Off to a 3-1 start for the first time since ranked TCU for the Iron Skillet at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth.
Since losing to in-state rival Texas A&M on the road in the season opener (46-14), the Mustangs have rebounded nicely with three straight triumphs. The defense has gotten progressively more stringent, allowing just 17 points to UTEP back on September 10, seven points to Northwestern State a week later and then shutting out Memphis (42-0) last weekend. The victory over the Tigers means SMU is 2-0 against the rest of Conference USA for the third straight year.
As for the Horned Frogs, they too have rebounded from an awkward season- opening loss to Baylor on the road (50-48) to come up with three consecutive triumphs. Against Mountain West Conference foe Air Force, a meeting which resulted in a 35-19 win, the Frogs were certainly challenged, but the same cannot be said for additional wins over ULM (38-17) and Portland State (55-13) at home the last couple of weeks.
In terms of the all-time series between the programs, the Frogs are ahead by a count of 44-39-7 after capturing a hard-fought 41-24 victory last season in Dallas. The third-most played series for the Horned Frogs, TCU head coach Gary Patterson has defeated the nearby rival in eight of nine opportunities. TCU which has won four in a row and 10 of the last 11 over the Mustangs, has taken seven in a row at home in the series.
For the second straight week the Mustangs went over 500 yards on offense, posting 519 in the slaughtering of Memphis. Three players stood out for the Ponies as Zach Line registered a game-high 136 yards and scored three times on 20 rushing attempts, while J.J. McDermott connected on 28-of-44 passes for 357 yards and another three TDs, while also dealing with a couple of sacks and an interception. Receiver Darius Johnson stepped up with 10 catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns, all game highs against a lackluster Memphis group.
Defensively, SMU clamped down on an inept Memphis offense, limiting the hosts to just 139 net yards as the so-called rushing attack for the Tigers was held to minus-14 yards in the outing. Taylor Reed, who was responsible for one of the fourth sacks for the visitors, cranked out 10 tackles and made 2.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
"Offensively, we just had a horrible day and there are no excuses," Memphis head coach Larry Porter said after the Mustangs shut his team down.
"We couldn't run, we couldn't pass, we couldn't do anything. I am very disappointed."
Obviously the Mustangs can score points on offense, as anyone who has ever been associated with SMU head coach June Jones could tell you, but this time around the defense is taking more of a central role in the team's success as well. Even though it has been just four games, the run defense for the Mustangs has held opponents to a mere 69.3 ypg, tops in Conference USA and eighth in the country. Not only have the Ponies cut down on rushing production, the unit has also increased pressure in the opponent backfield with 3.25 sacks per outing which is also first in CUSA and 14th in the nation.
On offense, it is tough to consider Line anything other than a superstar at this juncture, given that he is one of the nation's top scores with 11 touchdowns on just 78 rushing attempts. Take away Line and the Mustangs would have a net of just 38 rushing yards.
Even though the Horned Frogs blew out Portland State eventually on Saturday, the fact was the offense still struggled to get on track in the early going with just three points until there was less than two minutes remaining in the first half and that's not something that was lost on TCU quarterback Casey Pachall.
"We were moving the ball We weren't having problems moving the ball, just little tiny mistakes. And we felt like in this game it was going to take one big play to get us rolling and it did."
In those final moments in the first half the Frogs erupted for 21 points, thanks in part to a 26-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Tank Carder.
"He caught it and ran it in," said coach Patterson of Carder's play. "The good thing is he needed some confidence. The hand is still bothering him. That was good motivation for him right now."
Thanks to Carder the Horned Frogs ripped off 41 unanswered points against PSU and never looked back as the offense for the hosts produced 462 yards and averaged close to nine yards per snap. Pachall converted 14-of-20 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns, shaking off a sack and an interception, while Skye Dawson reeled in eight passes for a game-high 111 yards and two TDs. On the ground it was Waymon James who picked up 136 yards and scored once on just 10 carries.
Obviously the offense for the Horned Frogs is slowly getting back on track as Pachall learns the schemes as he follows up one of the most successful quarterbacks in college history in Andy Dalton. Pachall hasn't thrown for a ton of yards, averaging 218.8 ypg, but he has been highly accurate (69.2 percent) and has just two INTs, against 10 TDs through four games.
As has been the case in recent years with TCU, the offense generally operates while focusing mostly on the run and this year is no different with an average of 218.5 ypg which is second in the Mountain West and 25th in the country, but it is good to see that Pachall is adapting his play quite nicely while trying to keep the Frogs in the national eye.
The top defense in the country the last three years, the Horned Frogs have their work cut out for them as they try to trim down their stats after their shootout with Baylor. The pass defense has been picked on quite a bit in the early going, allowing 247.3 ypg which is fifth in the conference and 87th nationally at the moment. In 2010 TCU permitted just 12.0 ppg, but so far this year that number has ballooned to 24.8 ppg, although the good news is that each weeks has seen the team allow fewer and fewer points which is certainly a step in the right direction.