As the Big 12 opens the first week of conference play, it will feature a Top 25 matchup as two teams, both undefeated through three games, kickoff on Saturday. The Oklahoma State Cowboys (3-0) and the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs (3-0) meet with big expectations still at play in their 2017 campaigns.
Though their records may be the same, the story of how these teams got here is undeniably different.
DATE & TIME: SAT, SEP 23 at 2:30 PM CT
WHERE: Boone Pickens Stadium (Stillwater, OK)
FORECAST: Mostly Sunny, Low 90s
BETTING LINE: OSU -13
#16 Texas Christian (3-0)
The Horned Frogs have had less consistent performances throughout their first three games, but a win is a win and TCU has continued to find ways to get the job done thus far. After grinding out an ugly, but hard-fought, win on the road against SEC foe Arkansas, last week saw the Frogs on their heels to start the contest against in-state rival SMU, but a second half surge gave them a comfortable 56-36 win.
The 2017 version of this team seems to be more in line with the inclinations of head coach Gary Patterson, winning games by playing defense and running the ball.
TCU currently leads the Big 12 in rushing attempts, choosing to hand the ball off an average of 42 times a game. Along with a veteran offensive line and an athletic QB in Kenny Hill, the Horned Frogs have a stable of backs. Due to an injury to headliner Kyle Hicks, TCU will probably roll with their own version of ‘thunder and lightening’ in the form of 225 pound Sewo Olonilua and quick footed Darius Anderson.
There is good news and bad news on the Kenny Hill front. The good news is that Hill is completing 75 percent of his passes and has a 4:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The bad news is that QB1 for the Frogs at times exhibits the less than desirable decision making that hurt the TCU offense last year.
Defensively, TCU has the Big 12’s best run D going into Saturday, giving up an average of only 92.3 yards per game. Being able to keep other teams from running the ball helps to put them in third down situations that are difficult to convert. That’s one reason TCU also leads the Big 12 in third down conversion percentage, having stymied the opposing O 26.2 percent of the time this season.
Of course, the Frogs should have some reservations about their secondary heading into this game against the potent attack of the Pokes. DB Ranthony Texada shut down the Mustangs’ star wideout Courtland Sutton last week, but there were problems with execution aplenty and TCU was fooled by trick plays enough times to make Gary Patterson understandably nervous.
#6 Oklahoma State (3-0)
The sixth ranked Cowboys came into the season with high expectations and have played a practically perfect season to date, outscoring opponents by an average of 54-17 in non-conference play. Big 12 fans are no strangers to seeing offensive firepower, but Mike Gundy’s squad this year is one of the most explosive he has ever let loose on a football field. Loaded with playmakers, OSU has hit few speed bumps as quarterback Mason Rudolph has already thrown for over 1100 yards and is now the odds-on-favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.
The big play offense fielded by the Pokes has a bevy wide receivers, four of whom already have at least ten catches this season. Leading that group is James Washington, who is absolutely lethal whenever he’s targeted and is now averaging 28.2 yards per catch. In only a few instances this season have opposing defensive coordinators found ways to limit his or any other wide receiver’s production. Last week Pittsburgh found out the hard way that playing man defense against the Pokes for most teams is a recipe for disaster – defenders found themselves in chase mode as they gave up big pass plays of 54, 69, 40 and 48 yards. Before halftime.
Defenses that focus on stopping OSU’s passing attack and ignore their backs do so to their own detriment, however. Running backs Justice Hill and J.D. King lead the Cowboy rushing attack, which is averaging just a fraction under 200 yards a game. Hill is a shifty back who has the ability to break big runs down the middle of the field if opposing defenses spread out to cover Oklahoma State’s playmakers on the outside.
Receiving less attention this season has been the OSU defense, which hasn’t allowed an opponent to score on them in the first quarter of any ball game this year. Up front, defensive tackles like Darrion Daniels and DeQuinton Osborne present more than 600 pounds of bulk that O-lines have had trouble moving. Behind them are quality linebackers with size like Chad Whitener and Justin Phillips, who leads the team in pick-sixes with two.
Outside of Oklahoma State’s big and physical front seven, the defensive backs for OSU have been solid in their ability limit big plays.
Keys To The Game For TCU
Avoid Turnovers – TCU is averaging two turnovers a game this season. The way the Frogs win this game is by having success as a team rather than having Kenny Hill try go out and try be a hero. Avoid putting the game on the QB’s shoulders by taking care of the ball.
Set The Pace Of The Game – The crowd in Boone Pickens Stadium most likely won’t need additional motivation to get fired up for this game, but TCU can help keep the decibel level down if they make this a low scoring defensive struggle where they control time of possession.
Make The Offense Drive The Length Of The Field – If TCU wants to stop Rudolph and keep the Cowboys’ receivers out of the end zone, they need to start by preventing the kind of big plays that quickly killed Pitt’s dreams of an upset last week. Make the Pokes march down the field, get to third down and you have a chance to get your defense off the field.
Keys To The Game For OSU
Take Advantage Of Opportunities – There’s no better way to catch momentum at home than by getting a big turnover or great field position. TCU gave Arkansas chances to keep that game close, but the Razorbacks struggled to close the deal. Turn mistakes by the opponent into points on the scoreboard.
Be Patient Offensively – The Cowboys haven’t run into many problems scoring and scoring early this year, but this is the best defense they’ve faced by far. Don’t get frustrated if the offense bogs down at any point and begin making unnecessary mistakes. TCU has shown that they can be had in the secondary and it doesn’t take much for the Cowboy offense to get into a rhythm.
Be Solid On Special Teams – OSU gave up points to Tulsa because of a muffed punt early in that game. Oklahoma State went on to win soundly, so it didn’t hurt them. If the Frogs struggle to continually move the ball on the Pokes, however, making big special teams plays might be their best chance of getting points.
Oklahoma State has consistently been a two possession favorite since the line on this game opened and for good reason. The Cowboys have looked unstoppable offensively and their front seven is formidable enough to put TCU in uncomfortable down-and-distance situations by bottling up the Horned Frogs’ backs. Gary Patterson’s team has athletes across the board, but OSU has looked like the most polished (if not most talented) team in the country to this point in the season.
I will take OSU win their first conference game at home, but Gary Patterson’s defense helps TCU cover in a game many will expect to be a blowout. The 36 points given up last week against SMU will look like the exception rather than the rule. This will be a tight game into the fourth quarter, but the leg of kicker Matt Ammendola will seal it for the Pokes. Gundy’s crew will continue to not get the love in the polls that they deserve, but keep racking up Ws and that takes care of itself.