Fort Worth, TX (Sports Network) - The Battle for the Iron Skillet rages on this weekend as 11th-ranked TCU hosts the SMU Mustangs as part of the DFW Duel at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.
"It's a big weekend for us, playing at home against our cross-town rival," says TCU head coach Gary Patterson. "We have an opportunity to do some of the things we need to do before heading into conference play."
The Horned Frogs are off to a quick 3-0 start and have won five straight outings dating back to last season. In addition to blowing out an overmatched Texas State program in the middle of September by 35 points, TCU has also toppled a pair of ACC foes in Virginia (30-14) and Clemson (14-10). The conference play of which coach Patterson speaks begins a week from this Saturday when the team goes up against Air Force on the road in the Mountain West Conference opener.
As for the Mustangs, all three of their games have been decided by eight points or less, with the most recent decision being a 30-27 overtime loss to Washington State on the road back on September 19th.
In terms of the all-time series between these two programs, the Frogs are ahead by a count of 42-39-7, dating back to a 43-0 thumping of the Mustangs in 1915. Aside from 1987 and 1988 when the Ponies did not field a team, 2006 stands as the only year since 1925 that these two rivals have not faced each other.
Coach Patterson stands at 6-1 all-time against SMU and defeated current Mustangs' head coach June Jones when the latter was the head man at Hawaii as well. Last season, the Horned Frogs posted a convincing 48-7 win in the fourth game of the season against SMU.
The Mustangs have been watching from the sidelines since their narrow defeat at Washington State in Pullman two weeks ago. In that contest the Ponies generated 504 yards of total offense, compared to just 276 for the home team. Coach Jones is again relying heavily on the passing attack and had his quarterback B.L. Mitchell letting loose with 57 attempts, of which he converted 40 for 424 yards and a pair of touchdowns. However, Mitchell also issued four interceptions, so it didn't matter that Emmanuel Sanders caught 18 balls for 178 yards and was named the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week.
"It was a normal day at the office for him, he just shows up and makes plays," is how coach Jones described the efforts of Sanders after his standout performance.
While SMU was limiting the Cougars to a mere 3-of-15 on third down, that effort was still not enough to overcome two picks that WSU returned for touchdowns along the way. However, in spite of those turnovers the Mustangs are still on the positive side when it comes to turnover margin, showing a plus-1.0 per game, which has them second in the conference and tied for 18th nationally heading into action this week.
"I was proud of how the guys played on defense and the offense did not quit we just made some mistakes that we just wish we had not made," said coach Jones after the loss to Washington State.
Nevertheless, pass defense is still a concern for the squad because it has given up 285.3 ypg through the air and that sort of production by the opposition is what has led to 28.7 ppg scored by those teams against SMU in three outings.
As he did at Hawaii, coach Jones is installing an offense that passes first and asks questions later. Mitchell, who has converted 61.1 percent of his throws for six touchdowns and 326.3 ypg, is one of the leaders in the league in total offense, but now with eight INTs it is his decision making that has come into question. Take running back Shawnbrey McNeal out of the mix with his 308 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and the Mustangs wouldn't have a rushing attack to speak of right now.
"The Clemson game gave us a lot of confidence, especially defensively," remarked coach Patterson recently. "If you look at the rain, the fact they have a great record when playing at home, the environment and also the kinds of players they have, it can be intimidating. I've very proud with the way our kids kept fighting."
Against the Tigers, TCU surrendered just 309 yards of total offense, held the hosts without a first down when Clemson tried on three occasions to make it happen on fourth down, and also limited the Tigers to 2-of-4 on red zone scoring opportunities. If not for C.J. Spiller and his 112 yards and one touchdown on the ground, it would have been another typical defensive effort by the Horned Frogs.
On the offensive side of the ball, the story was Andy Dalton who had touchdown throws to both Curtis Clay and Antoine Hicks, converted 17-of-26 passes for 226 yards and also led the team with 86 yards rushing on 19 attempts. For his efforts, Dalton was named the MWC Co-Offensive Player of the Week.
Except for the blowout win over Texas State, the offense for the Frogs has been somewhat average thus far, although the squad's 217 ypg on the ground has them lining up behind only Air Force in the Mountain West and currently has them 15th in the nation in that department.
The offense has actually taken a little time to warm up this season, generating a combined 14 points in the first quarter and just 17 points in the third period. But other than that the Horned Frogs have been taking care of business, especially Dalton who has completed 70.4 percent of his pass attempts for 208.3 ypg and has four TDs to just a single INT. Dalton is second in rushing behind Joseph Turner (220 yards, four TDs) with his 142 yards on 35 carries.
The pressure at the line of scrimmage generated by the TCU defense has resulted in 3.67 sacks per game (first in the MWC, eighth nationally) and a mere 68 ypg on the ground, which is seventh in the country right now. Jerry Hughes has lived up to his billing thus far with a team-best 4.5 sacks and 5.5 TFLs overall on just 18 stops and he expects to get even better with conference play just around the corner.
09/30 10:54:35 ET