When it comes to the rivalry between TCU and SMU, the roots run deep.
The two schools are meeting this Saturday at Amon G. Carter Stadium for the 100th time, with the rivals’ first-ever matchup dating all the way back to 1915.
Though the Horned Frogs have dominated the Battle for the Iron Skillet lately, winning seven-straight from 2012-2018, the Mustangs got the last laugh with a 41-38 win in the teams’ most recent matchup in 2019.
The matchup was scheduled as TCU’s season opener in 2020, but the game was canceled two days prior due to COVID-19 protocol.
According to SMU, though, blaming the cancellation on the pandemic does not tell the whole story.
“Sophomore year, after we won that [Iron] Skillet, they were scared to play us,” SMU receiver Rashee Rice said to the media on Tuesday. “I’m going to say that again: they were scared to play us.”
When asked about Rice’s comments, TCU head coach Gary Patterson angrily explained why the statements could not be further from the truth.
“He said we were scared. The bottom line is we lost all our quarterbacks. If you look at the phone records, what you find out is we tried to call at the end of the season,” Patterson said. “The reason we ended up playing LA Tech is because we didn’t get any phone calls back from SMU. What you need to understand is we did try to play SMU at the end of the season. They couldn’t work it out, we had COVID- early, and neither one of us played in bowl games.”
Regardless of whether they were accurate or not, Rice’s remarks certainly turned Twitter into a frenzy as even guys, like former TCU and current Seattle Seahawks defensive end L.J. Collier, chimed in.
While Horned Frog players were more respectful when asked about the rivalry, it is clear that TCU feels like they have something to prove going into the game, especially given the outcome of their last matchup.
“It was tough [losing in ’19]. It was the first time since I’ve been here we’ve lost to SMU. It was the first time I’ve seen TCU lose to SMU in a while too,” offensive guard Wes Harris said. “Last year, we didn’t get the chance to play them because of COVID- and stuff, so we’ve been waiting for a while. We have all the respect in the world for SMU.”
Defensive end Ochaun Mathis sounded even more locked in, refusing to talk much about SMU’s personnel but simply emphasizing his desire to get on the field this Saturday.
“Not for me, from my standpoint,” Mathis said when asked if he knew any SMU players personally. “Maybe for some other guys on our team, and I know there are some personal things being had with some guys. But me, on my side on the table, I’m not really knowing anyone on that team. I’m just ready to go out there and whip some butt.”
It’s no surprise that SMU is holding its head high entering this game. Not only have they had the iron skillet in their facility for over 700 days now, but the Mustangs have looked sharp amidst a 3-0 start to their 2021 campaign.
Led by Oklahoma-transfer Tanner Mordecai at quarterback, SMU ranks 11th in the nation with 534.3 yards of offense per game while leading the nation with 16 passing touchdowns.
Though the Mustangs’ competition (ACU, North Texas, Lousiana Tech) has been underwhelming, Mordecai has been impressive at the helm, boasting an 89.7 passing grade, per Pro Football Focus (PFF), with just two interceptions thrown.
Mordecai’s quick release (2.71 seconds on average for the season) is something that has benefitted SMU greatly so far, as the junior has yet to be sacked.
“A lot of teams are game-planning off of our defense, and more than anything, they’re trying to get the ball out faster,” Mathis said. “It does make it kind of tough to get sacks as a defensive end.”
Though TCU’s defensive ends have produced just one sack this season (Mathis against Duquesne), Patterson said he is not worried about that going forward.
“No, because Cal max-protected,” Patterson said when asked if that was a problem to him. “They blocked seven and kept the running back and the tight end in and made our secondary have to play.”
The Frogs’ secondary will be forced to play again this weekend, as the Mustangs have four pass-catchers with 10-plus receptions and 170-plus yards.
Rice has been a serious threat, posting 207 yards and four touchdowns, while wideouts Danny Gray and Reggie Roberson Jr. as well as Oklahoma-transfer Grant Calcaterra at tight end have also combined for 592 yards and eight touchdowns as a trio.
“We understand they have really good wide receivers,” Patterson said. “They throw the ball really well. The tight end from Oklahoma [Calcaterra] is a really good player.”
The 21st-year head coach had no comment as to whether or not cornerback Noah Daniels will be able to play on Saturday. Defensive end Khari Coleman is also still questionable.
Defensively, SMU has not been as strong, giving up an average of 440 yards per game to their opponents.
This provides Harris and the TCU offense an opportunity to start strong and set the tone early on Saturday, something they struggled to do against California (just seven points in the first 29:49 of the game).
“It’s really important, especially against a team like SMU,” Harris said about starting strong.
Though Harris said there is “always room for improvement” when it comes to the Frogs’ offensive line, the senior said that the unit is riding high after helping running back Zach Evans earn Big 12 offensive player of the week last week.
Evans (217 yards, 2 touchdowns, 8.0 yards per attempt) will need to be sharp against the Mustangs this weekend, as SMU’s one strength defensively thus far has been stopping the run (89.6 run defense grade, per PFF).
TCU and SMU will battle for the Iron Skillet at 11 a.m. on Saturday in Fort Worth. The game will be broadcasted on FS1.
“More than anything–that last loss we had two years back–we still have that nasty taste in our mouth,” Mathis said. “We’re just ready to come out there and ball out.”