VTM: Give me the current state of the TCU program. A loss against national powerhouse LSU and a convincing win against SE Louisiana. How do you feel about Pachall being out and just generally where the team is right now.
HF of FOW: I feel really bad for Casey, because from all indications he managed to get his life turned around in rehab and was on the road to becoming a good football player again. That said there is definitely a faction of Frog fans who are glad that Boykin is stepping up to be the starter (though nobody would have ever wished that injury on Casey). I personally never thought that Boykin would unseat Casey as starting QB, and the talk that he looked greatly improved in the spring and fall practice sessions I charted up to Patterson wanting LSU to gameplan for two quarterbacks. Then after Pachall threw an absolutely dreadful pick against LSU (To see how bad it was, check out What Went Wrong #2 in the LSU video Rewind and Boykin came in for the rest of the game and looked damn good running and passing. I wasn't surprised when Casey got the nod to start against SE Louisiana because I think his ceiling is higher than Boykins- 2011 and early 2012 Casey was an NFL quarterback waiting to reach draft age- but I was again surprised at how off he looked. I'm heartbroken Casey is going to be out for eight weeks and won't get a chance to be the player he used to be, but I think going into Tech week Boykin would have been the better option to get us out with a victory.
VTM: Other than Boykin and the quarterback situation, talk a bit about the state of the offense.
HF of FOW: Where is TCU on a line that lost a couple of starters and the receivers are looking to pick up where some talented players left after last year. The line has looked surprisingly good, with huge right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai (I've gotten to the point where I can spell that without having to look it up) being especially surprising given how poorly he handled speed rushers in his spot duties last year. LSU's line of freakish athletes weren't able to get consistent pressure and TCU was able to run the ball very effectively with the returned Waymon James and the vastly improved B.J. Catalon. The wide receivers are still a bit of a question mark as despite the depth of talented speedsters TCU is rolling out there hasn't been a really impressive performance from any of them yet. With the quarterback shuffle now at a temporary end I think the receivers will be all right, but we're waiting on Brandon Carter or LaDarius Brown to really assert themselves as a threat that has to be accounted for on every play.
VTM: I've thought that the TCU defense is going to eventually be one of the better in Big 12 and now that Devonte Fields will fully return, how is the defense shaping up?
HF of FOW: Despite the new faces the linebackers looked solid against LSU and the front four did an excellent job in stymieing the Tiger running game. The issues against LSU came on third down where the frogs were unable to mount any sort of pass rush without blitzing, giving Zach Mettenberger loads of time to pick apart the talented secondary after the breakdowns in coverage that are inevitable if you don't make the quarterback throw in the first five seconds. With Devonte Fields back at end I expect the TCU pass rush to improve dramatically, which will make the defense darn solid. When the line is getting pressure the secondary feels more at ease to aim for turnovers, which is an area that they absolutely shined in last year. I think they'll work out all right and be the Big 12's best by the end of the season (though right now that doesn't look like too great an honor, did you see BYU's rushing numbers against Texas? Oof. As a team that's played BYU a whole lot, I can confidently say that's not an especially good offense).
VTM: What is one thing on offense and one thing on defense that TCU needs to win on Thursday night?
HF of FOW: On offense TCU needs to stick to the ground game early. Both Catalon and Waymon James have had some nice looks and with Boykin they combine to run a scary zone read, which would really open up the play action passing game if we stick with it. Tech is a team that you're going to have to score consistently to beat, and TCU has the weapons to do it if they're used effectively. On defense the Frogs need to rush the passer. I touched on this briefly in #3, but TCU's secondary is at its best when it plays soft at the start of the game, giving up quick slants and hitches to try and let the quarterback feel a little comfortable, then jumping the routes once the quarterback feels at ease with them. The best way to force the quarterback into making a quick decision is pressure, and I expect TCU to break out some intricate blitzes to make Tech's super freshman QB show that he can make the right reads and beat them through the air. If TCU wins the turnover battle, I think they'll win the game.
VTM: And how about a player on offense and defense that will have the biggest impact on Thursday's game?
HF of FOW: On offense it'll have to be Trevone Boykin, who has really improved his decision making since the end of last season. Patterson and company feels more comfortable rolling him out on third down and giving him a run/pass option to pick it up, and if he's feeling it TCU's offense can be very hard to get off the field (see Baylor last year). On defense CB Kevin White was the MVP of the LSU game with Mettenberger electing not to try the excellent Jason Verrett too often. As I expect Tech to behave similarly, White needs to be solid in coverage and give Fields and company enough time to pressure Mayfield into making freshman mistakes. You're likely to hear his name a lot on Thursday night, and whether it's in a positive or negative light will be key in determining which team comes out a winner.