“Trap game” is the perfect description for TCU’s trip across the Metroplex to Dallas Friday.
The Horned Frogs followed up their double-overtime loss to Arkansas by starting Big 12 Conference play and defeating Iowa State, 41-20. Their game with old rival SMU precedes a crucial league game on Oct. 1 when Oklahoma visits Fort Worth.
The Mustangs have plenty of incentive in this game. While the school’s bid to be selected in Big 12 expansion is a long shot, a “prove it” victory over TCU would provide bragging rights for SMU. Existing about 40 miles to the east of a successful private school program provides SMU an example of what might be. Also, the Frogs have won the last four and 12 of the last 14 meetings in this rivalry.
The Mustangs wouldn’t appear to be a team that TCU would look past, but a Friday night rivalry game with the above ingredients adds some intrigue to a game most observers assume the Frogs will win easily.
“We understand how this game plays out. Every year, it’s been a war,” said TCU coach Gary Patterson, whose team is making its first road trip – even if it’s a short one – of the season. “So you better get ready to play in this ballgame.”
Through three games, TCU has been all over the road. What was expected to be an outstanding defense has struggled. The offense, which had to replace several key playmakers, is averaging 46 points per game as Kenny Hill has stepped in at quarterback and played well. He’s fourth in the FBS in total offense with just over 400 yards per game.
“I suspect our team as a whole will play better,” Patterson said. “We played better last week than we did the first two weeks on defense. I expect them to play better this week.”
Last year the Frogs had to overcome a number of injuries, particularly on defense. That trend is continuing this season. Sophomore KaVontae Turpin, second in the Big 12 in all-purpose yards, is out indefinitely with a knee injury suffered last week. Defensive end Josh Carraway and cornerback Jeff Gladney were also dinged up last week but could play against SMU.
“Nothing’s unusual about injuries,” Patterson said. “You want to be a great program, not everything’s going to go right. “How people handle the tough times and the things when you have problems, that’s how you usually judge everybody. So we’ve got to handle it.”
Patterson hasn’t been pleased with his team’s mental approach and intensity in the first three games. He suspects that has led to some of the injuries. Even though the Frogs defeated Iowa State by 21 points last week, Patterson wasn’t happy when the Cyclones scored a late touchdown.
“He was a little bit disappointed,” junior linebacker Sammy Douglas said.” He said we need to come together more, give effort and keep pushing each other. They talk to us all the time about being the nail or being the hammer. So if you come ready and come prepared for the game, I think there will be less injuries.”
SMU is 2-1 for the first time since 2011 – the last time it beat TCU. Second-year coach Chad Morris has had to turn to redshirt freshman Ben Hicks at quarterback. He’s replaced starter Matt Davis, who is out for the season after suffering an ACL injury in the season opener.
In his two starts, Hicks has thrown five interceptions. Four have come in the red zone.
“We’re really anemic in that area, very non-existent,” Morris said of his team’s inefficiency inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. “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.”
The Frogs’ secondary, which has been shaky thus far, will concentrate on slowing SMU sophomore wide receiver Courtland Sutton. He has 13 catches for 336 yards and four touchdowns. However, TCU did limit Iowa State’s Allen Lazard — who like Sutton is a tall, rangy receiver — to just one catch last week.
SMU has improved a defense that allowed 502 yards and 45 points per game last season. The Mustangs are allowing 403 yards and 25 points per game through three games and have forced nine turnovers, which is tied for third-best in the FBS.
If SMU is going to spring a trap at Ford Stadium, a strong defensive effort fueled by turnovers figures to be the right game plan.