After a rough start and a long break for TCU, Saturday’s Battle for the Iron Skillet might be more aptly named the Battle to Regain Momentum.
“We had 16 days off,” TCU head coach Gary Patterson said Tuesday. “You always worry about getting in a rhythm.”
The Horned Frogs (1-2, 0-1 Big 12) face SMU (1-2, 0-0 AAC) Saturday at 11 a.m. on Fox Sports 1, and finding that rhythm will be crucial, especially for an offense that is ranked No. 93 among 120 FBS teams, averaging 354 yards per game.
The Frogs scored only 10 points in their last game against Texas Tech, and quarterback Trevone Boykin threw two interceptions. TCU gained 194 rushing yards, however, and Boykin and running backs B.J. Catalon and Waymon James each averaged more than five yards per carry.
“Well I say running the football, that helps out a lot,” Catalon said. “If we all keep getting better, offensive line keep doing what they’re doing, we can establish the run, which can also open up the pass for Trevone and the receivers so we can have a complete game on offense. And that would help us out a lot.”
When TCU’s offense has had success, it has come from establishing that running game. Of the team’s eight offensive touchdowns this season, six have come on the ground, and five of those were scored by Catalon and James.
The offense should also be aided by the team’s work in practice the last two weeks. Patterson said Tuesday that the team has done scramble drills to help Boykin get the ball to open receivers when he leaves the pocket. The goal of those drills was to help the quarterback avoid turnovers and not try to do too much.
“Last year we won ball games when we didn’t throw interceptions and we played within ourselves,” Patterson said. “And we lost games when we didn’t. And I think [that trend] holds true this year so far.”
Defensively for the Frogs, the focus in the off week was better tackling. The team watched film from the game against Texas Tech, during which the defense gave up a number of big plays because of missed or broken tackles.
“It was ugly because it was plays that shouldn’t even have happened,” cornerback Kevin White said. “If we just would have tackled…No touchdowns. It shouldn’t have been anything like that. So it was ugly to watch, but it’s good that we watched it. We can get better [and] improve from it.”
TCU will have to tackle well in space against SMU’s “run and shoot” offense, which spreads the field with wide receivers. Senior quarterback Garrett Gilbert leads the attack. Gilbert started against the Frogs last season, but completed just 15 of 40 passes, throwing one touchdown and five interceptions in a rain-soaked contest.
Rain was not the only factor that affected Gilbert's play in last year's matchup. TCU defensive end Devonte Fields made life difficult for the quarterback, recording two and 1/2 sacks and seven total tackles. Fields' status for Saturday, however, is unknown. He left the Texas Tech game in the fourth quarter with a foot injury and did not return.
Regardless of Fields' status or the weather, TCU’s goal is to leave this game with a win and new confidence as it resumes conference play next week. While the team’s first two losses were deflating, the Frogs still have eight conference games to play, and the team wants to enter that stretch with new momentum.