A few thoughts on why I'm very uneasy about Saturday's game in Fort Worth before a raucous crowd of hundreds of Horned Frog fans.
I'm expecting an ugly, white knuckle defensive struggle. Take the under. Let me explain why.
First, TCU isn't bad. They're just horribly flawed in two key areas that a good slate of opponents wouldn't forgive.
Those past opponents are a combined 33-14. Texas past opponents? 18-22. That brings the difference between a 3-4 and 4-2 record into sharper focus.
Both defenses should feel good coming into this contest.
LONGHORN OFFENSE vs. TCU DEFENSE
The Case Rules Are Still In Effect
Like the law of gravity, the Case Rules exist, even if your DC isn't competent enough to implement them. Or maybe Texas-OU exists in its own special vacuum? Either way, McCoy turned in his best career performance against OU (leading to the foment of an amusing "McCoy is just a special winner that this team needed to play better!" meme) by making two of the best throws he's ever made as a Longhorn to Mike Davis and Marcus Johnson, but he also left two or three easy touchdowns on the field and our running game and defense were able to keep the contest off of his narrow shoulders (our Run:Pass ratio was a Tom Osborne-ish 3:1 and we scored 13 points on D/ST). Getting Case McCoy into predictable passing downs against the appropriate defensive scheme is not a place Texas wants to be.
I think TCU may be good at doing just that.
Gary Patterson is not an incompetent. If TCU plays press man coverage, they'll actually accompany it with a jam at the LOS and not just "show" while pairing it with interior rather than exterior pressure on McCoy. And on 3rd and 8, they're not going to play a soft zone allowing Jaxon Shipley to run an uncontested stop route to the sticks. The idea is to force a hasty back foot throw or get Case in "creative" mode where he tries to make something happen off schedule. More than likely, we won't like the results over four quarters, even if he does pull the occasional golden turd out of his ass.
Texas, for its part, wants McCoy throwing the ball less than <30 times. If that means beating the screen and draw game to death on 3rd down and accepting a few punts, so be it. TCU's offense isn't going to put the game out of reach.
The Texas Running Game
Though it was exciting to bully Oklahoma in the interior line for four quarters, we will find TCU DTs Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson unwilling victims compared to the 300 pounds of docile bubble gum OU rolled out there. Both are squat, powerful, active DTs that play with tremendous leverage - the exact physical template that has given our OL fits for the last 3 years. Or is Mason Walters suddenly going to fire off the ball like he's going under a limbo stick?
We CAN run the ball on TCU - particularly when their LBs guess wrong on a run blitz - but we're going to eat some tackles for loss. That variance is TCU's friend. They'll gladly give up a 11 yard run in exchange for -3 on the next play and a predictable passing down. They like those percentages. Of course, they don't want to give up a 59 yard scoring run and that's where Johnathan Gray needs to be manly in breaking safety tackles and Daje Johnson needs to see the ball early and often.
Texas dominated OU precisely because we seemed almost incapable of making a negative play despite a vanilla running game. And OU had a terrible plan when they did get us in third down. 80% of our running plays gained between 4-8 yards. I don't see that happening against the Horned Frogs.
What Does TCU Do Well On Defense?
1. Stop the interior run. Teams have had success busting runs when they catch TCU's smallish LB corps guessing (see OU game and Brennan Clay's 74 yard touchdown run), but consistent grinding doesn't really happen against these dudes.
2. Pressure the passer on predictable passing downs. They lead the Big 12 in sacks, averaging 3.4 per game. Can our OL give McCoy clean throws?
3. Cover. 12 of TCU's last 13 opponents have completed less than 60% of their passes. And they have the league's best overall secondary talent. Stud CB Jason Verrett held LSU's Odell Beckham and Texas Tech's Eric Ward to a combined 1 reception for 8 yards. Mike Davis will have his hands full. Shipley/Johnson/Sanders will have to step up. TCU's three safeties range from competent to very good.
What's the opposite of a virtuous circle? A promiscuous triangle? In any event, TCU's promiscuous triangle of competencies are well-suited to challenge our OU template.
The Texas X-Factor
In the movie The Avengers, Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man parlays with the naughty Norse God Loki while New York City is under attack from an alien horde riding jet skis. Loki informs Iron Man that he has an army. Downey responds,"We have a Hulk." And the Hulk proceeds to pound that army into jelly in a very satisfying, thorough manner.
We have a Daje.
TCU can do everything right against our offense and may still see Daje house a 70 yard reverse and a 60 yard punt return. That and a couple of short field scoring drives courtesy of Boykin turnovers may be all that's required to secure the win. It's nice to have the most dangerous player on the field.
We also have a Malcom...
LONGHORN DEFENSE vs. TCU OFFENSE
Offensively, imagine TCU as an athletic basketball team with Charmin soft big men and an unreliable point guard. They go three deep with good players at SG and SF (WRs, RBs), but they can't get a rebound, score gimme buckets in the paint, and their point guard keeps dribbling off of his foot. Those WRs and RBs can't get an open shot. Every time TCU does get it past half court and their big men set a pick, good things happen for them. They dunk or nail a three. But it's not happening very often. This is a poor offense. Because they lack catalysts.
What Happens When A Good DL Faces The League's Worst OL?
The single greatest mismatch on the field Saturday won't be Case McCoy vs. the TCU secondary. It will be TCU's shoddy OL against the Texas DL. TCU lost starters before the season, during the season, and had some expected reliables fail to come through. The result is an offensive line group that changes positions and players weekly, doesn't play with much coordination or feel for each other, and generally makes a mess of things, keeping the TCU playbook slim and unchallenging.
Greg, when it's 3rd and 10, TCU is running a QB draw, a max protect single route jump ball downfield, or a screen. If they don't do one of those three things, be excited. Because someone has a gambler's chance at a pick 6.
Ever wonder what it would look like if Jalen Overstreet actually started at QB the way the Longhorn hoople-heads demand from time to time? The best case scenario is called Trevone Boykin. Though there are rumors that Casey Pachall may play for the Frogs - and that might be a boost for them - we're more likely to see the free range stylings of Trevone. Trevone dislikes the societal constraints of oppressive offensive constructs. The frustrating thing about Boykin for TCU fans isn't that he's bad - it's that he's actually a talented athlete who is woefully inconsistent. He could be a poor man's Braxton Miller. But...he isn't. Sometimes he throws an accurate laser on a post route, sometimes he bounces a ball ten feet in front of the receiver on a 5 yard stop route. When in doubt, Trevone always takes off running. He's not sure where, but it just feels good to move.
If Texas is still unsound against a running QB - and we actually don't know if we've improved there yet, thanks OU for not testing us - you guys are sweet! - Boykin can make his game day contribution rushing for 91 yards on 15 carries and creating some space for his RBs and some 1-on-1 match-ups for his WRs. It's a way of manufacturing offense and 24 cheap points behind a bad OL that we just can't allow.
If Pachall plays, it's a game changer for our coverage guys, but TCU will still struggle to keep him upright on 3rd and 9.
I'm anything but confident for Saturday's game. Both offenses will need their defense and special teams to set up scores and short fields. Whichever defense sets the table best for their offense, leaves the stadium with an ugly, hard fought W.
Win the game for us, Greg.