For many years in the state of Texas there was nothing more fear inducing for a team than to stare across the field, and see the white and burnt orange uniforms of the Texas Longhorns. For close to a decade now though that reality has faded away. The Longhorns have been struggling to regain their dominant position in the state, and the national landscape since losing to Alabama in the 2009 National Championship game. No team has personified the struggle for the Longhorns more than TCU. Since joining the Big 12, TCU has won four of five matchups against the Longhorns. In those four wins the Horned Frogs are winning by an average score of 38-10. The Longhorns have played USC, OU, and OSU close this year, but have failed to get a signature win on the season. This weekend provides the perfect opportunity to take down a Top 10 team. The Horned Frogs are coming off a loss to Iowa State, and will be looking to get back on track against the Longhorns.
DATE & TIME: SAT, NOV 4, 6:15 PM CT
LOCATION: Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, TX
FORECAST: Partly Cloudy and 75 Degrees
BETTING LINE: TCU -6.5
TEXAS LONGHORNS (4-4, 3-2)
For Texas, this season has been a repeating story of coming up just short. The Longhorns have lost all four of their games this year by ten points or less. It seems that each week the Longhorns are finding ways to lose rather than ways to win. It’s part of the maturation process with a younger team, but now that the season is in the final stretch of games the expectation should be that all that youth has developed into maturity. The Longhorns have all the talent in the world, but now is the time to show that this team is ready to take the next step.
Offensively this season the Longhorns have struggled to find consistency. Part of that is that injuries to both Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger have caused inconsistency at the quarterback position. The bigger culprit though is that the Longhorn running game has been almost non-existent. The Longhorns are averaging just under 154 yards per game rushing. That ranks the Longhorns 79th in the nation in rushing. This problem is severely highlighted when looking at the breakdown of rushing attempts on the team. Their leading rusher by attempts is actually quarterback Sam Ehlinger. While Ehlinger is a great running quarterback, it doesn’t bode well for the offense when your quarterback has more carries than your starting running back. Chris Warren III has 69 rushes on the season, so Ehlinger isn’t getting that many more attempts than him, but its still concerning. Some of those attempts are on busted plays where Ehlinger has to scramble, but that points to the other main issue. Texas’s offensive line has struggled since losing Elijah Rodriguez and Connor Williams to injury. Williams is rumored to be back soon, but until he comes back then Texas is working with a patchwork offensive line.
Defensively, the Longhorns have been one of the best units in the Big 12. Todd Orlando has brought a new identity to the defense, as a defense that attacks in all phases. The Longhorns sell out to stop the run, and are opportunistic in defensive backfield. The Longhorns are allowing 21 points per game, which is 33rd in the country. On the defensive a name to keep an eye out for is Poona Ford. Ford is a bowling ball of a player at 6-feet and 305 pounds. Ford is capable of clogging up a lot of running lanes, which the Longhorns will need against a potent Horned Frog rushing attack.
In the back seven the two names to look out for are Malik Jefferson and DeShon Elliott. Jefferson is the leading tackler for the Longhorns, and also leads the team in sacks. Jefferson is being projected by some to be a 1st round pick in next year’s NFL draft. Orlando’s new schemes have really unlocked the full potential of what Jefferson is capable of. Elliott is the definition of a ball hawk. Elliott has six interceptions on the season, and no matter where the ball is at seems to be near the play. In addition to six interceptions Elliott has two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one and half sacks, and is third on the team in tackling. Elliott just flat out makes plays in every part of the field. If the Horned Frogs aren’t paying attention to Elliott he will likely get another turnover on Saturday.
TCU HORNED FROGS (7-1, 4-1)
The Horned Frogs suffered their first loss of the season last weekend against Iowa State in Ames. Many people pointed to the play of Kenny Hill as the main reason, and its true that Hill had his worst game of the season, but there was plenty of blame to go around. The team as a whole had over 100 yards of penalties, and they always seemed to come at the least opportune times. All is not lost for the Horned Frogs though, as last night the initial College Football Playoff rankings were released, and TCU came in as the 8th ranked team in the nation. With a lot of college football left to play the Horned Frogs still are in control of their postseason fate.
