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Oklahoma Sooners Football: TCU In the Film Room

What can the Sooners learn from TCU’s first four contests?

TCU v SMU Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

If the Oklahoma Sooners were hoping for a pushover confidence-booster to open their Big 12 schedule, they won’t find one when they get to Fort Worth on Saturday. The TCU Horned Frogs feature a talented if erratic quarterback, a top-5 national offense and some defensive playmakers like linebacker Travin Howard and defensive end Josh Carraway.

Still, there are reasons for OU fans to be optimistic about this game. Like the Sooners, TCU has a negative turnover margin this year and Kenny Trill (lol) has already thrown four picks—and just six touchdowns. He has nearly doubled up Baker Mayfield in passing yardage (1,487 to 793), but has one fewer passing touchdown and two more picks.

The defense has also stumbled at times, struggling against the pass and giving up too many points to South Dakota State and Iowa State.

Here’s how the Horned Frogs break down on film so far this year:

On Offense

Surprise! It’s the Air Raid!

No but really, TCU is fully on board with the Big 12’s offense du jour and they’re riding it to 380 passing yards per game, all without Treyvone Boykin or Josh Doctson. LSU transfer John Diarse has been a big addition, averaging 18.1 yards per catch so far this year. He and guys like Taj Williams and KaVontae Turpin are all helping the Horned Frogs do the whole “receiver by committee” thing that OU has struggled to master so far this season.

As TCU’s new go-to running back, junior Kyle Hicks has also emerged as a big pass-catcher this year. He averages five more yards per reception (11.1) than he does per carry (6), and TCU regularly empties the backfield and lines him up in the slot. It will be very tough for the OU defense to go five-wide with the Frogs, as that will inevitably generate some favorable one-on-one matchups. Mike Stoops will probably have to sell out to stop the pass as best he can, and safeties Ahmad Thomas and Steven Parker will be counted on to provide support for OU’s weaker links.

If Gary Patterson can get Stoops to back off like that, he might be able to spring Hill for some big QB runs. Co-offensive coordinator Doug Meacham likes to get Hill outside with fake handoffs, and he also uses Hill in short-yardage and goal line situations. Hill’s scored six running touchdowns already this season, and he’s exactly the kind of runner OU has struggled against. If the Sooners aren’t bringing pressure, Hill will certainly start to take off.

Still, Hill represents OU’s best chance yet for a coveted interception. Turnovers were really the difference for TCU against Arkansas, and one particularly disastrous play saw Hill, under pressure, turn a far-too-casual toss towards Hicks into a pick-six by linebacker Brooks Ellis. Hill also threw two interceptions to FCS South Dakota State. If OU’s linebackers and safeties can be even a little unpredictable, one of them might be able to pull down a game-changing pick.

On Defense

TCU’s base defense is a nickel package with four down linemen and five defensive backs. Their D was really expected to be the strength of the team this season because of the returning talent, but so far TCU’s secondary has struggled to contain big receivers and slow down passing games.

As Ian Boyd broke down at Football Study Hall, corner Ranthony Texada struggled against SDSU’s Jake Weineke and Arkansas’s Drew Morgan because he was asked to cover them on an island, getting boxed out and beat downfield. TCU responded by putting Jeff Gladney opposite Allen Lazard the next week against Iowa State, and Gladney basically made the 6-5 receiver a nonfactor all day.

The Frogs often struggle to tackle in the open field, so OU might be able to rack up some early yards by throwing screens to guys like Joe Mixon and Jarvis Baxter. The Horned Frogs really haven’t seen an offense with as many weapons as the Sooners will bring, so if Lincoln Riley can utilize his talent in unpredictable ways, TCU may not have an easy answer.

One thing the defense does pretty well is get after the quarterback. The Frogs are averaging 3.5 sacks per game this season for a total of 14, and most of those are coming from their interior linemen. DTs Aaron Curry and L.J. Collier are tied for the team lead with 2.5 sacks apiece, but the pressure is coming from everywhere and OU will have to be mindful of talented ends Josh Carraway and James McFarland. With the state of this OU offensive line, it’s fair to wonder if the Sooners will give Baker Mayfield enough time to make his throws or give Samaje Perine the room he needs to have a crucial bounce-back game.

The Frogs have looked much better since giving up 41 points to South Dakota State and Arkansas, but it’s just tough to say anything definitive about victories over Iowa State and SMU. The Frogs tackled, covered and blew up the backfield in Dallas last Friday night, but a rested and hungry OU squad won’t be quite so easy.

The Verdict

OU doesn’t match up particularly well against the Frogs, a team that has demonstrated, if nothing else, the ability to pass the ball effectively this season. If TCU’s defense continues to struggle, though, this game could easily turn into a shootout. Oklahoma fans will have to hope that Lincoln Riley has used his extra week to address the team’s red zone problems and get more consistent, because they’re likely to need the points on Saturday.

Depending on how good you think Arkansas actually is, the Sooners might be TCU’s biggest challenge so far this season. For Oklahoma, on the other hand, TCU is basically the third-best team they’ve played. With an extra week of rest and a desire to get back into the rankings, OU should be the more motivated and better prepared team this weekend. We’ll see if they can translate that into success.