I love Thanksgiving day football. Pummel the body with calories, journey to the game at DKR, or put on your favorite pair of ratty sweat pants and a Longhorn t-shirt to watch the game in full lounger recline. The bottom line is: No work. Pumpkin pie. Football.
The 6-4 (3-4 in Big 12 play) TCU Horned Frogs have had a long, strange journey to this game, a hat tip to the Grateful Dead, and to the preferred recreational choices of several TCU former starters, but they have a strong base of quality young players, and the Big 12 better get its shots in now. If TCU can retain Patterson, they'll be a major conference player in 2013-2014.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Patterson is 13-9 against ranked teams in his time at TCU and the Frogs have played better football on the road than in Ft Worth this season. They're not going to be intimidated, despite their youth. The best descriptor for TCU's overall performance this season would be "erratic", which isn't surprising given their overall youth and the offseason scandals that rocked the program. 70% of the TCU team that will see action on Saturday will be comprised of freshmen and sophomores. As I wrote above, get your licks in now.
Bryan Harsin and the Texas offense have the tougher draw in this game. TCU's defense leads the Big 12 in rushing yardage allowed (98.1 yards per game), total yards per game allowed (326.3 ypg), and 3rd down defense (only 28% conversions allowed). TCU is allowing 24 points per game, but feel free to shave a full touchdown off of that average if they were paired with a relatively mistake-free offense like Texas.
TCU starts only one senior on defense and 7 of their 11 starters are underclassmen. As always, they're a base nickel defense and the ease of Patterson's defensive install means a unit almost entirely comprised of new starters is already one of the best units in the Big 12. Using supposedly second tier talent. The contrast to the Texas D is fairly obvious and I won't belabor it.
One of the best units in the league. And everyone is a baby.
At DE, Devonte Fields - the true freshman 6-4, 240 pound pass rushing terror from DFW, leads the entire Big 12 in tackles for loss (15.5) and leads TCU in sacks (8). Devonte was a Barking Carnival favorite as a high school senior and the staff's failure to adequately target him is an oddity. Junior Stansly Maponga is back from injury and with Fields, forms what is now the league's best DE combo. Fields is the knockout artist, Maponga is the body puncher.
TCU plays a number of young, talented players at DT. All are cut from the same 6-2, 290 to 305 pound mold and they're exactly the profile of DT that has embarrassed us when we base block and don't get our pads down. Hopefully, we continue to move in the OL and attack with angles, even at the risk of falling prey to TCU's LB stunts.
Senior Kenny Cain is their best LB and he's particularly adept at operating in space. Very effective in pass coverage (2 interceptions, multiple break ups) and he's a true 3 down LB. Joel Hasley is the other LB and he's currently leading the Frogs in tackles. Cain and Hasley are undersized (225 and 220, respectively) and they tend to get by with quickness and instincts rather than destroying pulling guards in the hole. TCU LBs are all allowed to be instinctive, are well taught, and freelance when they think they have a read on your play call. That can be a strength and weakness. Hopefully, Harsin has some things for them.
Sophomore safety Sam Carter (6-1, 220) is their version of Demarco Cobbs, a former high school QB turned hybrid safety/LB, but Carter got coaching. He's 3rd on the team in tackles and has 2 interceptions. 5-10, 190 pound Elisha Obode is the 2nd leader tackler on TCU's squad and he's adept at forcing turnovers with 3 picks and 2 forced fumbles.
The best player in the Frog secondary is CB Jason Verrett - he has 5 picks in his last 7 games and he could be a problem for Shipley or Davis and as a playmaker in TCU's zone schemes.
Jason Hackett is an inexperienced safety who can struggle in coverage at times and CB Kevin White is the guy that teams typically target in the passing game.
Right now, it's Trevone Boykin. Read my breakdown of Boykin and you'll get a taste for how much they rely on him. And that's not good for the Frogs if Texas can follow some of the basic gameplanning that previous opponents have used successfully on the young signal caller.
TCU has an extremely talented group of WRs, average RBs, and a shaky OL - particularly at the OT position.
Josh Boyce, Brian Carter, Ladarius Brown, and Skye Dawson form one of the best units in the league, but the Frogs - because of QB inexperience and OL issues - have had trouble getting the ball to them as often as they'd like. Boyce leads the Frogs in receiving (56-753) and he's a NFL quality dude with good size and strength. LaDarius Brown is a man-child mismatch 6-4, 220, but he lacks the polish needed to fully exploit his physicality. Watch for him in the red zone or if we're dumb enough to put a LB on him. Skye Dawson is their small, track star version of Marquise Goodwin and, finally, Brian Carter, is a reed-thin playmaker with great balls skills from Euless Trinity who I've followed since high school. Their TE is primarily a blocker.
Absolutely the strength of their offense.
Weak at OT (they start a true freshman and sophomore) with a strong interior OL led by Blaise Foltz (this freak of
science nature benches 580 and squats 800). Because of their inconsistency running the football, TCU wants to put their four quality WRs on the field at once and use Boykin's athleticism to create time and make plays downfield, but their total inability to block outside rushers prevents it. They can't take free hits on the QB in exchange for 12 yard gains. The Frogs have given up 22 sacks on the year, but 12 of those have come in their four games.
They lost their two best RBs and it shows. Tucker is the big back (6-1, 230, 30 career touchdowns, 410 yards rushing this season) and freshman BJ Catalon is the team leading rusher (445 yards) and scatback (19 catches). No TCU rusher averages more than 5 yards per carry and though they are capable of running the ball in spurts (and so, consequently, can probably run it on us) they haven't shown the ability to really murder a team when they overplay TCU's talented WR corps. Former Katy product Aundre Dean is the #3 RB.
Punter Ethan Cole averages 44.5 per kick. TCU averages 15.4 yards per punt return and they're fantastic at choreographing the blocking. Fortunately for Texas, Alex King has been a punt return neutralizer all season long. TCU place kicking is fair to middling, but they do consistently win in the kick return game (TCU's kick coverage is very good). In short, it's what you'd expect from a Patterson team and if Texas screws around here, we'll give life and confidence to a TCU offense that isn't really capable of extended 80 yard drives.
TCU is a well-coached football team with a bunch of young talent. Unfortunately for TCU, some of those players were pressed into action a year early and it shows on the field. Similarly, inexperience and deficiencies at some key spots mean that teams who game plan well against them are able to pick on those weaknesses, bypassing TCU's strengths.
TCU also lacks depth (because some of their depth is now starting) and that doesn't bode well for them if they don't have a lead on the Longhorns heading into the 4th quarter.
Defensively, Patterson understands that Texas does its worst damage to defenses throwing the ball downfield in play action. I don't think he'll concede the running game - as it's not a part of his constitutional make-up - but he will caution TCU's safeties to linger back one extra beat on 1st and 10. Texas should make it a point to run right at Devonte Fields and TCU's LBs - as there's a good chance that TCU's secondary can be punished if they start to cheat in response.