How TCU beat rival SMU to again claim the Iron Skillet

Things are changing across the college football landscape, but one thing that has remained the same: TCU’s recent dominance over SMU.

After falling behind 3-0 in the first quarter, the Horned Frogs (3-1) dominated the Mustangs 34-17 in the 102nd edition of the Battle for the Iron Skillet. TCU is 19-4 against the Mustangs dating back to 1999. The Horned Frogs announced in the off-season it would pause the rivalry after the 2025 season.

The story of the day was TCU’s defense as the Mustangs were held scoreless in the second half until a garbage-time touchdown with under two minutes remaining. TCU forced two turnovers and kept SMU star quarterback Preston Stone’s completion percentage under 50%.

Emani Bailey’s 27-yard touchdown run with 1:54 remaining in the third quarter gave the Horned Frogs a comfortable 27-10 lead, Chandler Morris’ 36-yard touchdown pass to Chase Curtis iced the game with 1:18 left.

Defense delivers again

What a difference three weeks make. After the bad showing against Colorado, TCU’s defense has begun to look like the unit coach Sonny Dykes expected. The Horned Frogs bottled up the high-flying SMU offense with a disciplined effort from the defensive line all the way to the secondary.

The Horned Frogs held SMU without a touchdown until just before halftime and were even better in the second half. TCU held SMU to just 68 yards in the third quarter as the lead grew to 27-10. Josh Newton capped the quarter with a terrific interception after the ball was batted into the air and nearly returned it for a touchdown.

After the offense failed to score any points despite starting at the SMU 10, the defense came up big again as Bud Clark came up with an interception in the end zone at the start of the fourth quarter to stop a SMU scoring drive.

Morris outduels Stone

Chandler Morris played his best game since he led TCU to an upset over Baylor at the end of the 2021 season. Morris was poised, willing to make plays with his legs and most importantly didn’t turn the ball over. He was clearly the better quarter compared to Dykes’ former star recruit Preston Stone.

Morris’ accuracy stood out, at one point Morris was 14-of-19 with three of those incompletions being dropped passes by his receivers. He threw darts to receivers like Jaylon Robinson and Major Everhart and helped spark the ground game by being decisive when he broke the pocket. Meanwhile Stone struggled against TCU’s 3-3-5 defense as the number of defenders had him confused most of the game.

Stone threw two costly interceptions including one in the endzone when SMU could’ve cut it to 27-17 in the fourth quarter.

Morris finished 23 of 32 for 261 yards and three touchdown passes, including two to Jared Wiley. He completed passes to 11 different receivers. Morris also rushed five times for 36 yards. Stone was 16 of 35 for 258 yards.

Run game strikes back

The only team that has found a way to slow down TCU’s rushing attack since Sonny Dykes took over is the Georgia Bulldogs as the Horned Frogs managed just 36 yards in the national title game. For awhile it looked like you could’ve added SMU to that list as the Mustangs were surprisingly able to shut down TCU’s potent rushing attack in the first half.

The Mustangs were fully committed to selling out against the run as they stacked as many defenders as possible in the box despite TCU remaining in its spread formations. SMU also had a quarterback spy dedicated to watching Morris on every dropback, but TCU wouldn’t abandon the run.

On TCU’s first drive of the second half, the Horned Frogs doubled their rushing total with 57 yards thanks to a few key runs by Morris. The Horned Frogs added a field goal to go up 17-10 after the physical opening drive. Late in the third quarter, TCU once again relied on the ground as Emani Bailey broke through the SMU defense, shook a defender and then glided in the endzone for a 27-yard touchdown. In the third quarter TCU rushed for 122 yards to take control of the game.

Bailey finished with 126 yards as he rushed for more than 100 yards for the third time this season and appears to be the next star running back molded by running backs coach Anthony Jones.

Wiley’s half

Tight end Jared Wiley continues to prove that he’s one of the nation’s best redzone targets by making a big impact in the first half against the Mustangs. Wiley gave TCU its first lead of the game on a crafty play design. As Morris faked a screen to running back, Wiley crossed over the middle of the defense and caught an easy nine-yard touchdown to put TCU ahead 7-3.

Wiley added another in the second half as he caught a short pass and barreled through multiple defenders for a two-yard touchdown that made it 14-3 with just under seven minutes remaining before halftime. Wiley served as an extension of the run game, converting in short-yardage scenarios when SMU sold out against the run.

Wiley added another 17-yard reception in the second half and finished the game leading TCU in catches and receptions.