Is TCU ready to go all-in on Max Duggan? Other things to watch in Battle for Iron Skillet

TCU senior cornerback Jeff Gladney has been around too long to put any stock into rankings at this time of year.

Sure, it’s nice TCU landed at No. 25 in the latest Associated Press poll, but that can be short-lived.

“As quick as you’re ranked you can get unranked,” Gladney said. “So we’ve just got to go out and do what we’ve got to do and stay there.”

That starts today against SMU with kickoff set for 2:30 p.m. at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Here’s five things to watch going into the game.

1. Duggan time?

TCU coach Gary Patterson refused to designate a starting quarterback this week, but signs point toward true freshman Max Duggan being the guy over fifth-year senior Alex Delton.

It feels like the time is right to go all-in on Duggan, and the expectation is for him to make his first start today.

Either way, TCU has to find a more consistent passing game. The Frogs had just 75 yards passing in its 34-13 victory over Purdue on Saturday. That is going to have to improve if the Frogs want to contend for a Big 12 title.

As Patterson said, “At some point in time, we’re going to have to be able to throw the ball and beat people. At some point in time, somebody’s going to have to be able to do that.”

Duggan didn’t put up the most impressive numbers at Purdue (7-of-18 passing for 75 yards with one touchdown), but has the better arm and more upside than Delton.

2. Finding No. 1

TCU has to get standout receiver Jalen Reagor on a roll.

Reagor has gotten off to a slow start with 100 yards receiving with one touchdown on eight catches through two games. Patterson acknowledged the importance of finding ways to get Reagor the ball on offense.

This is a guy who is a home-run threat every time the ball is in his hands.

“Jalen’s a really good player,” Patterson said. “We’ve got to keep finding ways to get the ball in his hands.”

3. Smash-mouth approach

As much as TCU needs to get the passing game going, it has to feel good about its rushing attack.

Seniors Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua each topped the 100-yard mark against Purdue with Anderson finishing with a career-high 179 yards.

TCU owned the time of possession battle, holding the ball on offense for 40:33 compared to Purdue’s 19:27. That’s something that pleased Patterson and kept the defense fresh throughout the night.

“It’s really easy to play defense when your offense holds it for 40 minutes,” Patterson said. “That’s the best defense I know -- standing on the sidelines.”

4. Takeaways, please

Turnovers became a significant reason why TCU got off to a 3-5 start last season. The early signs are promising that won’t be an issue this season.

The Frogs are tied for the most interceptions in the Big 12 (four), and are plus-1 in turnover margin through two games. They have to continue that trend against SMU.

The Mustangs have had at least one giveaway in each of their first three games, including quarterback Shane Buechele throwing two interceptions last week against Texas State.

TCU has to feel good about free safety Trevon Moehrig coming down with an interception in each of the first two games, and Gladney intercepting a pass against Purdue. Gladney didn’t register his first interception until Game 12 last season.

“I’m just hoping they keep coming,” Gladney said. “And I keep stacking them.”

The same can be said for the rest of TCU’s defense.

5. Injury updates

TCU could see the passing game improve if Taye Barber and/or Mikel Barkley are able to play in this game.

Barber was the Frogs’ second-leading receiver last season in receptions (32) and third in yards (303). Barkley, meanwhile, had been having a strong fall camp and was running opposite of Reagor before sustaining an injury.

Defensively, TCU could get back senior cornerback Julius Lewis this week. Lewis has been sidelined since the start of the season. True freshman Kee’yon Stewart has played well in relief, but Lewis is one of the top cornerbacks in the Big 12.

Patterson said all three -- Barber, Barkley and Lewis -- would be game-time decisions today.

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