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PonyFans.com Preview: Mustangs seek to spoil Dykes's return

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PonyFans.com Preview: Mustangs seek to spoil Dykes's return

Postby PonyPride » Thu Sep 22, 2022 8:56 pm

Mustangs seek to spoil Sonny Dykes's return to SMU
Ponies, Horned Frogs square off at 11 a.m. Saturday at Gerald J. Ford Stadium

Posted on 09/22/2022 by PonyFans.com

So … anything going on this weekend?

There is a certain football game that merits some attention … or based on the projected sellout at Gerald J. Ford Stadium, a lot of attention: SMU (2-1) hosts TCU (2-0) in the Battle for the Iron Skillet at 11 a.m. Saturday, a matchup that can be seen on ESPNU or heard on KTCK (“The Ticket”) 1310 AM.

The Mustangs and Horned Frogs, who will meet Saturday for the 101st time, always look forward to the game. But this year, it feels different — it has ever since Sonny Dykes jumped ship a couple of days after coaching the Mustangs’ final game in 2021, going across town to coach the Frogs.

For their parts, Dykes and SMU head coach Rhett Lashlee — Dykes’s former offensive coordinator in 2018 and 2019 — have issued the mandatory coachspeak about how it’s just another game, how the emotion is more between the fans than between players and coaches, and how once the ball is kicked off and players dish out and absorb their first hits, it will feel like just another game.

The coaches appear to have been doing some coaching off the field, too. Consider the case of Rashee Rice, declared before last year’s matchup that “nobody visits Texas to go to Fort Worth” … and then punctuated the Mustangs’ 42-34 win in Fort Worth by planting the SMU flag in the middle of the field at Amon Carter Stadium, sparking some emotional jawing between the teams.

And this year?

“Last year was just rivalry play,” Rice said. “I’m not poking the bear, or nothing like that. I’m just getting ready for Saturday.”

Um … what? Who was that wearing Rice’s No. 11 while chatting with the assembled media after practice earlier this week?

“Honestly, I don’t think it has anything to do with emotions,” Rice continued. “We’re happy with our new coaching staff, I’m pretty sure they’re happy over there, and we’re just looking to have two teams competing against each other this weekend.”

Not surprisingly, when Dykes met the media in Fort Worth this week, the first questions were about his return to the school he abruptly left in November. To hear Dykes tell it, there’s nothing to suggest his decision to jump to SMU’s biggest rival should serve as motivation for any of his former players.

“I think I’ve said this before,” Dykes said, “but … when a player comes and sees me, and says, you know, ‘I want to transfer,’ my goal is … my objective is for them to have a good opportunity, for them to be successful, whether it’s them transferring down because they’re not playing, whether it’s transferring because they don’t think it’s a good situation, they’re unhappy … Whatever the case may be, my job is to find the best place for them to go. You don’t like to lose players, but you want what’s best for them, and I think players view coaches the same way. I think it’s the same thing. Everybody has an end game, and everybody has opportunities, and you don’t blame it if a player sees a better opportunity, or if a coach sees a better opportunity, or if a coach sees the opportunity, and I think the players feel the same way.”

The coaches on both sides are smart enough to not saying anything inflammatory, and the players may have been coached to do the same.

Lashlee said that the Mustangs’ focus is not about Dykes returning to the Hilltop. Instead, he said his players are focusing on getting past last week’s loss at Maryland.

“Our guys are hungry to get back out and play after last week, because we feel like we did a lot of things well, but we didn’t win the game, so we’re ready to get back on the field and try to get a win,” Lashlee said. As far as Dykes’ departure, “it was incredibly unique — we all know that. It was a situation that doesn’t happen a lot in college football, but I think everybody handled it well. Fortunately for us, most of the people stayed that wanted to stay. They wanted to be at SMU, and we’re excited they’re all here.

“The emotions will be high, and all that, but that stuff wears off throughout the game,” SMU quarterback Tanner Mordecai said. “I think it’s going to be about just competing throughout the game, executing the game plan, doing what we’re supposed to do and doing it the right way.”

All the drama aside, there is a game to be played. What kind of team is headed to Ford Stadium from Fort Worth for the teams’ first meeting in Dallas since 2018?

