After pulling off an improbable comeback on the road against the Baylor Bears, the Oklahoma Sooners return home to face a TCU Horned Frogs team under the lights in Norman. Here to discuss the opposition is Melissa Triebwasser of Frogs O’ War — SB Nation’s TCU site.
Also, make sure to check out this week’s Oklahoma Breakdown Podcast episode featuring special guest Jamie Plunkett (also of Frogs O’ War).
TCU currently sits at 5-5, with all five losses coming at the hands of teams over .500. With the Frogs also sitting at No. 31 nationally in SP+, is it pretty safe to say that this team is better than its record indicates?
I want to say yes... I think the answer is yes? Expectations were pretty high coming into the season; we thought the Frogs were pretty set at every position but quarterback (thanks for stealing Jalen from us, btw). Well, things haven’t exactly worked out as planned -- some of it has been injuries (especially on the defensive side of the ball, but I can’t overstate how huge of a loss Lucas Niang is on the offensive line), some of it is poor performance, and some of it is frankly coaching. There’s been a lot of “what ifs?” this season, but at the end of the day, it’s a young team that hasn’t learned how to finish and as GP loves to say, he’s “got to grow some guys up”. I think for the most part, though, fans are starting to understand that it’s a group that plays hard and has talent, but is probably a year or two away from being able to truly compete at a high level in the conference and beyond.
That Purdue game really screwed with our expectations, though.
Freshman QB Max Duggan has shown plenty of promise after an understandably inauspicious start to his season. In what ways has he improved as a QB as the season has progressed?
Man, the kid is just a gamer. He’s tough as nails and is fearless when it comes to having to make a play. His teammates love him, play hard for him, respect the hell out of him, and don’t seem to feel like he’s at all a true freshman. He has a chance to be special.
But, he’s not perfect and has a lot of learning to do as he comes to the final 2-3 games of his first season. The best thing about Mad Max is that he has gotten better nearly every single game; other than the turnover fest that was the Oklahoma State game, you can see clear progress each week. He’s done a great of learning to put some touch on his balls -- the pass he threw on the first drive of the Baylor game is as perfect a pass to the end zone that you’ll see (but of course was dropped because that’s been our season), and he’s getting past his first read much more consistently. He’s also keeping his eyes downfield more on the move and looking to make the right play, not just take off and run at the first sign of chaos in the pocket. He’s also finally gotten the message that Jalen Reagor is good and you should throw him the ball maybe. The duo hooked up for a 55 yard TD last week that is the kind of play we would like to see much more of.
The big thing is, hopefully at this point, Sonny Cumbie and Gary Patterson turn him loose and see what he can do with the governor off for these last few games.
In the backfield, TCU is carried by a couple of veterans in Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua. What do each of these guys bring to the table as far as skill set is concerned?
Well, when they are given the ball, they do a lot of good things. Darius Anderson is shifty and fast, but powerful enough to run over guys and break tackles. He has an elite skillset, but the biggest question has ben consistency -- shockingly, he’s only gone over 100 yards three times this season and now seven times in his career. His season-high in carries is only 19, as the Frogs prefer a running back by committee approach, but frankly, I would like to see him averaging 18-22 touches per.
Sewo Olonilua is the thunder to Jet’s lightning; the 6’3”, 235 pound monster runs a 4.47 and squats something like one billion pounds. He is so powerful, and if he liked contact a little more, probably a good enough athlete to have been one of the all time great linebackers for GP on the other side of the ball. When Sewo runs straight ahead, he’s downright unstoppable -- see what he did in the Cheez-It Bowl against a very stout Cal defense that knew he was touching the ball every snap as proof. The issue is, and has been, he would rather get east-west than north-south. Olonilua ran really hard last week at Lubbock, and with just a few games to get some good tape, I expect him to show up and play angry Saturday. If he puts a shoulder down and goes straight ahead, he will do some damage on the ground game for TCU.
OU fans are obviously quite familiar with Jalen Reagor, but who else in the receiving corps do Oklahoma fans need to keep an eye on this Saturday?
Let me tell you about Taye Barber. Actually, let’s not talk about him and hope the Oklahoma defense doesn’t either.
Taye isn’t a very big dude, but he’s fast as hell and runs sharp routes. He’s physical, he’s tough, and he has routinely made ridiculous catches when he’s been healthy in 2019. He will be the Frogs’ number one receiver in 2020 assuming Reagor heads to the big leagues. Barber opens things up for everyone, including Reagor, and his presence and play-making give other guys opportunities as well. Against Tech, we saw positive signs from three other sophomore pass-catchers -- Tevailance Hunt (who made an all-time touchdown grab on fourth and goal in overtime against Baylor), John Stephens Jr (who is the second-best athlete in his family, trailing his tennis star sister Sloane), and Derius Davis, a speedster who is showing signs of positive growth in year two.
