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Film Room Previews: TCU Horned Frogs

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Big game this Saturday. Let's preview it.

These aren't the TCU Horned Frogs that we're used to. Gary Patterson led teams normally win with outstanding defense and marginal to mediocre offense. This Horned Frog defense is currently being held together with bubble gum and duct tape, and this TCU offense has upgraded from a Jalopy to a Jaguar. Unfortunately, the injuries to TCU's defense and our recent run of success mean we aren't sneaking up on anyone. TCU is gonna come in prepared for a war, and hopefully our boys can give them one.

OFFENSE: True Air Raid

Yeah it's a crappy shot but it's one of the only ones I could find with the whole offense in the picture. The Air Raid attempts to spread the defense and create passing lanes in the outside flats and deep middle. As per usual in the Big 12, TCU runs their Air Raid with a little tempo thrown in the mix. It's nearly a carbon copy of our offense, so hopefully our defense has the experience they need to defend it.

Everyone tells me to fear Trevone Boykin, but personally I think he's a tad overrated. I don't mean that he's not a good player, but there is no one in the world who can convince me that he's the same type of dynamic threat without Josh Doctson, Kolby Listenbee, and Aaron Green. TCU's Offensive Line is very good, but what is truly outstanding about this offense is the downfield blocking from the Wide Receivers. Doctson and Listenbee are each the total package, and I don't think i'm exaggerating when I say that they could start for a few teams in the NFL. They love the jump ball, and their height gives them a significant advantage in this week's matchup.

DEFENSE: True 4-2-5

Unlike most teams that are going to switch to a "nickel" look to combat our offense, TCU runs the "nickel" all the time. The only difference is that their hybrid safety/linebacker is going to look much more like a linebacker than an extra safety thrown into the mix. The Horned Frogs have been absolutely gutted on the defensive side of the ball. They've lost 8 starters to various scenarios like stealing a 30 rack of Keystone Light, to stepping on a sprinkler system, to simply feeling the pressure of starting at a big-time school and not being emotionally prepared for all that comes with that. If they hadn't dropped 82 on us last year, I might feel a little sympathy for them.

It's hard to pick out who stands out on the 2015 edition of Gary Patterson's defense. Nearly every significant name is gone. Ranthony Texada, an outstanding cornerback? Injured. Mike Freeze, a young linebacker who played stellar against Minnesota? Leave of absence. TCU is going by the tried and true method of "Next Man Up", but you have to begin to wonder how much more bad luck can befall the Horned Frogs before they're forced to play defense with 9 men, a tackling dummy, and Gary Patterson himself at Defensive Tackle.

WHY I'M WORRIED:

The TCU offense is the total package. David Gibbs has promised a "bend but don't break" defense and for the most part, he has delivered. The only problem is that TCU's offense is built around breaking you. Every play is an uppercut to the jaw, and the punches don't stop coming until the final whistle blows. The height of Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee is particularly scary matched up on our slightly undersized secondary. I know TCU has lost a lot on defense, but if there's anyone in the conference that can make a mediocre defense good, it's Gary Patterson. You can love him, you can hate him, but his track record as a defensive coach is impossible to deny.

WHY I'M NOT WORRIED:

I really think we can peel a couple of turnovers off of this offense. Boykin is good, but he can make very dangerous and ill-advised throws at times. If Nigel Bethel can return this week, I think we can match him up on Listenbee and be pretty neck and neck on speed. Josh Doctson we'll probably have to double cover, but if we can mask that double coverage and bait Boykin, it's entirely possible we win the turnover battle. TCU's defense simply isn't what it was a week ago, much less a year ago. So much talent left for the NFL and via injuries that it's going to take a literal miracle for the Frogs to effectively stop Mahomes and all his Mahomies. That being said, Gary is still Gary, so we're going to have to wait until Saturday to see how we really match up against this patchwork defense.

HOW WE MATCH UP:

I feel completely confident in saying that this is the fastest defense we will face this year, injuries included. When TCU plays Air Raid teams, they play their Defensive Tackles in an interesting position.

They're going to line up at least a yard off the ball in a more relaxed 3-point stance. This is so that they can play laterally better. TCU believes that their Defensive Tackles are good enough to not be directly in the face of the Center and Guards and still be able to make plays in the downhill running game, and for the most part, they're right. The strength of this Horned Frog defense is the ability to seal the outside edges and send the play back towards all their backside help in the middle. This stance by their Defensive Tackles reflects that, they want to create pressure and penetrate gaps with their Defensive Line rather than just have them take up space.

For us, this might mean that we call less sweeps with DeAndre Washington/Justin Stockton. The play depicted is a reverse that ends up netting SFA a first down, but if it had been a sweep outside it would've been blown up very quickly. I know we're all clamoring for more DeAndre Washington, but personally I think it would be wise if Kliff tried to steer away from these types of plays for the simple fact that TCU is so good at defending them. I could only see us running a play like this with a "Midline" read from Mahomes.

A "Midline" read is a type of Read Option that focuses on reading the Defensive Tackle, not the Defensive End. The Quarterback and the Running Back flip roles in a midline. In a typical modern Read Option play, the Running Back is the one who takes the ball in the middle, and the QB hits the edge. In the Midline, the Running Back is the outside rusher, and if the Defensive Tackle pursues him, the Quarterback takes the ball into the spot he vacated in the middle of the defense, hence the term "Midline".

