Call it the last of TCU’s dress rehearsals.
Although Saturday’s Horned Frogs game with SMU is bigger than that in the big scheme of things — a loss would put TCU’s bowl hopes in serious jeopardy — the Battle for the Iron Skillet serves as an opportunity to tighten the offensive script before the critics start coming in droves.
Lurking just ahead for the Frogs (1-2, 0-1 Big 12) are trips to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in October. Even with a win against SMU, TCU could be looking at a 3-4 record returning home from Stillwater on Oct. 19. If that’s the case, the Frogs would be 2-3 in the conference and needing three more wins to keep their streak of consecutive bowl berths alive at nine.
Those three wins, of course, shouldn’t be impossible to find with home games against Texas, West Virginia and road games at Iowa State and Kansas State remaining on the schedule. The Frogs’ formidable defense should keep them in most of their games.
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But as TCU found out in 2012 and in a 20-10 loss at Texas Tech on Sept. 12, a great defense is not always enough.
Against SMU, the TCU offense needs to assert itself. In its first three games the Frogs have scored just one touchdown in the first quarter, and the offense has scored just 20 first-half points. And 17 of those came against Southeastern Louisiana.
The Frogs are averaging only 148.6 yards and 7.6 first downs in the first half. That’s not only a burden on the defense to play perfectly, but it’s putting the offense in a position where it’s forced to play from behind in a more pass-heavy style.
“We have to go back to not worrying about what everybody else does and try to find a way to score one more point,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said, alluding to teams such as Baylor that have scored a lot of points early in the season.
“Main thing is I think we should have rushed the ball more [at Texas Tech]. I think that’s been our history if you look at our model of how we’ve won. Everybody wants to score a lot of points but the bottom line is we won the Rose Bowl 21-19. You’ve got to go do what you’ve got to do to go win.”
Patterson has been a little bemused by the fretting he’s seen and heard among TCU fans after the 1-2 start. He’s pointed out that the TCU offense has already faced LSU and Texas Tech, two of the better defenses that it will see in 2013.
He’s called out his players for feeling sorry for themselves, he’s questioned the play-calling, moved co-offense coordinator Jarrett Anderson from the field to the booth and said quarterback Trevone Boykin would be replaced if he doesn’t improve.
“Everybody is giving coach Anderson a bad time, but you can’t drop balls, you’ve got to run the right routes, you’ve got to block the right people,” Patterson said. “If you win, you’re happy, if you lose nobody is happy. We have to find a way to go win.”
In some ways, the Mustangs (1-2) are not the ideal opponent for the Frogs to regain their mojo. SMU has played TCU tough in the last few years, including a 40-33 overtime win in Fort Worth two years ago. In the past, Patterson has expressed concern that the game has become more important to Mustang players than it is to the Frogs — a sure recipe for an upset. But in 2013, TCU has no choice. It’s now or never for the offense.
“I think that’s the thing with us, to get back our swagger a little bit after the first three weeks,” Patterson said. “That’s one of the problems with playing a team like LSU. If it doesn’t turn out the way you want it to, then you get banged up a little bit [mentally].
“But I think it’s an open race. You have to keep getting better every week, and if we do that then I think good things will happen to us.”
If the offense does improve, TCU has the defense to compete against its next nine opponents. The question is how much better can this offense be?
“We can win every game if we go out there and do our job and do what we’re supposed to do,” cornerback Kevin White said. “We’re not used to having a 1-2 record, so guys were a little down. But at the end of the day the goal is to get it turned around. We’re trying to go out there and win the rest of these ball games.”