The talent is there at wideout, but they are young and prone to untimely drops. But they’ve looked solid the last two weeks, and hopefully that continues. Also, this year, the Frogs’ offense is trying something new -- using a tight end. In fact, we have two! And they are both pretty good! Pro Wells had the bad drop against Baylor in the end zone but has otherwise been the most reliable pair of hands for TCU, and Artayvious Lynn is a huge target that has had a couple of nice touchdown grabs over the last few weeks, too.
TCU ranks No. 32 in defensive SP+, which isn’t bad but is also probably not quite up to where the bar is set by past defenses during Patterson’s tenure. What are this unit’s strengths, and what are its weaknesses?
Injuries, injuries, injuries. The Frogs have started up to five freshmen on defense at multiple times this season, and their secondary has often rolled out first or second year players at 4 of the 5 positions. With Jeff Gladney sitting the first half Saturday due to a targeting penalty, you’re potentially looking at all five starters being young players (though I think Julius Lewis, a senior corner, will start despite struggling last week). The interior defensive line is elite with Ross Blacklock and Corey Bethley, and Garret Wallow is a super productive linebacker. But the pass rush has been generally MIA -- we are looking at one of the lowest sack totals of the GP era this season. Ochaun Mathis has the talent but has struggled to finish at the quarterback, but freshman Colt Ellison has done enough to burn his redshirt and start several games opposite him. I really like young corners Kee’yon Stewart and Trevius Hodges-Tomlinson, but they’re freshmen and they get burned (and against OU’s receivers? That’s a yikes). Trevon Moehrig is going to be the next great TCU safety, but he’s just a sophomore, and Ar’Darius Washington is undersized but a total ball hawk/play-maker that has a chance to wreak havoc. Vernon Scott has had trouble staying healthy, but is a steadying influence and leader when he’s on the field. Safeties La’Kendrick Van Zandt and senior Innis Gaines are done for the season.
How do TCU fans generally feel about Oklahoma fans?
We don’t like you because you are good (and generally whip us) but we hate you far less than most of the Big 12 fan bases (ahem ahem Texas and Baylor). I don’t think it’s a ‘rivalry’ per se -- because we haven’t won enough over the Sooners -- but it’s annually a measuring stick game so it always means a little something extra.
Baker graduating helps in the likability quotient too, for the record ;).
TCU finished 7-6 in 2018 and currently sits at 5-5 in 2019. Having said that, inconsistent (2019) or mediocre (2018) QB play seems to be the primary culprit. With this in mind, are TCU fans still optimistic about the direction of the program, particularly when considering the fact that the current QB is still a true freshman and shows lots of promise?
I think we have crossed the threshold from OH NO THE SKY IS FALLING to ooohhhh there is a plan and a hope for the future. We can see the forest for the trees now, and with so many of the key contributors being in their first or second year, I think there’s a belief that this team can compete at the top of the conference in the next few years. Though many are calling for an overhauling of the offense, or at least the play-calling responsibilities, as long as Gary Patterson is calling the shots, TCU fans will feel like they’ve got a chance. Plus, Duggan is the kind of person and player you can build a winning program around. And we have some talent in the pipelines to keep things exciting on both sides of the ball.
Which all-time TCU football win is your favorite?
The Rose Bowl. There’s nothing like that game, that venue, that setting anywhere else in sports. And the way TCU got to that game and won it? It’s a moment I’ll never forget. And that’s without adding in that I’m a native Californian and got to cruise down Rodeo Drive blaring the TCU Fight Song while people shouted Go Frogs at me. Magical.
Who is your favorite OU football player of all time?
Current backup kicker Steven Johnson, a graduate of The Oakridge School where I teach lol. If not him, I will always have a soft spot for Roy Williams and I really loved/hated watching Mark Andrews play.
What does TCU have to do to pull off the upset, and how do you see this game going for the Frogs?
If Duggan can get loose for some big runs and combine that with a big game through the air, TCU can at least hang around. But for the Frogs to win, they’ll need to force some turnovers and get a weird touchdown or two -- something like a defensive score and a Reagor punt return for a TD. That being said... I don’t know. I think this might be a weird game, but the Sooners will have enough at home under the lights to hold a young, feisty Frogs group at arm’s length. I think the defense will frustrate the Sooners for at least part of this game, but there’s too much firepower to hold them down long (we learned that last week). I see it something like 38-29 Sooners when it’s all said and done.
Other than the University of Texas football program, what’s the most overrated thing in the state of Texas?
I might get evicted for this, but Whataburger. Outside of spicy ketchup and honey butter chicken biscuits, it’s just another fast food joint. #teaminnout