Even though it’s a rivalry game, this could be a trap game for TCU. It’s after a road game against an SEC opponent and a week before the Frogs play in Stillwater against highly ranked Oklahoma State. On the flip side, this is one of the biggest games on SMU’s schedule and is another game for Chad Morris to raise his coaching stock (i.e., Tom Herman at Houston vs. Oklahoma, Louisville, etc.). These games and potential upsets are how Group of 5 coaches get their big-time Power 5 jobs.
That being said, this TCU team is too good and will overwhelm a suspect defense. Also, the TCU secondary will be the best Mustangs QB Ben Hicks has seen all season long, and he’ll get no help from his running game as the Horned Frogs' run defense is stout. TCU will pull away at home to claim the Iron Skillet once again.
Prediction: TCU 38, SMU 21
— Written by Pete Mundo, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network as well as owner and operator of HeartlandCollegeSports.com, a site for Big 12 fans. Mundo also is a sports anchor at CBS Sports Radio and can found on Twitter @PeteMundo. Follow Heartland College Sports on Twitter @Heartland_CS.
(Courtland Sutton photo courtesy of SMU Athletics)