SMU rivalry holds more meaning than usual this year for football

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Running back Sewo Olonilua takes a carry in TCU’s 42-12 win over SMU in 2018. Photo by Cristian ArguetaSoto.

Last season, TCU football was able to cruise past SMU 42-12, but faces a much daunting task this time around.

“It’s always exciting,” cornerback Jeff Gladney said about playing SMU.  “They’re going to play hard. We’re going to play hard, just for the rivalry.”

SMU’s 47-17 victory over Texas State marks the first time since 1984 that the Mustangs have started a season 3-0. Their other two wins have come against North Texas and Arkansas State.

On top of that, SMU received a vote in the Coaches Poll for the first time since 2016.

A new face lined up behind center is one of the things that makes this year’s SMU team so different. Led by Texas transfer quarterback Shane Buechele, the Mustangs rank No. 11 in the country in total offense, averaging 550 yards and 44 points per game as a team. 

Buechele also leads the AAC with 871 passing yards, highlighted by a 360-yard outing in their season opener against Arkansas State.

“They [SMU] don’t try to do a whole lot, but what they do do is they do it very well,” head coach Gary Patterson said. “Everybody asks me, ‘What kind of offense don’t you want to defend?’ The ones that do it well.”

SMU’s running backs Xavier Jones and T.J. McDaniel have also had an impressive start to their season. Jones is tied for first in the nation with seven total touchdowns, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt with 291 total yards. 

McDaniel, a true freshman, exploded for 159 yards and three touchdowns in his collegiate debut. 

In the receiving core, Reggie Roberson Jr. ranks ninth in the FBS with 342 receiving yards. Placed on the Biletnikoff Award watch list before the season, the West Virginia transfer has caught two touchdowns on 21 catches this season.

TCU will be looking for their front line to repeat their performance from last Saturday, a game that they allowed only 23 rushing yards. 

To stop Buechele and SMU’s revamped pass attack, look for Gladney, one of TCU’s most experienced cornerbacks, to shut down Roberson and give the Frogs time to get to the quarterback. 

Gladney said he and the receiver are friends from Roberson’s time at West Virginia, so he enjoys the matchup every year.

Cornerback Jeff Gladney will be key in TCU’s attempt to stop SMU’s sharp offensive attack on Saturday. Photo by Cristian ArguetaSoto

“He’s [Roberson] pretty good,” Gladney said. “I always look forward to holding him.”

Linebacker Garrett Wallow will be another key for TCU defensively, as he has recorded 23 tackles, including six for a loss, and two sacks already this season.

SMU’s defense has allowed 350 yards per game this season. Their lone standout on defense is safety Patrick Nelson, who leads the AAC with 1.67 sacks. 

The Illinois transfer recorded his lone interception of the year against North Texas.

With this in mind, look for TCU to return to the running game that recorded 346 yards against Purdue on the ground last week.

Running backs Darius Anderson (207 yards and two touchdowns) and Sewo Olonilua (156 yards and one touchdown) could get upwards of 30 carries combined, as they did in the win over the Boilermakers.

“We have two really good running backs,” right guard David Bolisomi said. “We have trust in both of those running backs to get the job done.”

At the quarterback position, both graduate transfer Alex Delton and true freshman Max Duggan will continue to share snaps. Though Duggan played for the majority of the game against Purdue, Patterson said he has not earned the starting job officially yet.

Though he appears to be the front runner, freshman quarterback Max Duggan has not won the starting job for TCU quite yet. Photo courtesy of GoFrogs.com.

“At some point in time we’re going to have to throw the ball to beat people,” Patterson said. “At some point in time, somebody’s going to have to be able to do that.”

Patterson said wide receiver Taye Barber, cornerback Julius Lewis and wide receiver Mikel Barkley will be game-time decisions Saturday due to injuries.

The two teams will face-off for the 99th time Saturday. Kickoff against the Mustangs is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. from Amon G. Carter Stadium.