Dallas, TX – On a wet, rainy, evening at Ford Stadium the 1-2 SMU Mustangs faced their bitter Metroplex rivals, the undefeated and 15th ranked TCU Horned Frogs. The game marked the 92nd meeting between the two teams that have played almost every year since 1915. The Mustangs won the Iron Skillet last year in Ft. Worth with a thrilling overtime victory, but SMU hadn’t won back-to-back games against their Cowtown nemesis since 1992-93. Thanks in no small part to the weather, the game ended up being a defensive struggle that was forgettable for both offenses and wasn’t decided until the final moments.
The conditions impacted both teams early in the game as each had trouble holding onto the ball. TCU WR Brandon Carter fumbled the ball after a short catch and SMU recovered at their own 34. After a personal foul for a face mask was added on, SMU was set up in TCU territory. Then the Mustangs promptly fumbled on two consecutive plays; they recovered the first by QB Garrett Gilbert, but TCU recovered RB Zach Line’s fumble on second down. In what would become a theme for the game, the Horned Frogs capitalized on the mistake where the Ponies had been unable to as TCU drove 41 yards for the first touchdown of the game. On SMU’s ensuing series, Gilbert made an ill-advised throw that TCU safety Elisha Olabade picked off and returned down to SMU’s 8-yard-line (to Gilbert’s credit, he did hustle down and get in on the tackle). Once again the Horned Frogs made the Mustangs pay as they scored their second touchdown to take a 14-0 lead.
SMU ended the first quarter with 4 yards of total offense, but they gave their fans reason to cheer and hope on the first possession of the second quarter. In what turned out to be the Mustangs’ best offensive possession of the day,
Gilbert drove the offense 86 yards in nine plays. The drive culminated with a 22-yard-run by senior Zach Line that will be on his highlight reel for NFL scouts. He used power, a nifty spin move and surprising speed to work his way through the entire TCU defense and into the end zone. Unfortunately for the Mustangs, that was the extent of their offensive highlights for the game as Line was otherwise held in check and most passing plays ended with the ball somewhere other than in an SMU wide receiver’s hands.
Later in the second after the teams had traded punts, SMU started a drive on their own 20. Gilbert hit open receivers for first down yardage on second and then third down plays, only to have both passes dropped (by my unofficial count, the Mustangs had 10 for the game). TCU once again made them pay as senior WR Skye Dawson returned the 4th down punt 64 yards to the SMU 4 (RB Zach Line of all people made the tackle) and then scored on a Matthew Tucker run on the next play. SMU did tack on a field goal right before halftime after a good kickoff return by senior WR Cole Loftin to make the score 21-10.
The third quarter was one to forget for both teams as neither could mount anything in the way of offense. The SMU defense in particular deserves credit for what was their best game of the season as they held the previously prolific offense of the Frogs to 156 total yards for the game. The wet conditions and the 13 penalties for 140 yards against TCU certainly helped their cause and kept the Mustangs in the game going into the fourth quarter.
Early in the final period, Garrett Gilbert threw his third INT (of five total for the game) to set up the Horned Frogs deep in SMU territory. But the Mustangs’ defense ponied up and held the Frogs to a field goal, which kept them within two scores at 24-10. Then things got a little weird.
With about 12 minutes left in the game, SMU senior LB Taylor Reed blitzed on a third down play and sacked TCU QB Casey Pachall at the Frogs’ 25. Freshman TCU punter Ethan Perry came in to punt on fourth down, but he dropped the snap and after a scramble for the ball, SMU recovered at the TCU 1. First and goal at the one-yard-line and the ensuing series went as follows:
- 1st – Zach Line gets stuffed up the middle
- 2nd – Garrett Gilbert is sacked and loses 8 yards
- 3rd – Gilbert overthrows Darius Johnson in the far corner by about 10 yards
- 4th - Gilbert misses Jeremy Johnson in the middle of the end zone
With under five minutes left, TCU again had issues with the snap on a punt and SMU end up with the ball at the Frogs’ 35. Gilbert and the SMU offense finally capitalized on a TCU mistake with a touchdown pass to sophomore WR De’rikk Thompson….and then they promptly missed the extra point.
That made the score 24-16 with just over two minutes left. So in spite of a fumble, four interceptions, ten dropped passes, four sacks and less than 50 yards rushing from Zach Line, SMU still had a shot to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. Then SMU Head Coach June Jones made the completely inexplicable decision to attempt an onside kick even though they had all three timeouts, his defense had played very well the whole second half and TCU had already botched two punts in the quarter. TCU recovered the kick, killed a minute off the clock, forced the Mustangs to burn their timeouts on defense and then all that was left was for Gilbert to throw his final INT of the day on a Hail Mary to end the game.
SMU showed some real fight in this game, particularly on defense. If they can carry that into their first two conference games on the road against UTEP (Oct. 6) and Tulane (Oct. 13), they could still turn around what has thus far been a disappointing season.