Giving us our inside look at the Horned Frogs is Frogs O' War associate editor, HawkeyedFrog. You can check out the other side of the Q&A, with my responses to his questions, here.
CCM: Discuss the current injury situation with the Horned Frogs and how it has affected the team on the field.
FOW: It's been a bit grim so far I must say. I would say that there are four players that TCU cannot be as effective without- Casey Pachall, Waymon James, Jason Verrett and Devonte Fields and TCU has seen all of them but James miss at least some time with injury so far- though according to Patterson Verrett could have continued to play against SMU if the score hadn't dictated otherwise. The loss of Casey was particularly huge, as so much of the offense seemed to be keyed on the throws that he could make downfield to set up everything else that playcaller Jarrett Anderson stubbornly tried to carry on that ideal with Trevone Boykin- who is many things, but a consistent downfield threat is not one of them. As a result it's felt that a lot of TCU's offensive talent at the skill positions has been marginalized, as the Frogs have continued to attempt to cram the square peg of Trevone Boykin into the round hole of the Casey Pachall offense while neglecting that Boykin can facilitate the running game in a way that Pachall can only dream of in the zone read and option game. Fields has also not been on the field enough to be much of a factor so far this year, but though the D-line has managed to collect some sacks the pressure hasn't been consistent without the 2012 Defensive Player of the year on the corner- as even when he was quiet against Tech he still drew doubles and had the running back stay home to chip him that let the remainder of the TCU line collect four sacks. Hopefully one day TCU will be a fully healthy team throughout the Big 12 season, but it's looking like once again this will not be that year.
CCM: What would you say the identity of this TCU team is?
FOW: On offense it's a Mistaken identity![/ba-dum-tish] As I mentioned above the offense received a major shakeup with Casey's broken arm in week 2, and it's taken a good while to adjust to it. The good news for the Frogs is that in the second half of the SMU game the playcalling seemed ready to rely more on the running game and as a result TCU responded with a surge, scoring the more points in the fourth quarter than any Big 12 team has scored in a quarter so far this year (including the run-it-up offense of Art Briles). When running the ball TCU's offensive line seems to click and it lets receivers create separation on play action that they're not getting when Boykin is just repeatedly dropping back to pass. On defense this TCU team is like every other Patterson defense before it- built to stop the run. LSU managed a decent 4.1 yards per carry against TCU, but if you remove the Tiger's one long run and instead you're looking at a 2.7 ypc that is something that Alabama would gladly take when they play LSU later this year. As always, Patterson will stop the run first and count on his secondary to bend but not break while looking for the big plays when they're available. So far the secondary has done quite well in seizing those opportunities, but no matter how many times the opponent likes to air it out, Patterson doesn't dial up interesting blitzes and such until the opposing ground game is subdued.
CCM: The Horned Frogs seem to have a ton of talent at the receiver position and yet TCU ranks 94th nationally in passing with an average of 200 yards per game. Why seems to be the major hang up in the passing attack?
FOW: The hang up is getting the ball in the hands of those receivers, as Boykin's downfield success rate has been fairly abysmal so far. We've seen some great flashes from numerous receivers, including youngsters Ty Slanina, Ja'Juan Story and LaDarius Brown, but we haven't seen Boykin really go to the short passing game to get the ball into his receivers hands quickly apart from the end of the SMU game... which went very well. There's also the issue that TCU's offensive line has trouble with speed rushers, so on the slower to develop passing plays Boykin has ended up getting flushed and throwing on the run a great deal, which has led to issues with both downfield accuracy and turnovers. It's fixable with the scheme, but right now Boykin isn't the type of quarterback you want challenging defenses deep unless it's off of a play fake.
CCM: TCU is ranked 50th in scoring defense (22.8 ppg) and appears to be struggling against the pass. They are 8th in the conference in passing yards allowed per game (238) yet they lead the conference in interceptions (9). Is this an instance in which the defense is actually better than what the stats show?
FOW: There are two issues that make TCU's pass defense look worse on paper than it is on the field. Firstly, TCU's secondary is set up to lure quarterbacks into a sense of security early in the game, they play with a bit more of a cushion and play cover 2 beneath to give up the short passes that get quarterbacks going. As the game progresses and the secondary starts to get a feel for what the offense is trying to do on down and distance (you don't get to play in the secondary for Patterson unless you're both smart and have good instincts) they start playing tighter and jumping routes, which leads to the interceptions. The second issue is the quality and type of offenses that TCU has faced so far- Zach Mettenberger has looked fantastic for LSU this season against SEC defenses, but had his worst quarterback rating and completion percentage (just 50%) against TCU, while Tech and SMU simply kept throwing the ball because they were getting nothing on the ground (1.7 yards per carry and 0.5 yards per carry respectively), leading to TCU facing 90 passes over the course of those two games. Both Baker Mayfield and Garrett Gilbert threw two more interceptions than touchdown passes against the frogs, and finished the game with just over 50% completion ratings so I feel comfortable saying that the yardage issues that TCU's secondary has had so far is more about volume than about not being a good secondary.
CCM: Score prediction time. Tell us how you see things shaking out in Norman on Saturday night.
FOW: I'm a homer- possibly the most irrationally optimistic TCU fan that there is (just ask the guys at Viva the Matador who enjoy mocking my preseason dreams of national championships), and really the more I talk about this game the more confident I am that TCU will be in it throughout and have a good chance to win. That said... I'm not to the point where I'm ready to pick the Frogs to beat OU in Norman yet. So for the first time as the Q&A guy for Frogs O' War I'm actually picking a TCU loss, 27-23, with Boykin being picked off in the end zone with ten seconds left to seal the game for the Sooners.
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