Thanks to Hawkeyed Frog at Frogs O' War for answering a few questions about the TCU Horned Frogs.
Seth: This assumes that you are surprised at TCU's start, but assuming that you're just a little surprised, talk about what your expectations were prior to the season and where they are now?
Hawkeyed Frog: Expectations varied on the Frogosphere, with yours truly tending toward the more optimistic side (It's been pointed out to me that last season I spoke very poorly of TCU's offensive coaching staff last year to the point where I said they couldn't win a game against a Baylor level OOC opponent with that offense, only to inevitably pick TCU to win the next Saturday- The optimism just builds on me.) but the fact that Trevone Boykin is running the offense well is the biggest surprise in all college football so far. Before the season I would've realistically had us at 4-2 at this point with losses to OU and OSU, ending up at 8-4 on the season- improvement, but not too far ahead of myself. Now, being the natural irrational optimist that I am, I'm gnashing my teeth that TCU only jumped up to #10 by throttling OSU. One day I'm going to try to get the rational level-headed journalist mindset right, but for right now I'm sure TCU is going to the playoff. Until next week anyway.
Seth: TCU has had a remarkable turnaround, after a 4-8 season, and the big factor has been an improved offense, but what specifically has been the reason(s) for the improvement?
Hawkeyed Frog: The offense has shown a great deal of creativity that has been lacking the past few seasons, and co-OCs Meacham and Cumbie have done a very good job of putting TCU's track team/wide receiver group in positions to succeed, but the biggest difference is that the offense actually has an identity. Last year's TCU team was a spread outfit that seemed to have a huge hodgepodge of plays copied and pasted from six or seven different playbooks from the internet- and most of them were things like play-action passes or quick wide receiver screens that require setup to work... without running the plays that actually set up those PA passes or screens. This year we're an air raid team and we're running plays that set each other up perfectly- that and Trevone Boykin finally having a full year of practice at the quarterback position seems to have made all the difference.
Seth: One of the things I've written about is the idea that even good coaches can sometimes go 4-8, but you have to stick to the plan. What was the toughest thing about going 4-8 last year and what made you all think that TCU would be able to rebound in a big way?
Hawkeyed Frog: The toughest thing about going 4-8 last year was seeing a championship level defense be absolutely wasted by the painful incompetence of the offense. TCU's defense last year may well have been the best defense that Patterson has had in his time in Fort Worth, and to see them put on great performances for series after series only to have to strap the helmets back on three plays and a punt later every single series in the first half against Oklahoma pained me greatly. Somehow, some way that defense kept us in every game we played last year, even with an offense that shot at its own foot like it was the Bonnie and Clyde death car- which made it all the sadder when they inevitably broke late in each game from being on the field all game- and being my optimistic self made it even worse, because I'd convinced myself that the Frogs were sure to pull this one out. And I'm going to give you a bit of a cheat on the second part of the question- as soon as Gary Patterson announced that Anderson and Burns would not return as offensive coordinators for the 2014 season, I was sure that the Frogs would be bowl eligible at the least next season- I honestly would've traded any kid playing Madden for those two at that point, and when it was announced that we had snagged two guys with Big 12 roots for comparable positions at TCU, I felt very good about the way things were headed.
Seth: The one constant has been the return of a really stellar TCU defense (let's not talk about Baylor), what has been the strengths and weaknesses of the defense thus far and do you think Texas Tech has the weapons on offense to exploit those weaknesses?
Hawkeyed Frog: The strength of the defense is (somewhat surprisingly) in the front 6, as TCU's DT combo of Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson have been crushing it so far this season, and linebacker Paul Dawson has been playing himself into serious Butkus award consideration for the nation's top linebacker- his sure tackling, playmaking ability behind the line and nose for the ball have been on full display this season, and his pick 6 against Oklahoma should have iced the game if not for some special teams issues. The weakness of this TCU defense that we've seen consistently enough to be sure that it's not just a scheme issue on any given play seems to be that the Frogs are quite vulnerable to speedy receivers out of the slot going deep- the corners have been solid (but will occasionally draw a PI penalty), but the safeties have been very feast or famine against the deep ball and I expect Texas Tech will attack it often- if the Tech O-line can keep Webb upright long enough to release, it'll either be a touchdown or an interception.
