THREE THOUGHTS from TCU's 34-17 win over SMU

Photo by Trey Pope

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Moments after a 34-17 win over SMU, TCU head coach Sonny Dykes was asked about his thoughts on the impending hiatus of the Iron Skillet rivalry game after the 2025 season.

"Hooray," Dykes deadpanned.

It's been clear since Aug. 16 - when the indefinite pause was announced - that the party who didn't want to keep playing resided in Fort Worth. The reasons for that wish are unknown, although there are a couple hunches. SMU wasn't in a Power Five conference yet (or whatever the hell that means anymore). Maybe TCU didn't want to give its DFW foe any more recruiting ammunition. But no answer would've made sense to the Dallas side.

"The game has been played over 100 years," SMU head coach Rhett Lashlee said. "I don't know why we wouldn't play. We are always willing to play them."

And when the two team's met for their 102nd game on Saturday, SMU played like the team looking to prove a point to its rival while TCU took a methdical approach devoid of emotion. The Mustangs ran the ball 26 times in the first half, knowing TCU linebacker Johnny Hodges was sidelined with a thumb injury. But the times they dropped back to pass, quarterback Preston Stone was seeking a deep shot. SMU tried to physically outclass TCU while at the same time dunking on them with highlight-reel plays.

The statement game they wanted never game to fruition, and the repeated attempts at achieving it in one play left them exhausted for the third quarter. That's when TCU gashed them for 122 yards on the ground. The 34-17 score looks closer than the contest actually was.

"You started to see, physically, in the third quarter both lines of scrimmage start to take over the game," Dykes said.

Three Thoughts

TCU's defense kept receipts: The Horned Frogs were unprepared for the Deion Sanders experience in week one when they were shocked at home in a 45-42 loss. But after taking a verbal beating by talking heads only rivalred by the business Shedeur Sanders gave them with 510 passing yards, TCU's defense has clamped down and made the nation's starkest improvement.

They hadn't surrendered a touchdown for eight consecutive quarters entering Saturday, and while that stat could easily have rang hollow if SMU carved them up, TCU proved dominant performanes against Nicholls and Houston weren't a fluke. Stone piloted the SMU offense to 416 yards, but TCU hunkered down once the ball reached the 20-yard-line. SMU converted just 5-of-15 third down attempts and were blanked on two crucial fourth down attempts. A two-yard touchdown run by SMU's Tyler Lavine with 1:47 left on the clock made the offensive output appear better than it was.

"I think that our defense is one of the top defenses in the nation," tight end Jared Wiley said. "You can look at the first game of the season and you can say what you want to about it. But these last three games, they've played lights out. Whatever you want to call it- a wake-up call - we've been rolling on all cylinders."

Numerous times, Stone waited and rolled around the pocket searching for a deep ball to spark momentum, but he rarely found it. His best throw of the day came on a 51-yard go-route to Jordan Kerley in the third quarter that put SMU in scoring position, down 27-10 early in the fourth quarter. But a couple plays later, TCU safety Bud Clark picked off Stone in the end zone and ended the threat.

"I'm really pleased with the progress that we've made defensively," Dykes said. "I think we really limited their big plays today. I thought going into the game they were going to take some shots down the field. They hit us on a couple, but I thought overall we really did a good job defending those deep balls and one-on-ones on our corners."

Junior linebacker Shadrach Banks Jr. filled in admirably for the injured Hodges, tallying five tackles and helping limit SMU to 35 rush yards in the second half. But he was far from the only standout. Namdi Obiazor had a breakout game with 11 tackles, and corner Josh Newton got his first interception of the season that he returned deep into SMU territory.

"(We're) Staying loyal to each other," Newton said. "Especially when we're down or the game is close, just don't flinch. Don't blink. We made a lot of adjustments in practice, it's been foot on the gas."

Chandler Morris finding a groove: Morris was surgical all day against a much-improved SMU defense. He completed 23-of-32 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns, adding 43 yards on the ground when he needed to tuck it.

After tossing two interceptions in the season opener against Colorado, Morris has taken better care of the ball and done a nice job taking the shorter throws if that's all that's there. He didn't commit any turnovers this week, and his one interception against Houston the week prior was because a Cougar defender yanked Wiley from the ball.

"(I've been) Putting it underneath (and) trying to protect the football," Morris said. "I feel like I've done a better job of that, especially since week one."

TCU entered the game 113th in the FBS in red zone offense, having committed four turnovers inside the opponent's 20-yard-line on the young season. But the Horned Frogs went 4-of-5 today. Morris showed poise hitting Wiley for a nine-yard touchdown a couple plays removed from barely overthrowing wide reciever Dylan Wright on a sure touchdown. Later, he threaded a slant route between two defenders to Jaylon Robinson to convert a 3rd and 6 in the red area.

How good is SMU, really?: Dykes was complimentary of SMU after the game, remarking that he believed the Mustangs would be double-digit favorites in the next eight games they played. Yes, this SMU team looks improved from last season's 7–6 finish, but by exactly how much remains to be seen.

Safeties Brandon Crossley and Isaiah Nwokobia were flying around on Saturday, and after four games the defense has surrendered only 19 points per game. Stone is the future at quarterback, and running back Camar Wheaton looked like the feature guy with 16 carries for 73 yards. There's plenty of weapons in the receiver room with Kerley, TCU transfer Jordan Hudson (3 catches, 50 yards) and Kelvontay Dixon (4 catches, 44 yards). But SMU's offense has put up 11 points against Oklahoma and 17 points against TCU, the only teams on a competitive caliber with them.

Whether it be cutting out the untimely picks or continuing to establish the run in the second half, SMU needs to find a way for their above-average yardage totals to translate in more points. 

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