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TCU Looks For Statement As Oklahoma Looks For Survival

Both Big 12 preseason favorites have their seasons on the line after stumbling early.

Getty Images - Ronald Martinez

Coming into this season, most pundits had one of these two teams winning the Big 12. Not many of them would have predicted the Sooners to enter the game unranked. So far, things haven’t got quite the way Oklahoma fans had hoped. That could turn around though with a big win over TCU.

On the other side of this match-up, the Horned Frogs have experienced their own issues as they try to find an identity behind new starting quarterback, Kenny Hill. So far he has picked up the system pretty quickly, as the Hill-led offense is 4th in the country right now in total yards per game. And it isn’t just a good running game that has caused those staggering numbers; TCU is throwing for 380 yards per game, good enough for 6th in the country. Apparently, the learning curve isn’t too steep.

Oklahoma enters this game just two weeks from a trouncing in their own stadium, at the hands of Ohio State. TCU enters off a pretty easy win over an overpowered SMU team. Oklahoma wants to reverse their luck, and TCU wants to continue theirs. Let’s break down what each team has to do to accomplish their goal.

Date/Time: 4:00 PM CST
Where: Amon G. Carter Stadium
Forecast: Sunny, high of 82, low of 60.
TV: FOX
Betting Line: Oklahoma -3.5

OKLAHOMA (1-2)

Oklahoma’s playoff hopes were all but dashed in just three weeks. The first hit to their hopes coming from the 6th ranked Houston, and the second coming in their own house, from the 2nd ranked Buckeyes. That doesn’t mean Oklahoma is a bad team, it just means they aren’t a top ten team, at least not right now. Houston and Ohio State were both far better, and both showed that.

Fortunately for Oklahoma, Houston and Ohio State aren’t in the Big 12, and I don’t think any teams in the Big 12 are anywhere near as good as Houston or Ohio State, save for maybe Baylor, who Oklahoma still has 6 weeks to prepare for.

That’s good news, because it means Oklahoma could still run the table in the Big 12, and slip into a BCS game, and, if there’s chaos, they could even find their way into the playoff if they win out.

Don’t hold your breath on those playoff dreams though. Chaos is extremely common in college football, but it would take 2007 levels of chaos to help out the Sooners this year. Because of those extremely long odds, Oklahoma will likely shift focus to the Big 12, making this game even more important. TCU is a top contender for the Big 12 title this year, and Oklahoma needs to get some positive momentum going as they dive into conference play. Oklahoma will have to greatly improve on their week one and week three performances to get a win in Fort Worth this week, and there are three things they need to make sure they do for a positive outcome. You already know their name, they’re the keys to the game.

KEYS TO THE GAME

Limit TCU’s Passing Output – TCU’s aforementioned dazzling vertical prowess is one of the biggest strengths for TCU, and Oklahoma has struggled against the pass all year (they gave up 4 touchdowns to ONE GUY when they played Ohio State). That combination is not a pleasant one to see if you’re an Oklahoma player, coach, or fan. To win this game, Oklahoma needs to get pressure on Kenny Hill, and capitalize on mistakes, two things they really haven’t been able to do this year, as shown by the absence of an interception yet this year, and their 1.67 sacks per game, placing them at 94th in the country. Oklahoma really doesn’t have defensive stars this year like they did last year, and to accomplish this goal, the whole defense will have to work together as a unit to prevent being torched all game.

Get The Ball Into Joe Mixon’s Hands – Joe Mixon comes into this game averaging 8.4 yards per carry, 7th in the country, and even with that stat, he’s only recorded 28 carries, and he has just one touchdown. Obviously, he has to compete with Samaje Perine in the red zone, and that just isn’t a battle he’s going to win, but outside of the 10 Mixon should be getting the majority of the ball toting opportunities. TCU is giving up 130 yards per game on the ground, and while that isn’t bad, it comes against teams, aside from Arkansas (a game they lost, this is important) that really don’t run the ball very much. If Oklahoma just feeds Joe Mixon, it’ll open up the passing game and could yield a similar result that Arkansas enjoyed against the Horned Frogs.