Seth: What's the one area that really needs improvement on the TCU side of things?
Hawkeyed Frog: With the question marks on offense and the departure of Devonte Fields and Jason Verrett we weren't really sure about a lot of things heading into this season, but the one thing that everyone felt good about was kicker Jaden Oberkrom (nicknamed "Legatron") continuing to perform at a high level this season after a good debut and an excellent sophomore year. To say he's been disappointing so far is an understatement. He's missed deep ones, chip shots, straight on virtual extra point attempts- always with plenty of leg, but it appears to be in his head right now. Ideally I'd like to see some more good things in our return game as well, but after the last two years of Skye Dawson/Brandon Carter averaging a muffed punt turnover per game, I'm happy enough that Cameron Echols-Luper is catching them all- he just needs to signal for a fair catch a bit more often to keep from getting murdered.
Seth: Give us a couple of guys on each side of the ball that Texas Tech fans might not know, but should watch out for on Saturday.
Hawkeyed Frog: On offense the accolades have (deservedly) focused on Boykin and jump ball monster Josh Doctson, but just below them in importance are Wideouts Kolby Listenbee and Deante Gray. Both are amazing sprinters (with Listenbee possibly being the fastest man in the Big 12), but they've both improved so much in route running this year that they've forced opposing cornerbacks to play them honestly- and that's resulted in some very big plays. You can guarantee that early on in Saturday's game Meacham will dial up a deep ball to Listenbee just to see if Tech's DBs can keep up with it, while Gray will be the target of numerous misdirection and quick screen type plays to attempt to get him the ball in space. On defense TCU is doing a great job of rotating the defensive ends to keep fresh legs churning after the quarterback, but keep an eye out for DE Mike Tuaua (You can find him by looking for the giant red mane of hair). Secondly, I did mention him before, but Chucky Hunter had been a bit underappreciated this season- he does a great job of taking up space and driving his man back to create space for the rest of the TCU D-line, and if TCU has a good game on defense Saturday you can be sure that Chucky had another great one, even if he doesn't pop up everywhere on the stat sheet.
Seth: One of the neat things I've gotten to know about you is that you live in Australia, Adelaide to be exact, what's a game day like for you and how many illegal things are you doing and how late are you staying up or getting up to watch the games?
Hawkeyed Frog: Well I'm actually visiting the family in Fort Worth right now (I'll be back in Oz from the West Virginia game on), but generally I hope for TCU to either get the 11 AM kickoff games (thus being the only one in the TCU fandom who is pleased when we get one) so that they're basically like staying up to watch a Hawaii/late Pac-12 game in Texas. Kickoff at about 11 PM and you can be in bed around 2 or so. 2:30 kickoffs are generally less pleasant- I generally try to catch a quick nap and wake up around 1 AM for gametime at 3 AMish, and then generally can't back to sleep for a while from elation/dejection. As for methods of various legality for watching games, I haven't the slightest idea what you mean- I've got a Slingbox set up on a spare cable box back in Texas, so happily I can get all of the football that's fit to watch (not the Longhorn Network, but I did say "that's fit to watch".) legally. As for how I watch the game when the Slingbox is lagging, or weather is bad and the power is out... I'll answer when I'm back in Oz, and unlikely to be extradited. It's tough being a Frog fan in Australia, but the alternative would be trying to figure out what the heck is going on in an Australian Rules football game, and I don't think I'll ever be that desperate.
Thanks agin to Hawkeyed Frog for taking the time to answer some questions and we'll see you at 2:30 on Saturday.