Overtime. 4th & 2 at the SMU 17 yard line. The Mustangs lead 40-33. TCU quarterback Casey Pachall sets himself in the backfield alone, three receivers to his right, two to his left. The snap is high. TCU wide out Brandon Carter runs a five yard hook route near the right sideline. Pachall lets it fly. The ball grazes the fingers of SMU defensive end Taylor Thompson and bounces off the chest of Carter. The ball hits the turf. Ballgame.
On that day, the Mustangs smashed the 20th ranked Horned Frogs’ streak of 22 consecutive home victories. It was SMU’s first Iron Skillet win in six seasons and only the second time the Mustangs had defeated a ranked team in the post-“Death Penalty” era.
It was also the last time SMU defeated a ranked team. It was six years ago.
Since that game in October 2011, SMU and TCU’s football programs have headed in opposite directions.
TCU would win its fifth conference title under head coach Gary Patterson in 2011, good enough for the Big XII to come knocking when the conference expanded the following year. The program would experience growing pains in the coming seasons, but the Horned Frogs returned to their winning ways by 2014 when they became co-champions of the Big XII.
Head coach June Jones had the Mustangs heading to their third consecutive bowl game in 2011. When the Mustangs reached their fourth straight bowl in 2012, many Mustangs fans thought the program had been resurrected for good. Then SMU fell off a cliff.
In 2013, SMU finished one win shy of a bowl birth with a 5-7 record. The Mustangs would go 1-11 in 2014. June Jones resigned after the second game of the season. You know the rest.
Regardless of how everything turned out, SMU’s win over TCU in 2011 was a big deal. In one game, SMU made the statement that even a former laughing-stock from the humble Conference USA could play with the big boys.
Five years later, head coach Chad Morris has SMU positioned to make a similar statement.
We have seen flashes of SMU’s potential since Morris first stepped on The Hilltop. The Mustangs have kept close in games against Baylor for two straight seasons. SMU also came close to upsetting No. 3 TCU in Ft. Worth in 2015, trailing by only five with 8:20 left in the game.
Perennial powerhouses like Baylor and TCU do not just get worse overnight. The Mustangs are getting better. Much better. SMU’s football program is ready to take the next step. The Mustangs could very well steal a win this week; a program defining win that would set the tone for the rest of the Morris era. Here’s why:
Firstly, let’s address what TCU misses most from last season: quarterback Trevone Boykin and wide receiver Josh Doctson.
Doctson was arguably Boykin’s favorite target during their time at TCU. In last season’s game against the Mustangs alone, Doctson hauled in two touchdowns and Boykin passed or rushed for four more. Doctson and Boykin combined for 36 of the Frogs’ 56 points that night. Both of them now play in the NFL.
Secondly, Boykin’s replacement at quarterback, Kenny Hill, has not exactly set the world on fire through his first three games in Ft. Worth. The Texas A&M transfer has thrown for just four touchdowns on the season with three interceptions. Those three interceptions should surprise nobody as Hill is notorious for being a wildman with the ball. In Hill’s only season at A&M, he threw eight interceptions during a five-game stretch and was benched for the remainder of the season. Last week vs. Iowa State was the first time in eight consecutive starts Hill was not picked off.
This is good news for a SMU defense that has tallied a FBS leading nine interceptions through three games. If Hill fails to take care of the football, Friday’s game could become a disaster for the Horned Frogs.
The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram’s Carlos Mendez reported Monday that TCU WR KaVontae Turpin could miss a portion of the season after injuring his PCL on Saturday vs. Iowa State. A friend of Turpin’s posted on Twitter that the receiver tore his PCL in the game. The tweet has since been deleted and TCU has not officially announced the severity of the injury, but Patterson did mention Turpin on Monday’s Big XII conference call. It does not appear Turpin will be able to play this week.
“Obviously he has a leg injury,” Patterson said. “Hopefully we’ll get him back in the future.”
Turpin led TCU in all-purpose yardage last season and is the current team leader in receptions and receiving yards.
TCU’s defense has a lot of question marks too. Depth, especially in TCU’s secondary, has given the Frogs reason for concern. WR Deanté Gray was moved to cornerback last week to provide additional depth, but the secondary is still thin. DE Josh Carraway also injured his right ankle Saturday and may not be ready in time for SMU.
The biggest difference in this year’s TCU game will undoubtedly be SMU’s ability to stop the Frogs’ explosive offense. Last year, SMU’s abysmal defense gave up a total of 6026 yards and 548 total points on the season. The Mustangs’ secondary allowed six TCU receivers to tally more than 20 yards. Five TDs came through the air. TCU running back Aaron Green also went for 164 yards and two TDs on the ground.
With youth at wide receiver, the Frogs have relied heavily on RB Kyle Hicks so far. Hicks has ran for five TDs on the season and is the Frogs’ leading rusher with 225 yards. TCU putting greater emphasis on its ground game is also good news for a SMU defense that has not allowed any opponent’s leading rusher to go for more than 100 yards in a single game this season.
For SMU to pull off the upset this Friday, the Mustangs’ defense must continue to play at their current level and avoid allowing TCU big plays. The offense must step up and capitalize on recovered takeaways. Improvement in the redzone is also drastically needed, and that all starts with freshman QB Ben Hicks. Hicks has been picked off five times in two starts – four of which have been thrown within 20 yards of the opponent’s endzone.
“We’re really anemic in that area, very non-existant,” Morris said at his weekly luncheon Monday. “Not only when we get down there are we not coming away with points, but we’re turning the football over. That’s something that’s got to stop.”
Should we expect SMU to beat TCU? No. Should we be surprised if the Mustangs pull off the upset? The answer is also no. This is the mentality SMU fans should have entering Friday’s game.
SMU has made vast improvements from last season and are a completely different team. Are the Horned Frogs still the better team? Of course they are. Will Vegas be kind to SMU this Friday? Probably not. But Friday night games on national television against your archrival are the kind of games where magic happens. Maybe the Mustangs are due. Maybe.