Force TCU To Run – If Oklahoma has a strength on defense, it’s against the run. They’ve allowed just one rushing touchdown in three games, and to help the rush defense out even more, TCU has struggled on the ground this year, averaging just under 200 rushing yards a game. Unfortunately, TCU is 6th in the country in rushing touchdowns per game, so to continue their solid record against ground scores, Oklahoma will need to keep TCU away from the redzone, where most of TCU’s rushing scores have come from. To stop the passing attack, Oklahoma will likely sell out and spread out, causing TCU to run far more than they usually would. If Oklahoma can prevent TCU running all over a spread out defense, it could lead to a “2” in the win column.

TCU (3-1)

TCU being considered the underdog in this game surprised me quite a bit. I’m not a gambling man, but if I was, I would bet the rent money on TCU (don’t do this, I’m an idiot and I don’t want to be held responsible for you becoming homeless). TCU has the better record, better statistics, and to this point nothing that says they should be the underdog, aside from history and prestige. I think the line for this game is really a testament to how much people trust big name programs (it’s been Tennessee’s year every year since Peyton Manning was there), and how far away TCU is from being the kind of power that Oklahoma is (even if they’re a better team this year and have been for a while).

TCU winning this game would help contribute to the shedding of the “underdog” stigma around the program. People around the country don’t want to admit it, but Gary Patterson is a really good coach, and TCU is a consistently good program. TCU winning this game convincingly could be the resumé boost they need at the end of the year to slide into the playoffs (that’s only if they win out, which is unlikely). What do the Horned Frogs have to do to win convincingly? I’d say they have to do exactly three semi-specific things based on statistics and personnel provided by your friendly neighborhood sports blogger. Listen up, Gary, I’ve got your piping hot keys right here.

KEYS TO THE GAME

Make Kenny Hill Mobile – He already has six rushing scores on the year, and while he’s no Trevone Boykin, he’s a very talented and capable runner. Both teams Oklahoma lost to had dual-threat quarterbacks, and while Greg Ward Jr and JT Barrett are both better runners (and quarterbacks) than Kenny Hill, it’s obvious that Oklahoma struggles against a quarterback who can move. Oklahoma is going to be selling out to stop the pass all game, mostly because of poor cornerback play to this point (82nd in the nation in passing yards allowed), meaning that Kenny Hill should have plenty of opportunities to get to the second level when he doesn’t see anyone open. If he can escape heavy pass rush from the edge, he could be seeing a lot of green on Saturday.

Don’t Fear Trying The Big Throws – As I mentioned earlier, Oklahoma has not forced an interception all season. That means TCU can take risks down the field frequently, and with their speed on the outside in guys like John Diarse, Kyle Hicks, Taj Williams, and Jaelen Austin — who will likely fill in for the injured KaVontae Turpin — matching up with struggling cornerbacks like Parrish Cobb, Jordan Evans, and Michiah Quick (seen here, experiencing his first “Mossing”), TCU has to attempt to attack that secondary deep, early, and often. If they do that, they could very likely have two or three passing scores from 50+ yards away before this one is over.

Deploy Defensive Back Heavy Sets – As shown in this great video below (via No Huddle Scouting) Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma line struggle against heavy defensive back sets with disguised blitzing:

Gary Patterson practically invented the 4-2-5 that TCU runs, and it could do very nicely in forcing Baker Mayfield and the Sooner offensive line to make reads. The last thing Oklahoma wants is a struggling passing game, and if TCU can cause that, they could then focus on stuffing Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. The key player to make sure this goal is accomplished is Josh Carraway. The senior has started the season fairly sluggish, but if he can cause havoc in the Oklahoma backfield, TCU will send their fans home happy.

GAME PREDICTION

Like I said earlier, I think TCU being an underdog in this game is silly based on stats and based on what we’ve seen from both teams. TCU has been better than Oklahoma in pretty much every way so far this year, but I’ve watched enough TCU games, and enough Oklahoma games, to know that counting out the Sooners is not a wise decision.

I’ve gone back and forth on this pick for the entirety of the creation of this preview. TCU passes the eye and statistic tests, but Oklahoma has more talent, and could finally be true to that this week. Oklahoma is fighting for their lives this week, and every week from here on out. I come into this preview 2-1 on picking the winner, and the one week I picked the wrong team (TCU vs Arkansas) the score was basically flipped. Last week I spotted Oklahoma State 7 points but was spot on outside of that. Week 3 I called for Ohio State to blowout, and while I was wisely advised not to specify the score to prevent my Twitter mentions being set aflame, I was correct on that prediction too. I want to keep my streak going this week, and I haven’t gotten that streak by picking factually. I pick with my gut, and my gut says Oklahoma, 31-28.

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