CCM: If I'm TCU, I play Oklahoma to stop the run and make Knight try to beat me with his arm. This has pretty much been Gary Patterson's career game plan. Do you see it changing or continuing this Saturday?
FOW: As you say, this has always been the game plan, even against Mike Leach's most throw heavy teams, Patterson was loading up to shut down the run first- it's just what defensive minded coaches do. Against a team like Oklahoma that has made most of their hay on the ground so far this season and don't haveas deep (big emphasis on as) a group of threatening receivers as usual, Patterson will shift the 4-2-5 around, but keep eight in the box until Knight makes him feel like it's not going to work. TCU will stack the line and force OU to move laterally, where Patterson tends to feel that we have the advantage due to our speed on defense- it's a lot easier to tackle a 240+ pound running back when he's moving laterally than when he's coming straight into you.
CCM: Paul Dawson (21.5 tackles) seems to be the heart of this TCU defense. Talk about his leadership and what he means to the team.
FOW: Very well observed, because I think Dawson actually gets overlooked a bit due to the relative star power of the secondary (Sam Carter) and the TCU d-line (Chucky Hunter, and previously Devonte Fields). The linebackers and strong safety are the heart of the 4-2-5, and a lot is put on them to make sure the defense is run properly, as one of the main strengths of the 4-2-5 is the flexibility of bringing pressure from a lot of different places and counting on the linebackers to be able to transition back to coverage.
Dawson is very instinctual and hits like a ton of bricks, but he also has good awareness in coverage and already has a pick this year (and very nearly ended up with another before it bobbled into the hands of another defender). TCU is still pretty young on defense, but the seniors that they do have are staggered perfectly so each group has a real leader, and I think the development of TCU's young linebackers has come on in no small part thanks to the efforts and leadership of Dawson.
CCM: This is a much improved TCU offense from 2013. What has been the key to success?
FOW: There have been two real keys to success, but one of them is addressed by your next question so I'll focus on the bigger change here. After last season coach Patterson finally relieved the absolutely putrid co-OC duo of Jarrett Anderson and Rusty Burns and replaced them with a new two-headed coordinator system made of former Houston OC Doug Meacham and former Texas Tech OC Sonny Cumbie who transitioned TCU from its traditional (very vanilla) spread offense to the Air Raid offense that is so en vogue in the Big 12 and the difference thus far has been immense.
Though the Air Raid is quite different from the offense that TCU has run in the past, the biggest difference is that the current coordinators have a strong understanding of how plays complement each other- running a few outside fades with speedsters will make the defender overplay the outside and open up the deep post, running the ball consistently will set up the play action, when corners and safeties are playing well off, hit the screen. These are the very basic things that offenses do so that each play opens up something else, and yet these are the things that TCU's offense did not do in either year of Anderson or Burns calling plays. They called screens against press coverage with no available audible, they ran play action on third and 15 after throwing the ball twice and getting a false start penalty the previous play. They absolutely ignored what had the potential to be a decent running attack for much of each game, and instead relied only on Boykin to make things happen- when he'd been practicing at receiver last week. TCU's offense now has an offensive identity and some idea about how things are supposed to work that's been lacking since former OC Justin Fuente became HC at Memphis.
CCM: Balance has seemed to be the key to the TCU offense this season but a defense like Oklahoma possibly has the ability to take one aspect away. How much faith is there in Boykin to make the throws needed in a crucial situation?
FOW: The biggest difference between Boykin of this year and the Boykin of yesteryears is that Trevone finally had a full offseason where he was doing nothing but working at quarterback. His freshman year he ended up practicing at running back due to a lot of decimating injuries and may have even started against ISU there if Casey Pachall hadn't gotten behind the wheel while intoxicated. His sophomore year Patterson was coy about whether Boykin would start or it would be the returning Pachall, but in the opener against LSU (and other games where Casey was healthy) Boykin played over half the game at wide receiver and looked pretty darn good- that's a lot of practice time taken away from throwing routes to get practiced running them, and when Casey broke his arm it meant again Boykin was working at a disadvantage from a practice and timing perspective with his wide receivers, and it showed. This year Boykin has looked comfortable with making decisions and making the throws, and has reliably put the ball in safe places- occasionally safe to the point where our receivers would have a great deal of trouble coming up with the ball- but he's not forcing things and that's a huge step forward from where he was last year. I don't know that there's full confidence that on third and seven Boykin will drill the throw that he needs to make the conversion, but the fear that he's going to screw it up terribly if his first read is covered is much less than it has been the past few years. He's not the ideal quarterback yet, but defenses compensating for his legs generally means that the defenses he sees are simpler, and so far he's done an excellent job of making the right reads.
CCM: Is this the TCU team that finally fits into the Big XII as a contender for a conference title?
FOW: I don't really know the answer to that yet, but what I do know that this is the first year in the Big 12 that TCU has actually looked like the team that I expected coming into conference play. Our friends in Waco and Lubbock have made a few comments about TCU fans having loads of excuses for not coming in and being the instant conference championship contenders that we thought we were going to be when we joined the conference, and that's at least somewhat true- Many in the TCU fandom (myself included) have felt that thanks to injuries and the well-publicized drug bust, gruesome injuries to a few key players (Waymon James, Casey Pachall and Devonte Fields) and general numbskullery (Devonte Fields, Casey Pachall, Brandon Carter, LaDarius Brown, etc.) we haven't seen a good approximation of what TCU will actually look like in the Big 12.
This year, despite some of the aforementioned numbskullery, TCU actually looks like they're taking the team we thought we'd have into conference play, so one way or another I think this will be more indicative of the sort of TCU team that will be in the Big 12 from here on out. I think TCU will be a top 3 team in the Big 12 this year, and has a pretty good shot at ending up with at least a share of the conference championship at the end of the year, so... Yes! Contend away, Frogs.
CCM: Prediction time: Tell us how you see this game shaking out on Saturday afternoon.
FOW: The key to this game will be how well each team can run the ball- these look like very similar teams to me, with both teams wanting to establish the run to take the pressure off of talented (but thus far not wholly accurate) quarterbacks. In the end I think that the game is close, but I think Boykin is slightly more effective with his legs than Knight is and that will be the difference in a tight defensive slugfest. TCU pulls out the upset 24-23, with Boykin darting into the end zone at the end of the game much like two years ago, but without an unfortunate holding penalty.