‘Don’t flinch. Don’t blink’: TCU’s defense secures two takeaways in victory against SMU

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TCU’s defense shined in the battle for the Iron Skillet against SMU.

After the Horned Frogs gave up 45 points to Deion Sanders and the Colorado Buffaloes to open the season, defensive play was a potential issue. The unit proved it’s worth at Amon G. Carter Stadium on Saturday, holding the Mustangs to 17 points.

TCU managed to make key plays in big moments to limit the scoring. SMU converted five third downs in 15 attempts and one fourth down on three attempts.

Cornerback Josh Newton said this is the type of performance the team has been talking about. He mentioned the differences from the beginning of the season to now involving improvement in trust, communication and loyalty.

“Especially when we’re down,” Newton said. “Game is close. Don’t flinch. Don’t blink. We made a lot of adjustments in practice. It’s been foot on the gas. ... If we practice the way we practice, we’re going to get the results we want.”

With linebacker Johnny Hodges out with a hand injury, Namdi Obiazor stepped up and led the Frogs with 11 total tackles. Obiazor, who switched positions from safety to linebacker, also had a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.

Head coach Dykes said Obiazor’s abilities are continuing to grow.

“He’s playing a new position, and he just continues to get better every single week,” Dykes said. “He just plays with more confidence and just starts to see things. ... When you’re playing a new position, it just takes some time. It takes some reps, and you have to see things from that perspective.”

Dykes said Obiazor is the “perfect guy” for the linebacker position.

“He can cover,” Dykes said. “He’s big and physical enough to support the run. He can make adjustments. He’s a smart guy. You know, I just think the guy is a really, really good football player.

Obiazor said he’s taking steps in the right direction every game. He said making mistakes is part of growing into a better football player, and credited repitition for the improvement in the team’s play.

Two other key contributors were safety Mark Perry and linebacker Jamoi Hodge. The two made eight and seven tackles, respectively. Hodge also had one and half tackles for loss and led the team with three quarterback hurries.

Shad Banks received the start in Hodges’ absence, tallying five total tackles and a quarterback hurry. In general, pressure was one of the reason’s why the unit shined. The Horned Frogs had four QB hurries and three sacks.

TCU’s coverage limited SMU quarterback Preston Stone’s production, holding him to a 16 of 35 passing. In the second half, safety Bud Clark and cornerback Josh Newton each hauled in an interception that kept the momentum with TCU.

“I thought that was, obviously, a difference in the ballgame,” Dykes said. “ ... Those are two big plays in the game for us. It kept a three score separation, which was important.”

Newton secured his pick at TCU 37-yard line. He took a hard hit, but was still able to gain 53-yards on the return, putting the Horned Frogs in the red zone.

“He actually beat me,” Newton said. “He was running a dig and I undercut it.”

Newton’s interception was one of the reasons why SMU was held scoreless in the third quarter. Obiazor credited defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie’s halftime adjustments for the strong quarter.

“Big plays or any other stuff that we messed up, it’s already written on the white board,” Obiazor said. “He coaches us up on what to do and what they expect them to do and how to close the game.”

Clark got his takeaway with the Mustangs facing third and long in the red zone, drastically shrinking SMU’s hopes of a fourth quarter comeback.

The Frog defense outlasted SMU, finishing game as strong as they started. Dykes said TCU is built on playing tough and physical.

“We’re starting to really get some confidence defensively, which is going to serve us well,” Dykes said.

Heading into the game, the Horned Frogs were 10th in the Big 12 Conference, giving up an average of 21.3 points. Since their matchup against the Buffaloes, the Frogs have given up an average of 12 points to Nicholls, Houston and SMU.

“It makes a difference when you have film and you know what they’re going to do, where people are lined up and what you have to take away,” Dykes said. “I’m really pleased with the progress that we made defensively. ... We really limited their big plays today. ... They were going to take some shots down the field. They hit us on a couple, but I thought overall we really did a good job defending those deep balls, one on one shots on our corners.”