The Mountaineers cleared their first major hurdle of the season in impressive fashion, but don’t have time to feel too good about themselves with the TCU Horned Frogs coming to town. The Frogs are led by the talented Kenny Hill at QB, and not unlike our 3-3-5, their 4-2-5 poses a unique challenge in the conference.
Record: (4-2). Honestly, this is probably where the realistic Horned Frog would’ve predicted them to be 6 games in. They’ve beaten who they were supposed to beat, and they’ve lost to who they were supposed to lose to. The lone weird blip was the 24-23 win at Kansas a few weekends back, but they’re coming off a bye and should be rested and ready to rumble.
HC: Gary Patterson. Patterson is in his 16th year at TCU, making him the 3rd longest tenured coach in the country right now behind Bob Stoops and Kirk Ferentz. He’s 147-49 over that period with just 2 losing seasons and 7 conference championships, and he and TCU’s relationship is college football’s shining beacon on the hill of what can happen to a program when both parties favor continuity and the big picture over short-term success and booster money.
OC: Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meachum. Co-offensive coordinators Cumbie and Meachum are both in their 3rd year in the program. The offense has exploded over that period of time, no doubt in large part to the dearly departed Boykin, Doctson, and Green, but the two have gotten transfer Kenny Hill and a new group of skill guys up to speed relatively quickly, and they again find themselves ranked in the top 20 in the country in scoring and total offense.
DC: Chad Glasgow. Glasgow is a long-time Patterson assistant and is in his 15th year at TCU. The Frogs have been known for their aggressive 4-2-5 defense long before this recent offensive awakening, and Glasgow had a big hand in helping Patterson bring it into the mainstream.
OUR OFFENSE VS THEIR DEFENSE
Players to watch: DE Josh Carraway, DT Aaron Curry, LB Travin Howard, LB Ty Summers, CB Ranthony Texada, S Nick Orr, S Denzel Johnson
TCU took a step backwards defensively last year while dealing with some growing pains, and seems to be continuing the trend in 2016. There was some hope coming into the season that the defense would be ready to carry the Frogs with all the turnover on the offensive side of the ball, but to this point the group hasn’t followed through on that promise. They’ve been decent against the run, allowing 150.7 yards per game (57th nationally) on just 3.6 yards per carry (30th), but have been woeful against the pass, allowing 273.2 ypg (103rd) and a whopping 27 explosive pass plays. Overall, they’re giving up about 424 yards (84th) and 30 points (85th) per game, which is a far cry from what we’ve come to expect from a TCU defense.
Individually, they don’t have a ton of depth but they do have some very good players. Carraway and James McFarland were preseason All-Conference selections across the front 4, while Aaron Curry and Nick Orr have both played at a high enough level to receive post-season consideration. Their 2 best players on defense though have arguably been the two linebackers, Summers and Howard, who also happen to be the team’s 2 leading tacklers. Summers has been particularly good of late with 5 straight double-digit tackle performances, but really it’s crucial that we’re able to reach the pair of them if we want to hit those 10+ yarders that we gashed Texas Tech with.
And overall, that should be the key matchup: our offensive line against their front 6. The Frogs have long had a reputation for being extremely aggressive defensively, and that’s again true this year with their 22 sacks and 45 tackles for loss good for 11th and 33rd in the country, respectively. However, we rank 4th and 3rd in the country in sacks and TFL allowed and are about as well equipped to handle TCU as anyone. I’m imagining that the game plan will be very similar to what we saw last week, so if the line is again able to control the line of scrimmage and keep Skyler relatively clean then I’m confident that we’ll be able to move the ball and put up points.
OUR DEFENSE VS THEIR OFFENSE
Players to watch: QB Kenny Hill, RB Kyle Hicks, WR Taj Williams, WR John Diarse, WR KaVontae Turpin
TCU lost more offensively than any other team in the conference, but some savvy recruiting in the transfer market and development at a few key spots has again stocked their offensive coffers with speed and talent. Taj Williams and John Diarse have done a good job stepping into the vacuum left by Doctson and Listenbee, Kyle Hicks has been about 85% of Aaron Green at running back (which is still pretty damn good), and KaVontae Turpin, when healthy, has looked like one of the more dangerous big play threats in the country. The most notable change though is the addition of Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill at QB.
Hill has been handed the reigns of their spread attack, and though he’s not quite the player that Trevone Boykin was (who is?), he’s plenty dangerous in his own right. Through 6 games he’s averaging 357 yards passing (4th nationally) and 35 yards rushing per game (4th in the conference among QBs), and in general he’ll offer many of the same challenges as Pat Mahomes, but with the added benefit of being at full health. Actually TCU’s offense as a whole will offer many of the same challenges as Texas Tech: they’ll spread us out, they’ll throw it to a bunch of different people (8 guys with double digit receptions; we only have 4), and they have a QB who can extend plays and hurt you with his legs. One thing we need to be aware of in addition to all that though is Hicks out of the backfield. He leads them in receptions and has done a nice job acting as a safety blanket for Hill, so we need to stay focused and limit YAC if and when he does get the ball that way.
Overall though, the key defensively will be if, and to what extent, we’re able to bother Hill. This will be his first time facing our 3-3-5, so I’m sure Gibby intends to give him he full experience. I expect frequent blitzes from just about everywhere with a solid mix of single high man and blanket cover 8 just to keep him on his toes. If the front 3 can duplicate last week’s pass rush and disrupt their timing without sacrificing cover men, then all the better. I expect Hill and Co to be able to move the ball on us, but like last week, if we can slow them down even a little bit then I like our offense to get us across the finish line.
TCU might have the best special teams unit of any team we’ve played to this point. Their punter, punt coverage, kickoff coverage, and kick return units are all better than average, and their kicker is probably even better than that. Where they really excel though is in the punt return game, ranking 4th nationally with 17.4 yards per return. Road upsets often seem to include a big play on defense or special teams, so we need to be extremely careful about not giving them any space this weekend, especially if the aforementioned Turpin is able to return from injury. He’s been hurt for a few weeks now, but Patterson hinted that he might be back, and if he is I hope we don’t even kick it into the same area code. He’s simply too dangerous, and we have enough things to worry about without trying to chase down one of the nation’s premier return men.
I think if we could script it, we would have this week look as close to last week as possible. TCU poses many of the same problems that Texas Tech did, so the keys again will be running the ball, controlling the clock, and limiting big plays. They’re coming off a bye week and have more than enough talent to beat us on our home field, especially if we revert to form with some of the sloppiness that plagued our first 4 games. However, if we stick to that game plan and execute, I like our chances of ending the weekend 6-0.
West Virginia 38 TCU 30