In his 21 years as head coach of TCU football, Gary Patterson has always been known as a defensive-minded guy.
The Horned Frogs have finished with the nation’s top defense five times (2000, 2002, 2008-10) since Patterson took over the helm, and even in down years, they finish in the top 40 (35 overall in 2020).
You might as well have been playing “Where’s Waldo?” with the TCU defense at Amon G. Carter Stadium on Saturday, though, because they were nowhere to be found.
Led by Oklahoma-transfer Tanner Mordecai, the SMU offense put up 595 yards of total offense on the Frogs in the Battle for the Iron Skillet, giving the Mustangs a 42-34 win over the Frogs on their home turf.
“That’s a pretty easy one gentlemen,” Patterson said to the media after the game. “We got our butts kicked.”
The loss for TCU means the Iron Skillet will stay in Dallas for a third-straight year after SMU won the matchup 41-38 in 2019 before the game was canceled in 2020.
After the game, Mustang receiver Rashee Rice, who sparked controversy with trash talk about TCU and Fort Worth on Tuesday, took an SMU flag to midfield and waved it around. This caused a few Horned Frogs to scuffle with the remaining Mustangs on the field.
Though Rice finished with just four catches for 20 yards, his 11-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter gave SMU their largest lead of the game at that point (11) and set a tone that the game was all but over.
Despite throwing a career-high three interceptions, Mordecai sliced up the TCU defense like Swiss cheese, finished 17-for-28 with 245 yards, four touchdowns and 52 rushing yards.
“We didn’t cover anybody and we didn’t tackle,” Patterson said about his defense. “It’s pretty simple. I’ve been telling them for a while. You’ve watched it in all three ball games.”
The Frogs scored just three points total off of the three takeaways.
Mordecai was not alone though, as the Mustangs ran for a season-high 350 yards. Sophomore Ulysses Bentley IV did the most damage, rushing for 153 yards and a score. Senior Tre Siggers added 110 rushing yards of his own.
The contest was the first time since 2019 that TCU had given up 500 yards of offense or two 100-yard rushers, with both coming against Oklahoma.
The Frogs scored a touchdown on a contested catch by receiver Taye Barber with 4:05 remaining to pull within eight, but three runs of 11 yards or more on the Mustangs’ final drive allowed for them to run the clock out and end the game.
Barber finished as one of the few bright spots in the game for TCU, putting up 114 yards and a touchdown on five catches. Patterson called Barber’s touchdown after the game an “unbelievable catch.”
TCU quarterback Max Duggan looked strong on paper (16-for-28 with 270 yards and three scores), but his two fumbles and inability to complete a deep pass was a big reason why the Frogs only found the end zone on one of their six second-half drives.
The majority of Duggan’s miscues had been while under intense pressure, including the strip-sack by linebacker Turner Coxe that put SMU on the TCU three yard line to start the second half.
“For us to have the ball like that and give it away is really disappointing,” Duggan said of the play. “That’s on me, and that’s unacceptable on my part.”
SMU scored two plays later on a three-yard run by Bentley to put the Mustangs up 28-21 and give them a lead they would not squander for the rest of the afternoon.
The first half had been an all-out offensive battle. On the third play of the game, a miscommunication in the TCU secondary led to an easy, 68-yard touchdown for SMU receiver Danny Gray.
The Frogs answered right away though, capping off a 6-play, 54-yard drive with a 20-yard touchdown scamper by running back Kendre Miller.
It looked like the defenses were seeing ghosts for the next two drives, as the teams traded touchdowns yet again, both of which came from the air.
On the Mustangs’ third drive of the game, though, linebacker Dee Winters read Mordecai’s pass like a book, picking it off for just the quarterback’s third interception of the year to that point.
“I feel like it kind of gave us some momentum on the defensive side,” Winters said.
Winters was right, as TCU held SMU to just six yards per play and one touchdown on their final four drives of the first half.
The Frogs would even take a lead for a moment late in the first half, as running back Zach Evans took a dump-off from Duggan 46 yards for a score.
Evans finished with 113 yards rushing to go with his 70 yards and a touchdown via the air.
The Mustangs knocked on the door in the final moments of the first half, but the Frogs got to Mordecai, causing the quarterback’s pass to sail into the arms of safety Deshawn McCuin.
The interception was the first of McCuin’s career, who was playing in the place of T.J. Carter. Patterson moved Carter from safety to corner for the majority of Saturday in lieu of cornerback Noah Daniels’ continued absence.
Despite a tie score at halftime, SMU would go on to outscore TCU 21-13 and outgain the Frogs 245-177 in yards of total offense in the second half to keep the Frogs from getting the win and taking back the Iron Skillet.
“The bottom line to it is that they wanted it more than we did today. It’s pretty simple,” Patterson said. “This is not just this game. This has been a war [the Battle for the Iron Skillet] no matter what the records have been.”
Looking to bounce back, TCU will return to action next Saturday against Texas. Kickoff against the Longhorns is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Amon G. Carter Stadium and will be televised on ABC.