Opponent: @ TCU Horned Frogs
Last Year's Record: 4-8, 2-7
Coach: Gary Patterson
Game 8: October 25th
1. The Offense. This is the problem. The offense was simply awful for TCU last year and it's why TCU ended up hiring Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie. TCU will officially a spread team starting next year and to be honest, I pretty much trust Cumbie and Meacham to be able to implement the spread offense pretty quickly. I know that Cumbie has been a part of a couple of installs in terms of the offense and I'm guessing that Meacham did the same while at Houston. This isn't their first time to do this, but they really had some good parts while at each of their stops. The question that really everyone is wondering is whether or not Matt Joeckel is the quarterback that can make it all happen. Joeckel's competition will be Foster Sawyer, a true freshman and Zach Allen, a redshirt freshman. I'm trying to wrap my head around all of this and I think that TCU will be better, but I wonder how much patience Patterson will have with something that he's not as familiar. Patterson is well aware that the spread has it's flaws, he's exposed plenty of them as a terrific defensive coordinator and head coach.
2. This Might Change the Complexion of the Defense. So, if the offense is going to be more spread oriented, then you're more likely to see a defense that will be on the field quite a bit more, especially if TCU intends to go full speed on offense. One of the best, but maybe underrated, things that TCU did as an offense that I think really helped the offense was that they really slowed things down offensively. They would take all 35 seconds on the play clock, or as much as necessary. That's a defensive head coach and it really worked terrifically until that offensive consistency eroded a bit with the hiring away of Justin Fuente and the retention of Jarrett Anderson as offensive coordinator. Like a lot of spread offenses, they move quickly and I can't imagine that Meacham or Cumbie will really want to slow down. It's the offensive philosophy to put opposing defenses in uncompromising positions and create issues. The problem with this defensively is that this means that the very successful TCU defense is, most likely, going to be on the field a lot more. I do think that a lot of the success of that TCU defense had to do with the conservative offensive philosophy (obviously a majority of it had to do with the terrific coaching of Bumpas and Patterson) but shaving time off the clock. TCU was 49th in time of possession in 2013 (4-8), 8th in 2012 (7-6), 50th in 2011 (11-2), 3rd in 2010 (13-0), 18th in 2009 (12-1). Pretty much no matter the situation, TCU has been in the top third of time of possession. For teams like Texas Tech, we've just somewhat accepted the life of an offense that keeps the ball around the 100th or so best in the nation. There will be inopportune times that the offense turns the ball over on downs and 30 seconds run off the clock. It just happens. Yeah, sure, it's not supposed to happen in an ideal world, but it happens. There's supposed to be lots of first downs and all that sort of thing, but trust me on this. It is going to be interesting to watch on this end.
3. Emphasis on the Passing Game. TCU will, most likely, not have as much emphasis on the running game. We don't have to discuss the Texas Tech running game, but Houston had the 93rd best running game last year, which is actually an improvement over TCU's 111th ranking. If anything, this is further evidence that the TCU offense was just a mess last year. Meachum really did his best work at Oklahoma St., an offense known to be more balanced than most spread offenses, so it will be interesting to see how much better/worse the TCU running game will be. Still, the passing game should get a boost and that will mean that Josh Doctson (36 catches), David Porter (26 catches) and anyone else will see a lot more touches. There's also the thought that Boykin, if he doesn't win the quarterback spot, will be utilized in a utility role as he is thought of as the team's best offensive player.
4. Where the Defense Goes From Here. With Devante Fields most likely away from the team for the rest of the year (it would be difficult to see how he would be back on the team given the circumstances, but I suppose I shouldn't make presumptions) the defense just won't be as dominant. That's the funny thing about having a truly dominant pass-rushing defensive end, it makes the lives of the defensive backs that much easier. Last year, Jason Verrett was simply terrific, so he didn't need the help, but guys like Verrett aren't all that common. Verrett will be tough to replace, but now you add the need for the defensive back to stick just a bit longer on a receiver where there won't be the threat of a pass rush from both sides and the TCU defense becomes much less menacing.