Offensively, TCU has been relying more on the run than the pass this year. TCU is rushing for 195 yards per game being led by the Kyle Hicks and Darius Anderson. Both backs are averaging over 5.5 yards per carry. Until last week the Frogs had maintained a steady strategy of keeping their offensive in manageable down and distance situations. Last week though Kenny Hill was unable to consistently hit his receivers, and the Frogs could not maintain any semblance of consistency through most of the game. As the game wore on the Horned Frogs leaned even more on the running game, but once inside the red zone kept finding ways to turn the ball over.
Defensively, the Horned Frogs are one of the best teams in the country by any metric. TCU is Top 10 in the country in points against, total defense, opponents yards per play, opponents rushing yards, opponents pass completion percentage, and opponents rushing touchdowns. The biggest reason for this is because the TCU defense is shutting down the run, and putting teams into obvious passing downs. TCU is only allowing 77 yards per game rushing, which ranks 3rd best in the country. On the defensive line look out for Matt Boesen. Boesen has four sacks on the season, as well as two forced fumbles. Boesen was able to show an excellent first step off the edge last week against Iowa State, and could cause problems for the Longhorn offensive line.
In the back seven look out for Travin Howard and Innis Gaines. Howard is the teams leading tackler from his linebacker position with 60 tackles on the season so far. Howard is a little undersized only standing around 5-11, but his speed and instincts more than make up for it. Gaines has burst on to the scene this year at safety. He wasn’t a starter at the beginning of the season, but with the way he has played in the time he has been on the field, it’s getting harder and harder to not keep him out there regularly. Gaines excels most when blitzing. He seems to have a nose for timing up his blitz, and hitting the line at the perfect moment. Look for Patterson to turn Gaines loose for more than a couple blitzes on Saturday.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR UT
FIND A RUN GAME – The Longhorns can’t keep putting their quarterbacks in 3rd and long situation with an ineffective run game. The Longhorns need to get Chris Warren going early and often. With Toneil Carter being questionable for Saturday they will have to find some other backs to step up and help grind out some yardage for Texas on the ground.
PROTECT THE QB – Both Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele have been hit with different injuries this season, and missed time because of those injuries. If one or both of them were to go down then the Longhorns will be in big trouble for this game, and the rest of the season. It is imperative for the Longhorns to keep whoever starts upright on Saturday.
ACCOUNT FOR TURPIN – Gary Patterson said in his weekly press conference that TCU needs to get do-everything wide receiver Kavontae Turpin more involved. Turpin can break the game open as a receiver, rusher or return man. Texas needs to make sure they are accounting for him at all times. It also might not be a bad idea to avoid kicking to him.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR TCU
DON’T GET CUTE – Last week against Iowa State, TCU was running the ball with great success from red zone to red zone. Once they got into the redzone though the Horned Frogs tried, with little success, to pass the ball to score. Twice the Frogs turned the ball over with Kenny Hill dropping back vs. just handing it off. TCU should learn their lesson and just rely on what brought them that far and hadn’t the ball off to Darius Anderson, Kyle Hicks, and Sewo Olonilua.
CORNER HELP – Iowa State showed a weakness in the TCU secondary last week when they attacked the corners of TCU with their much taller receivers. Texas also has height at receiver in Collin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey. With Texas likely to try those matchups, TCU will need to help their corners out some. Whether that means with safety help over the top or a change in scheme, I’m not sure, but something will likely need to be done.
STAY ON SCHEDULE – The biggest hindrance to the TCU offense last week was holding penalties on early downs that put them behind the sticks. The TCU offense works the best when they are able to give Kenny Hill manageable 3rd down situations. The Texas defense is one of the best of the conference, and it will not be an easy task, but TCU needs to stay on schedule to win this game.
You’ve heard the saying, what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Well this is more like what happens when you have two immovable objects going up against two very stoppable forces. The TCU and Texas offenses against the other teams defenses feels like a mismatch on both sides.
I think the biggest difference in this game is that TCU has been able to run the ball with consistency all year, while Texas has not. I think with both defenses being stout, it’s going to require a patient and consistent approach. TCU has the better running game, and that is enough to give them the edge to me.
I am taking TCU in this one, but won’t be surprised at all to see Texas keep this one close because of their defense. The wildcard here is if Texas can get defensive scores. If Texas is putting up points with their defense then all bets are off in this one.