While the Mustangs were battling the Terrapins late into the night last week, the Horned Frogs were on the couch, resting up during an early-season bye week after rolling at Colorado, 38-13, in Dykes’s debut, and then steamrolling an outmanned Tarleton team, 59-17. The averages of 48.5 points and 521.5 yards of total offense per game rank TCU No. 9 in the nation.

The Frogs’ offense will look familiar to the SMU defensive players and fans — after all, offensive coordinator Garrett Riley and offensive line coach A.J. Ricker followed Dykes to Fort Worth to assume the same positions at TCU that they previous held at SMU.

Chandler Morris — the one-time coach’s son who bounced around the SMU sideline during games when his father, Chad, was the Mustangs’ head coach — started the season opener for TCU but got hurt and gave way to senior Max Duggan, who is expected to steer the ship Saturday for the Frogs. On one hand, Duggan has played against two mediocre defenses; on the other hand, he has performed at a very high level, completing 25 of 32 (78.13 percent) for 417 yards and five touchdowns. He has yet to throw an interception.

Getting a clear picture of the TCU passing game is not easy. No receiver has more than six receptions through the first two games, but to be fair, the Frogs have played so much with a substantial lead through the first couple of games that they have not had to go to the air very often. The team’s leading receiver is Jordan Hudson, the 6-1, 190-pound former SMU commitment who has six catches for 84 yards and a score. Two other Horned Frogs have four receptions through the first two games: Taye Barber (75 receiving yards) and Blake Nowell (69); neither has reached the end zone yet.

Leading the TCU ground game is Kendre Miller, a bruising 6-2, 220-pound junior who has rushed 21 times for 108 yards — he has yet to lose yardage on any carry — and a pair of touchdowns. Junior Emani Bailey has seven carries for 89 yards.

The Frogs play three and sometimes four receivers, and they are huge. Geor’Quarius Spivey measures in at 6-5, 245 — and is not a tight end — and Savion Williams is a slender 6-5, 215. Junior Quentin Johnson is “only” 6-4, 215 and is a team captain who earned preseason All-Big 12 and All-America honors.

If those would-be basketball players weren’t big enough, the Frogs start senior Jared Wiley at tight end, where he uses his 6-7, 255 frame as a capable receiver and a powerful blocker.

The offense operates behind a big, veteran line that features former Mustang Alan Ali at center; at 6-5, 300, Ali is the only member of the TCU line that tips the scales at less than 315 pounds. The most accomplished lineman is left guard Steve Avila (6-4, 330), who got bumped from his center role by Ali but is a team captain who twice has earned All-Big 12 honors.

The TCU defense no longer has Gary Patterson calling the shots. The Frogs operate out of a 3-3-5 as their base alignment; SMU offensive coordinator Casey Woods said this week he expects to see the Horned Frogs drop eight (linebackers and defensive backs) into coverage a lot this week.

The defensive line is a mix of young and old — nose tackle Damonic Williams turned 18 earlier this month, and defensive end Terrell Cooper is a sixth-year senior whose 28 career starts are the most by any TCU defender. What is consistent across the front is size: defensive end Dylan Horton is “the skinny guy” at 6-4, 275, while Williams and Cooper are the short guys, at 6-2 (Cooper weighs 280, while Williams is listed at 320).

Middle linebacker Jamoi Hodge is a bruising 6-2, 245-pounder who leads the Frogs with 10 tackles, while junior WILL linebacker Johnny Hodges, a transfer from Navy, is second with eight tackles. Linebacker Dee Winters has six tackles, leads the team with 2.5 tackles for loss, and is one of two players (along with Williams) with a sack.

The TCU secondary is fast and talented, and is led by senior cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, the über-talented preseason All-America who is the nephew of former TCU star LaDainian Tomlinson. Fellow corners Josh Newton and Jaionte McMillan have the Frogs’ two interceptions.

Griffin Kell is in his fourth season as the Frogs’ starting kicker, and has hit 30 of 40 field goals in his career, and 84 of 85 extra points. Derius Davis is TCU’s most dangerous kickoff returner and punt returner: against Colorado, he returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown, and last year averaged 29.6 yards per kickoff return, including a 100-yard touchdown against West Virginia.
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