5. There Are Some Really Good Parts. I think what Patterson, and everyone else, sees, is the idea that if the offense can just be marginally better, then everything will fall into place for TCU. Heck, they played pretty well without Fields almost all of last year and that's certainly a bullet point for the Frogs. The 24th overall defense in terms of yards allowed, the 21st best defense in rushing and the 58th best defense in passing. That's actually very good in terms of the Big 12 and there are some really talented players returning on defense, including DT Chucky Hunter, CB Kevin White, LB Paul Dawson, LB Marcus Mallett and S Sam Carter. Yeah, they are replacing Jason Verrett, but this group should be able to certainly help carry the load for the offense. Much like Texas Tech is expected to carry the load for the defense.
Q&A with Frogs O' War:
Much thanks to HawkeyedFrog from Frogs O' War to discuss the Horned Frogs.
1. What are your expectations for 2014?
There are a lot of expectations going on for the Frogs in 2014, but I think that the biggest expectation that Frog fans have is an offensive identity- in that we'd sure like to have one this year. Even the most dyed-in-the-wool and ridiculously optimistic frog fan in the world(and odds are good that you're talking to him) is going into this season with a hefty sense of trepidation about what to expect from the TCU offense this year. The one thing everyone agreed that we wanted we got very shortly after season's end- we rid ourselves of the absolutely incompetent co-OC pairing of Rusty Burns and Jarrett Anderson, neither of whom seemed to have any idea of what they wanted the TCU offense to be in the best of times, much less when dealing with quarterback injuries and o-line strife, but then the replacements were announced and confusion reigned. Coordinators from Houston and Texas Tech? An Air Raid offense? We'v certainly played against it enough to know what a good air raid offense looks like, but whether we'll have a good one or not is a subject of a lot of discussion over at Frogs O' War right now. Still, to actually have an offensive identity that has a clear direction on how to get yards and points is a big step forward from Anderson and Burns, and we expect it to take us to back to a winning record and a bowl game this year- anything more specific than that and your guess is as good as anyone's.
2. What are the strengths and weaknesses for the Horned Frogs?
I suppose you want more of an answer than just "the offense" for weaknesses, huh? For a team moving to an Air Raid offense, TCU doesn't have the wide receiver depth that you'd like, particularly after the dismissal of physical freak LaDarius Brown and the uncertain status of the very talented, but very knuckleheaded, Brandon Carter (who you may remember from one of the two controversial punt returns from our game in Lubbock last season), and the offensive line never really came together last year, going through a mismatch of lineups that didn't really pan out. Despite his talent and the lack of depth at the position though, many fans (myself included) wouldn't shed a tear if Carter didn't play for the Frogs again, as his dreadful penalties and all too frequent fumbles turned the tide in several games last year. On the upside, however, TCU returns an absolute ton of talent on defense, where a very young group was one of the best units in the country last year, keeping the offensively inept Frogs in games even when we didn't manage a single first down in a half of play. TCU is particularly strong up front, with three DL who were on the All Big 12 team last year or find themselves on the preseason team this year, and though Jason Verrett will be practicing his trade in the NFL this year, the dropoff from him to Kevin White as #1 corner isn't expected to be a sharp one. TCU's defense will once again be good enough to compete with any team in the nation, it's just a matter of how the offense will shake out.
3. Who are two of the best players to watch on offense and defense for TCU?
On offense the one sure thing that the Frogs have is running back B.J. Catalon, who averaged over 5 yards per carry last year despite a fairly woeful offensive line that routinely saw he and Waymon James facing off with an unblocked lineman in the backfield. With offensive direction and a quarterback who is actually a threat to beat you with his arm, Catalon should thrive this year and will definitely be in the discussion for the conference's best running back. The other player to watch is the infamous Trevone Boykin, who despite his failings as a quarterback last year was actually a fairly explosive wide receiver in the few moments Casey Pachall was healthy last year, and with a thin depth chart around him we're all very curious about where he'll end up playing and how well he'll do while he's there. With the Frogs having imported a new starter at QB from Texas A&M while also stacking the depth chart with the highly recruited Foster Sawyer, Boykin's best chance to make an impact on the game is at wideout, but Patterson has always loved quarterbacks who can run. He may not end up being one of the best players on the field, but Boykin is the one I won't be able to take my eyes off of when the season kicks off.