The TCU defense is also very good at defending screen passes. Despite maybe not having the talent that we're used to from a TCU defense, they are still a very disciplined and fundamentally sound unit. Once again, this a testament to Gary Patterson and how good of a coach he is.

#95 instantly recognizes that he got through the Center/Guard double team block a little bit too easily, and sees the running back to his left in his peripheral vision. He immediately slows down and backs into a position where he can easily cover the screen. Even if he wasn't there, TCU had both Middle Linebackers coming in to blow the play up at an angle that is difficult for the SFA offense to block. This play highlights their discipline on screen passes, but the thing that really jumps out at me from the TCU defense in general is the angles they take to the ball.

Pursuit angles are absolutely imperative for a defense to play well. If the defenders do not take the right route to the ball, it can be very easy to block them. Despite having 3 blockers in front of them, the two Middle Linebackers take the two perfect angles to the ball. #42 takes an angle that would have forced the running back to come out from behind his blockers if he had caught the ball. #20, the Safety taking the place of the Middle Linebacker in an obvious passing situation, is right there waiting for the Running Back to come to him. This play is one of the more well-defended screen passes i've seen in a long time. It's not just because it's SFA either. TCU routinely does this to incredible offensive teams too. I know how Kliff loves his screens, but we might see a couple of them blown up pretty bad on Saturday.

Here we see more of the benefits of the Defensive Line playing further back off the ball. TCU is able to aggressively push the gaps into the backfield and not get "reach" blocked by the Offensive Line. Obviously, this is just SFA, but once again, we can't forget that TCU does this to much better teams as well.

As far as defensive strategy I think we'll see a lot of man coverage mixed with a couple of blitzes. TCU likes to rely on their normally outstanding Defensive Line to generate pressure, but with the injuries/dismissals/absences on that side of the ball I think we'll see them send more pressure than they normally do. Expect to be shut down at some point in this game. They don't have the same level of talent as normal. but the Gary Patterson scheme speaks for itself.

On the Offensive side of the ball, the Horned Frogs are downright terrifying. I took a look at the Minnesota game because Minnesota ran the exact style of defense we run against passing teams.

Here's an example of a play we should see a lot on Saturday: the basic read option. TCU has the field spread so that the DBs will take more time getting to the ball after it's snapped, Boykin reads the defensive end, and gives the ball to Green on the dive. Given our... erm... history with defending the run, it would not surprise me at all to see TCU come out with a much more ground-heavy game than they normally do. Trevone Boykin and Aaron Green work very well together on these plays, and rarely mishandle snaps.

The key to beating this for us lies with the Linebackers and the Defensive Tackles. If the Defensive Tackles can slow the running back from breaking the line of scrimmage at full speed, we have a good chance at holding it for a respectable gain. If Aaron Green gets up a head of steam before getting to the linebacker's level, watch out. We absolutely have to win battles along the lines this week. We need to force TCU to double team our Defensive Tackles.

TCU also loves this deep ball, especially off of play-action. They use some form of deep bomb pass at least 4 times a game. Against us, expect that number to climb to about 6 or even 8. Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee and the rest of the Horned Frog WR corps are very, very tall. Our DBs are very short in comparison. Therefore, it only makes sense that they're going to test us over the top. They hit deep on several of these passes last year, and I would absolutely expect them to try it again.

When combined with the read option I think we'll face, the deep ball becomes even more dangerous. When TCU gets around 30-40 plays in and believes that our defense is asleep a little, we'll see it for sure. It's a potent play that pits their strengths against perceived weaknesses.

To beat this we need solid coverage from the safeties. The most important player on the field for Texas Tech's defense will be veteran safety Keenon Ward. If he and the other safeties can help over the top against TCU's home run hitters, we should be fine. If not, it'll be a very long day, because TCU can score quickly and score fast.

However, if we can hold the bend-but-don't-break philosophy and keep TCU from scoring with deep strikes, I really think we might be able to hold our own in the Red Zone. The coverage Minnesota uses in this situation is identical to the David Gibbs "sink" coverage that we've been using to great effect all year. The Linebackers and Corners covering the flats force the QB to throw the football higher or wider than he wants to, which results in incompletions or in extreme cases, interceptions.

I fully expect TCU to peel at least a couple big passes off of our defense. I also don't think it's outside of the realm of possibilities that we can hold them to field goals in the Red Zone, provided we preform as well as the #18 pass defense in the nation. That's a tall order for our boys, and I really hope we can lock down in the Red Zone. We'll need to.

THE VERDICT:

This is yet another game against a team that has questions on one side of the ball. Will TCU's defense come out to play in Lubbock? Will Gary Patterson pull off some voodoo magic and salvage the traditional strength of TCU? Only Saturday will tell. Despite everyone in the world shouting that Texas Tech can pull off this upset, this game is still daunting. Fortunately for us, many would consider it a win if we can even give TCU a game. That isn't the mentality of Kliff's squad, however. They aren't here for moral victories, they're aren't here for brownie points, they're here for blood, especially after that game last fall where the entire city of Lubbock was transformed into a West Texas hole of sadness. David Gibbs pulls off his Magnum Opus, and the Kliffense is as potent as ever with Mahomes at the helm. Tech takes it in a shootout for the ages.

SCORE PREDICTION:

Texas Tech 52, TCU 49.