How can the Texas Longhorns beat the TCU Horned Frogs?

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

What does a recipe for success look like?

Since our skeptical preview of what a Texas victory against Oklahoma would look like proved fairly prescient, we're going to attack the gameplan for how to attack the Frogs in this space as well.

You should begin by reading Scipio's post on why 3-4 TCU is not the simple matchup their record might indicate. Another coupla good primers on the Frogs for those who like to understand the X's and O's: A fantastic clinic by Patterson on the philosophy and versatile packages in the TCU 4-2-5 defense and a summary on brophy of their basic offensive concepts.

How does Texas score on TCU?

If you want to skip past those links the true essence and genius of the Patterson defense can be summed up as this:

1) Speed is the priority.

They use speed in the back seven in order to be more aggressive in run defense. Against Texas, that'll probably mean their Cover-2 Robber defense which basically leaves the corners on islands deep with the FS as a player who either "robs" underneath routes by receivers, handles the slot receiver, or adds a ninth man in the box.

What's remarkable about Patterson's Frogs is how they prioritize speed at every position, yet then still manage to train lighter linebackers and safeties to be physical in taking on lead blockers and filling the alley. Like many great teams, their strength and conditioning program is often an unnoticed champion.

2) Ender's game

TCU runs three basic zone coverages, but they can present them in combination to form nine different actual coverages. They do this by splitting their five secondary players into two groups that align according to the offense's passing strength. They have a strong safety (basically a nickel), a weak safety, free safety, and two corners. The strong safety and free safety line up to the offense's passing strength. They can then run one zone coverage with those two players and accompanying corner, and a different coverage on the other side of the field.

They also separate the front six from the secondary so that the three groups (Strong side coverage, weak side coverage, front six) have different calls on each play. So while the front may be executing a stunt that can change if the offense audibles/motions, the secondary's assignments don't have to change.

If you've ever read Ender's game, which you should before the film comes out, you'll remember the young tactical genius dividing up his battle school army into smaller units with greater tactical flexibility and ability to react to what happens in the battle (after the snap).

If you're familiar with Civil War history you'll know that Robert E. Lee's primary advantage earlier in the war was Generals who could be, and were, trusted to make decisions quickly and boldly during battles while their Union counterparts hesitated and deferred blame/responsibility.

That's the Frog defense in a nutshell. A very fast, aggressive, and multiple unit that achieves that result by splitting up assignments and then empowering the players to adjust within their mini-fiefdoms of responsibility.

Texas has to balance two very different priorities in attacking TCU. It's unlikely that they'll score consistently with sustained drives, so big plays are a priority. However, going for big plays and accumulating "three and outs" is a good way to lose a close game.

If Texas can line up and run the ball as they did on Oklahoma then there isn't too much to worry about here. However, I think Kansas' success against the OU defense has illustrated that this isn't likely.

Assuming a reliance on Robber coverage on early downs, the best play for Texas is to actually revert back to the spread formations and run/pass options rather than bringing out two tight ends that won't remotely concern TCU's pass defense and inviting a crowded box. Gray and Daje aren't going to have big days running through a mass of Horned Frog defenders.

We'll need Case to make the correct reads, and then throw the ball ACCURATELY to Sanders, Davis, Daje, etc so that they can turn upfield and make a decisive move against the off corners and aggressive safeties. WR blocking will be essential. This would be a good game for Harris to have an impact or Macfarland or Swaim to flex out and offer some mobile-extra blocking surfaces.

Misdirection will also be key, which is fortunately a common concept in the Longhorn playbook. Get TCU's aggressive speed going on direction, then throw an RB screen to Gray or Daje on the other side with Hopkins and Hawkins running out ahead.

I'm assuming Major's two great fears for this game are that TCU's DT's stand up to our interior OL and neutralize Hopkins-Espinosa (a secret strength on this team) and that their corners erase Mike Davis' deep play abilities from the game. Texas needs to move Davis around and keep him away from Jason Verrett while periodically challenging TCU deep.

The emergence of Sanders and Johnson as outside receivers is key here, if Texas can find opportunities to go vertical as they did against OU against the 2nd and 3rd best coverage guys for TCU that could open up the run game considerably. It's also possible that these will all be taken away via TCU's coverage abilities and awareness by Patterson of which throws Case can and cannot make.

For my part, I recommend a gameplan of frequent runs/screens/misdirection short passes from spread sets with periodic deep passes in an attempt to control field position, create possibilities for one of our athletes to get free, and minimize risk. That's similar to what Texas did vs ISU but the difference could be more runs and the presence of Daje.

