SMU coach Sonny Dykes has done an effective job of building a chip on his team's collective shoulders, creating an edge based on the notion that the Mustangs remain perennially overlooked as an ascending program in a state where football is forever king.
Last Saturday, following the Mustangs' 39-37 win at Louisiana Tech courtesy of a Hail Mary pass from Tanner Mordecai to Reggie Roberson Jr., Dykes grasped a result that emphasized one of his tenets for program building. SMU did not yield in sweltering conditions in a road environment and exemplified a philosophy considered cliche: The Mustangs played through the final whistle.
"It goes back to their mentality and the promise that they make to each other to play all 60 minutes regardless of whether we're ahead or behind," Dykes said. "I told them afterward at the end of the day you'll have your whole life to look back on this one. When things aren't going your way, when there's a little bit of trouble in your life, adversity, just focus on trying to finish and do the best you can. Don't ever give up.
"For the rest of your life, you can look back on this and say all I did was show up and try to do my very best, do my job, and something good will happen if you do that. That's a great lesson for our players, our coaches, everybody."
Up next for SMU (3-0) is its rivalry game against TCU (2-0) at Amon Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas. It will mark the 100th edition of the Battle for the Iron Skillet, with TCU holding a 51-41-7 series advantage. SMU won the previous meeting 41-38 over No. 25 TCU in 2019 -- last year's meeting was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic -- and is seeking back-to-back wins for the first time since 1992-93.
Behind Mordecai, who leads the nation with 16 touchdown passes, the Mustangs are rolling. But Dykes expressed concern over the potential for an emotional letdown on the heels of such a dramatic victory. According to the research of an assistant, teams that win by Hail Mary have a 13 percent success rate the following week, something Dykes believes won't be an upcoming issue.
"We're excited to have a chance to play TCU," Dykes said. "We're excited to be 3-0. We know what's at stake. We know what this game means to everybody. We're always searching for credibility and this is a way to get some credibility."
Starting with SMU, the Horned Frogs are entering what might be a season-defining stretch of their schedule. TCU will delve fully into the Big 12 slate with Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma right out of the gate, with the games against the Red Raiders and Sooners coming on the road.
At 148-57, TCU has the best record in the state among the 12 FBS programs since 2005. But after winning at least 11 games 10 times from 2003-17, the Horned Frogs are 20-17 since the start of the 2018 season. The desire to climb back to the mountaintop is pressing.
"The only way to get back to winning is you have to do it one at a time," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "This game is just as important or more important than playing Texas next week."
--Field Level Media