Happy Friday, everyone! It also happens to be game day. Game two already and as we get deeper into the season, it seems that the challenges keep coming faster — especially this short week.
During the season opener agains Southern, TCU quarterback Shawn Robinson became the first Horned Frog since 2006 to account for five touchdowns in the first half. He had three scoring passes and two touchdown runs. He completed 17-of-24 passes for 182 yards in playing just the opening two quarters. Photo by Glen E. Ellman
As I worked the TCU-Southern game last Saturday, and then watched more games last Saturday night, I realized how glad I am to see the college football season underway, not just because we have games to watch and enjoy, but because that’s where college football is it’s best. College football is about game day. Thankfully, the season got here because college football had a rough off-season, especially in August. Now the focus is back on the field: the players, the matchups and the games. And the games come fast.
Tonight’s game at SMU brings an intriguing situation. Sonny Dykes – another SMU coach in a long line is trying to take the team to another level. He took the job last winter after spending a year as an offensive analyst on Gary Patterson’s staff, seeing how things are done, sitting in staff meetings and absorbing the way the Frogs are built, trained, plan for opponents. Dykes is a smart guy. He’s been a head coach and his teams are always well-prepared. At Louisiana Tech, his teams were tough with big offensive lines and a smash-mouth style on both sides of the ball. In the 2011 Poinsettia Bowl, TCU has to fight every second of the game to grab a win over La Tech, 31-24.
The big question tonight is what will show up for SMU and Sonny Dykes. The Mustangs had high hopes going into last week’s game at North Texas and hit a wall, almost from the start. The Mustangs got down early, couldn’t protect quarterback Ben Hicks and couldn’t run the ball. Linebacker Trevor Denbow got ejected for targeting early in the first quarter (he’s a big part of the SMU defense) and the tailspin began. SMU went deep into the second half with only one first down to show for their offensive effort. North Texas rolled 46-23. It was not the type of start Sonny Dykes had planned.
Jack White ’49 created this cartoon when times were different for TCU and SMU. The Mustangs were successful in gridiron challenges against TCU in the 1940s. Was this illustration also a predictor of things to come: SMU coach Sonny Dykes reeling in transfers like Notre Dame wide receiver CJ Sanders? Courtesy of the TCU Archives
Sonny Dykes has a vision for SMU. He’s gone out on the recruiting trail and pulled in players from all over, including several transfers from Division I-A programs like Notre Dame, West Virginia and even an offensive lineman from KU. He’s creative and he’s already making moves on the recruiting trail. Some experts rank his 2019 SMU recruiting class the best in the Group of 5 (non-Power 5 conferences). That’s saying something.
The question for today, however, is what does he roll out tonight and get from this SMU team vs TCU? My guess is that SMU is not nearly as inept as they showed vs. UNT. The old adage says you see the most improvement in a team from game one to game two. For SMU, there’s much to prove. For TCU, there’s much for which to prepare.
The offense that Dykes wants to run involves running the ball a lot. To do that you must have a big offensive line and a stable of larger backs (over 200 lbs.). To start in that direction, Dykes hired Rhett Lashlee as offensive coordinator. Lashlee comes from UConn and spent most of his career working for Gus Malzahn at Auburn, where they’re run heavy. The long-term goal for Dykes & Co. is to install a run heavy system and meld it with Dykes’ quick strike passing attack that he picked up while working for Mike Leach at Tech. So the task for Gary Patterson and the TCU defensive staff has been to watch video of the following offenses to get ready for tonight: UConn, Auburn, Cal (where Sonny Dykes was head coach for three years), Louisiana Tech (where Dykes was head coach before he went to Cal) and last week’s SMU/UNT video. That’s a lot of material to sift through, but that’s what this game tonight is all about.
What will SMU do? Sonny Dykes needs to pump some life into his team and let them have fun. To me that means they pull out all the stops, go for broke against the No. 16 team in the nation. An upset would quickly erase the loss to UNT. How do you keep a superior opponent off balance? Keep them guessing, try things that are illogical. Show looks that they haven’t seen before. In other words, the Frogs need to be ready for any and all things. The bag of tricks may actually hold the game plan for SMU.
But how? SMU’s offensive line gave up nine sacks last week to UNT. Pony quarterback Ben Hicks got knocked around. He’s pretty good, but without time to throw, he can’t make the plays SMU needs to win. Or keep drives alive for that matter. Gone are NFL-caliber wide outs Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn. The best receiver on the Hilltop is #3 James Proche, who was a TCU recruit but decided to go to SMU.
Frog fans faced temperatures in the 90s for the season opener against Southern. Tonight’s game against SMU comes with a 40 percent chance of rain. Photo by Glen E. Ellman
On defense, the line is the strength of the unit, but the linebacker group is much improved, thanks to the insertion of junior college transfer Trevor Denbow (who TCU recruited) and Richard Moore (a transfer from Texas A&M.) #23 Jordan Wyatt is the best of the defensive backs, but he was not himself last week.
Frogs have won 16 of the last 18 in the series and the last six in a row. The biggest SMU win in Dallas was in 2005, the week after TCU had upset Oklahoma in Norman, 17-10. Now I know you’re thinking, “Why did Denton have bring to that up?” Well, I can bet you that Coach P has reminded the Frogs of that game multiple times this week. A coachable moment that says, “Don’t let THIS happen to you.”
Stunning “I’m getting old” thought: Current freshmen at TCU were five years old when the Frogs lost to SMU in 2005.
Take the afternoon off and head to Dallas for this one, Frog fans. It’s a luxury to have a road game so close. I’ll stop in at Campisi’s for the Hamburger/Canadian Bacon pregame pizza. You should do the same. And bring your rain gear. Horned Frogs are built for all conditions.
I’ll talk to you from Dallas at 6 p.m. on the TCU Sports Network.
Kick ‘Em High!