The worst thing that could happen would be TCU stuffing our run/short game game and then Case having to find receivers downfield against Cover-2 man under or a big blitz, success in those scenarios against OU notwithstanding. This is probably going to happen some so be prepared. Hopefully it's accompanied by some big plays as well.

How does Texas stop TCU from scoring?

Their offense is a very basic spread design, meaning that they rely on spacing and a mobile QB to create opportunities for athletes to operate in space. Everyone uses spread concepts today but a true spread team is one who's philosophy of how to move the ball is based around spacing. TCU is a true spread team.

Like Texas or Baylor, the Horned Frogs are trying to attack the middle of the field with Power-O and Inside Zone while attacking the perimeter with read-option and screens. Here's the problem: Moreso than Texas, their line struggles to get the downhill push necessary to execute these schemes.

As I pointed out in the OU preview, the Sooners would put a linebacker in position to attack outside runs by the QB on Zone Read or the RB on the Power-Read sweep and force TCU to make their living finding creases inside. They weren't there against the Sooners and there's a good chance they won't be there against Texas either.

Texas needs to adopt a similar approach. I can suggest two productive ways to accomplish this aim:

1). They can do so either by continuing to play their MOFC coverages with a single deep safety (Phillips) and leaving 4-3 base personnel on the field even against spread formations. Then, line up Jinkens on the receiver closest to the open side and allow him to attack running plays from the outside-in.

In that instance, Texas could continue to ask their DE's to stay inside when unblocked and blow up any runs that try to go inside while the outside runs are destroyed by Jinken's aggression. This approach puts a lot on Phillips and Santos/Edmond picking up Jinkens' receiver against play-action but it could erase the Frog run game.

2). They can change the rules. If the DE is unblocked, instead of staying inside he could go upfield and wide to force the ball inside, trusting Santos, Edmond, and Phillips with the task of making a tackle on the inside play.

Option number two is safer in terms of decreasing the chances of a big play in the event that Jinkens misses tackles, can't cover receivers on pass plays, or the Frogs score big on play action. However, option one could totally erase the Frog's offense.

A combination of the two might be a good idea. If Robinson wants to develop Texas' Cover-2 into something that can be useful against teams later on the schedule (Baylor!!!) he'll use option number two and rep this scheme until TCU proves they can stop it. If he intends to maintain single-deep safety coverages against Baylor, this would be a good time to bring Jinkens along with option number one. I recommend Cover-2 unless it's been horrendous in practice. Easier to take away Boykin's deep throws, Brandon Carter, and QB scrambles with 2 deep safeties and Diggs on the field.

As with the Yeti-hunting expedition of two weeks ago, it's essential that Texas's DL make their presence felt by constricting run lanes and protecting Texas' weak back seven from Boykin scrambles that could be the difference in a tight game. Bell had the ability to buy time or make first down runs up the gut that the DL transformed into a predilection for panicking and flinging the ball to our DB's.

Boykin is more dangerous out of the pocket. He's possibly the 2nd most dangerous running QB in the conference if you count Daniel Sams. He also has a much better downfield arm (sometimes) than Bell and can make you pay. Phillips' play in this game, along with that of our DB's in man coverage, will be key to corralling Boykin and avoiding a deep shot that could be the difference in a low-scoring game.

TCU would love to attack Texas with a diverse QB run game, I'm sure, but the constant turmoil and incompetence on their OL makes the installation and execution of multiple blocking schemes an iffy proposition. If Texas can keep the ball inside on read-option plays and constrict running lanes with the DL on scrambles and QB draws, they should be okay.

I'm optimistic that their WR corp isn't much better than OU's at beating good press coverage if we go that route. If Pachall turns out to be healthy and starting that will automatically decrease the effectiveness of their run game but would also point towards Cover-2 as a solution over trying to shut down Pachall's legitimately good arm with press coverage.

Special Teams/turnovers

It's been noted that turnovers and special teams' play could be the difference in this game. TCU actually has a fairly dangerous return game with Catalon that yielded a big score for them against LSU. If Texas is going to continue to struggle with return coverage it would make a lot of sense to just kick out out of the back of the end zone and trust Gerg to shut down a limited offense. The team should also be repping punt coverage regularly as that's been an area of particular incompetence. There's little benefit to forcing punts if you interfere with the catch half the time. If we cleaned that up, Fera could be a major asset in this game and moving forward.

Hopefully Daje continues to have an impact here as well.

I believe turnovers come not from being "emphasized in practice," whatever that means, but by making offenses play left handed and staying ahead of the chains on offense. It's that simple. If Texas' safeties have a good day making tackles on bubble screens and runs then turnovers will come. If Major continues to find ways to utilize Texas' athletes without putting a great burden on Case then turnovers will be avoided.

Then Texas will win.

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