Big 12 Previews

TCU vs. SMU: Preview and Prediction

NCAA Football: SMU at Texas Christian

Here is everything you need to know about the upcoming Big 12 game in our SMU vs. TCU preview.

Game Info

11 a.m. Central Time, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas

TV: FOX Sports 1

Radio: Horned Frogs Radio Network, WBAP 820 AM, SiriusXM 83.

Records: SMU, 3-0; TCU, 2-0.

Ranking: California: None; TCU: None.

Last week: SMU def. LA Tech, 39-37; TCU def. Cal, 34-32.

 

Key players

SMU

QB Tanner Mordecai: You look at his statistics after three games and you ask yourself, ‘How did Oklahoma let this guy get away?’ And then you remember that Oklahoma has Spencer Rattler. But, still, Mordecai is off to a scorching start in Sonny Dykes’ offense. He’s thrown for 1,023 yards, 16 touchdowns and two interceptions in three games. That’s just nuts. But, TCU will be the best team they’ve faced to this point.

TE Grant Calcaterra: Another transfer from OU, Calcaterra has become a perfect fit for SMU’s offense, as he has 12 catches for 193 yards and three touchdowns in three games. He’s not the ONLY Mustang putting up big numbers. Wide receivers Danny Gray, Rashee Rice and Reggie Roberson Jr. all have at least 10 receptions, while Gray and Rice lead the team with four touchdown receptions each. But Calcaterra is that security blanket every quarterback needs.   

S Isaiah Nwokobia. Here’s the defensive back that you want to keep an eye on if you’re SMU. The safety already has two interceptions this season. And this guy is a freshman. In three college games he has two interceptions and 11 tackles, along with a sack and a forced fumble. Nwokobia has a really bright future on the Hilltop.

 

TCU

RB Zach Evans: TCU head coach Gary Patterson wants you to get on the Zach Evans train, and for good reason. He’s coming off a career-high 190 rushing yards two years ago against Cal. That game was Evans’ third 100-yard rushing game in his last four games and with his 51-yard rushing touchdown he extended his personal streak of games with a touchdown run to four. With 217 yards in two games, Evans could start to worm himself into the conversation with Iowa State’s Breece Hall, Texas’ Bijan Robinson and West Virginia’s Leddie Brown as one of the best backs in the Big 12 by season’s end.

WR Quentin Johnson: He had a ‘Hey, don’t forget I’m still around’ game against Cal two weeks ago, and it was critical to the Horned Frogs’ victory. Johnson caught two touchdown passes in the game — an 18-yarder in the third quarter and a 45-yarder in the fourth quarter, which gave TCU the lead for good. Through just two games the sophomore from Temple, Texas, has nine receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns — and burgeoning chemistry with quarterback Max Duggan.  

S T.J. Carter. The Memphis transfer has been a nice fit in TCU’s defense this season. Not only did he earn a trio of All-American Athletic Conference selections, but he was a Freshman All-American in 2017. He had 176 tackles at Memphis, and with TCU through just two games he has nine tackles. TCU head coach Gary Patterson loves to use his defensive backs in different ways, and Carter fits right in.

 

Key storylines

SMU

With Mordecai putting up some impressive offensive numbers at quarterback, and a defense that has put together three solid contests to start the season, SMU looks like a potential contender in the American Athletic Conference. Saturday’s game with TCU represents the Mustangs’ final tune-up before league play begins. At one point, it was unclear about the direction of this program. But Sonny Dykes has walked in and put SMU on a consistent path where they play fun football and they’re successful doing it. The Mustangs are also feeling the need to talk a little smack this week with their cross-town rivals.

TCU

TCU’s come from behind win over Cal was a big one for its chances for being a Big 12 contender. Given the national conversation about the Big 12’s expansion and the perception that the Pac-12 might be a better conference than the Big 12, TCU’s victory took on even more relevance. With a week off, the Horned Frogs had been tuning up for a game that, despite having seven victories in their last eight meetings, tends to give them fits. SMU is TCU’s true rivalry game. Quarterback Max Duggan has been up-and-down in two games this season, and one of TCU’s goals going into the SMU game has to be stabilizing his ability to run the offense and move the football down the field consistently. After a shaky start to the first half against Cal, he seemed to settle down in leading TCU’s comeback over the Golden Bears.

Fun Fact: It’s the ‘Iron Skillet’ Game, the annual rivalry game between the Christian school in Fort Worth and the Methodist school in Dallas. TCU has a 51-47-1 lead in the all-time series, but the Horned Frogs lost the last meeting, 41-38, in 2019. There was no game in 2020 as it became a casualty of truncated scheduling due to COVID-19.

Prediction: TCU 34, SMU 31

I’m not sure how explosive TCU’s offense is at this point, but it’s clear that SMU brings a lot of offensive firepower into the contest. Still, Horned Frogs head coach Gary Patterson has an innate ability to slow down powerful offenses. I am counting on that on Saturday as the Horned Frogs win and improve to 3-0. Don’t expect this to be a blowout either way.

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