It’s hard to believe that the end of the football season is upon us, but alas here we are. Oklahoma will be on the road this weekend, to bring an official close to their regular season, when they take on the TCU Horned Frogs. Not really sure what OU did to offend the Big 12 schedule makers but this is the second consecutive season that they’ve ended with a road game. At stake, for the Sooners, is at least a share of the Big 12 championship and the possibility of an outright championship should things go south for Kansas State.
Standing in the way for OU is a TCU squad that is in its first season of Big 12 conference play. The Horned Frogs had aspirations of winning a conference championship themselves but with those hopes fading they still have the opportunity to be a spoiler to the Sooners. Here to give us the lowdown on TCU is Hawkeyed Frog from SBN's Frogs O' War. You can find my responses to his questions, here.
MH: When you talk about a Gary Patterson coached team, it all starts with defense. The Horned Frogs lead the Big 12 in rush defense and are second in scoring defense. However, every team has a weakness so tell us where the Sooners should attack the TCU defense?
HF: Patterson will focus on shutting down the OU running game first, and he'll commit whatever resources are necessary there until the Sooners become one dimensional. It's at this point early in the game, when Patterson isn't sure exactly how much he'll have to commit to the run game that the TCU defense is at its most vulnerable to the pass, so if Landry Jones is on early and can beat man and a few unique zone coverages the Sooners will be able to score early and keep the running game alive. TCU's excellent defensive ends, Fields and Maponga, are both a bit more restrained on early possessions as well as they both rush and keep contain on the run, so if Jones is going to continue the tear he's on he'll need to get it going early. If TCU gets a lead early, the defense gets more aggressive and more effective, so if I were OU I'd take the ball first and hope to take the lead first.
MH: TCU has three players with over 100 rushing attempts, yet they are next to last in the Big 12 in rushing offense? Tell us a little bit about the offense and what OU fans can expect?
HF: The running game has been a disaster this year, as the injury gods smote down Doak Walker watchlister (and arguably the best back in the Big 12) Waymon James late in week 2 and the generally consistent power back, Matthew Tucker, has been struggling with an ankle injury. As a result, the carries have fallen to the feast-or-famine running of true freshman B.J. Catalon (big play threat, but also fumble prone), a 60% version of Tucker and the only sometimes intentional carries of Boykin. The injuries are rough, but there's also some mismanagement of the talent going on, as far too often are we sending Catalon on ill-fated attempts up the middle instead of Tucker or coach's doghouse VIP member Aundre Dean (there's really no other explanation for why Dean isn't getting more carries). Ideally we'll see a healthy Tucker take the lion's share of the carries on Saturday, with Catalon as a changeup on zone reads and pitches to the outside, but the play calling against Texas doesn't fill me with loads of confidence there.
MH: Freshman quarterback Trevone Boykin was thrust into the spotlight a little anticipated. How would you rate his performance over the last seven games?
HF: Boykin has been about what you would expect out of a freshman with a lot of natural talent but lacking the experience to make the best use of it. Earlier in the season (especially against Iowa State and Oklahoma State) Boykin has tried to force things through the air, while also suffering from High School Big Man syndrome- that is, the mistaken belief that he's still the fastest man on the field. He's gotten better as the weeks have gone on, but his suspect ability at reading coverages and fairly low release point means that the jewel of TCU's offense without James- an absolutely amazing receiving unit- is being vastly underutilized. Still, Boykin has improved every week and has gotten an excellent feel on scrambling for first downs when his reads aren't there, so we're cautiously optimistic. It still hurts to think of what kind of offense we could have (and what kind of record we could have had!) if Casey Pachall weren't an idiot.
MH: Where would you say that your biggest areas of confidence and concern are, heading into this game?
HF: I'm confident that the defense will be able to slow down the Sooners early, and if the offense has early success the crowd will be one of the best we've ever had at Amon Carter stadium. I'm confident in Jason Verrett having another incredible game and collecting another interception, and Devonte Fields doing more to solidify his hold on all of the Defensive Freshman of the Year awards. I'm not confident that the offense will be able to keep up with OU over four quarters though, as the play calling has suffered this year without current Memphis head coach Justin Fuente in the booth. Boykin has been good for a couple of turnovers a game, in games where he's had to throw the ball more than nine times, so I'm concerned that we'll fall into a hole if we give up short fields too often. I'm concerned that it's the last week of the season and punt/kick returner Skye Dawson still can't cleanly field the ball in either phase of the return game (he's muffed three games in a row, he just managed to get on top of them in the Texas game). I'm concerned that even though 1998 was a long time ago that no matter how the game has gone to that point, no fourth quarter lead is safe against OU (Ugh, that game).
MH: TCU is on the cusp of finishing their inaugural football season in the Big 12. Has it been what you expected, and the highlight has to be beating Texas on Thanksgiving, right?
HF: It's been a frustrating season, as even though this season has been successful by most standards it's felt like it could have been so much more if not for a few catastrophic instants: A drug bust in the offseason which rid the program of a lot of experienced players, Waymon James going down in week two and Casey Pachall going off the deep end just before the serious part of the Big 12 season started. TCU has shown that it can compete in the Big 12 this year, but with Pachall and James we could have been playing you guys for a share of the Big 12 title instead of hoping to slide into the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Still, given the obstacles the team has faced it's been a good season for the Frogs, taking revenge on Baylor in Waco for last year was sweet, but choking the life out of the Longhorns on Thanksgiving is something that will stay with us for a long time - particularly as it came right after the announcement that UT would not be making a return trip to Fort Worth for Thanksgiving next year. Adding to the tally of "most wins against Texas in Austin" is a point of pride for the Frogs as well, even if it is because y'all play in the Cotton Bowl every year. It sure pisses off A&M and Arkansas that TCU has beaten Texas in Austin more than they have, and that makes us even happier.
MH: Score prediction time. Tell us what is going to happen on Saturday.
HF: It's a slow start for both offenses, but things pick up in the second half as OU takes the lead and TCU fights to keep up. TCU takes a late lead, but in the end the Sooners clinch the game with a field goal that the Frogs can't answer. OU 36, TCU 34.