With the mind numbing stupidity of Devonte Fields, who managed to remove himself from the roster in one of the most despicable ways possible, Frog eyes are locked fixedly on the man that Patterson had actually listed ahead of Devonte on the depth chart- Terrell Lathan. Lathan led the frogs in sacks this year, despite only starting in 5 games, and could very well be the next big thing in TCU defensive ends. He doesn't have the freakish speed/size/athleticism combination of Fields that will put him into any conversation about the first round of the NFL draft, but he's certainly capable enough- and also unlike Mr. Fields, he also appears to have a fully functional brain. That along with an All Big 12 level player at both DT spots (Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson) he'll be afforded a lot of one on one matchups that he should be able to take good advantage of. Second up is strong safety Sam Carter who seems like he's been on the field for the Frogs forever at this point. At strong safety, Carter is the focal point of the 4-2-5 as he must thrive in both run support as well as pass defense to keep the defense clicking at a high level, and he certainly did that last year, leading the team in interceptions while also collecting four sacks and seven and a half tackles for loss. Keep an eye on Carter wherever possible and you'll have a pretty good idea of what's happening in the play without even looking in the offensive backfield.
BONUS: With the change in offensive philosophy from a more deliberate offensive style to a more up-tempo offense, do you think this quicker offensive pace will have a positive or negative impact on the defense and why?
This is an interesting point of discussion that has been talked about by many of the more informed football writers and coaches out there, to try and measure the effects of an up-tempo offense on a team's defense and see if it causes them to get worn down more quickly. My own opinion is that it could/should be a benefit to the defense for two main reasons, the first of which is: it should actually get first downs. An offense lining up and firing off the ball as quickly as possible will absolutely wear a defense out if they end up going three and out all the time- that's just a sped up version of what we were doing last year (where even our hurry up offense risked being flagged for delay of game), but if the TCU offense can actually click and start putting pressure on the opposing defense it would mean big things for our defense as well. The advanced stats of SBNation's beloved Bill C actually bear out that TCU's defense rated out better than Michigan State's soul crushing unit in most areas, but the key difference was that they were typically left facing miserable field position thanks to a bad offense and frequent turnovers. The second benefit to switching to a hurry up offense is that it means that the defense will be practicing against it week in and week out in practice, which should both improve conditioning as well as helping the frogs defense adjust to the speed of the Big 12's high tempo offenses. In the end, I can't imagine any offense could hurt the TCU defense more than the 2013 TCU offense did, no matter how quickly they snap the ball.
From the Spring:
Head coach Gary Patterson on the offense:
"He's athletic, hard to blitz, [and makes] right decisions, even though he did throw a pick here a minute ago," Patterson said. "[During Saturday's scrimmage], he didn't throw any interceptions."
Patterson was quick to point out though that the decision of the starter is still a long way away.
"Quarterbacks get judged on Saturdays, fellas," Patterson said. "We'll find out next Saturday, you know, in about five months what they'll be. Doesn't matter what they do now. They'll be completely different. We'll just keep prepping."
The offense is still in the process of learning new schemes from co-offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham. It's expected to be a lot more up-tempo than previous years.
"It's hard to get lined up to ‘em, to be honest with you," Patterson said. "They've been going fast. They've done a good job of that. The tempo has been very fast."
On the defense:
"Spring is the time to grow ‘em up," Patterson said. "It helped [Kindred] last year...it'll help both of those guys too."
As for the other defensive backs, Patterson once again praised redshirt freshman Ranthony Texada for his cornerback play.
"Ranthony's farther than we thought he was," Patterson said. "He's just gotta keep competing."
The Frisco, Texas, native seems to have solidified the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.
"I feel good about our first two corners." Patterson said. "I don't feel good about the next two. Not yet."
The Frogs are attempting to replace two time All-American and 2013 Co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jason Verrett.
"We've tackled better in the scrimmage than what we have other years but we just need to keep focusing and do what we do," Patterson said.