After laying dormant for almost fifty years one of the cooler looking rivalry trophies is coming back to life. The Saddle Trophy, also known as the “West Texas Championship,” is a riding saddle turned trophy fought over by Texas Tech and TCU. The trophy was a staple of the rivalry back in the Southwest Conference days from 1961-1970. Over those ten meetings TCU and Texas Tech split the series 5-5. Earlier this week athletic directors Kirby Hocutt and Chris Del Conte announced that the Saddle Trophy would make its return this week, as TCU visits Texas Tech in Lubbock. Here is a closer look at what these two teams are battling over:
— Dean Straka (@dwstraka49) November 15, 2017
Outside of that beautiful trophy though this game seems destined for some kind of weirdness. The last four meetings have featured a game with a fox running on the field, a team scoring over 80 points, a game that was won with less than 30 seconds left on a tipped ball, and a game that featured three field goal misses, three turnovers, eight punts, and two overtimes.
With TCU still fighting for the Big 12 Championship game, and Texas Tech fighting for bowl eligibility, this one should be a lot of fun.
DATE & TIME: SAT, NOV 18, 11:00 AM CT
LOCATION: Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock, TX
FORECAST: Mostly Sunny and 54 Degrees
BETTING LINE: TCU -7
TCU HORNED FROGS (8-2, 5-2)
TCU is coming off their second loss in three weeks, and while they still control their destiny to a certain extent the rest of the way, there are a lot of questions starting to pop up for this Horned Frog team.
Earlier this week Gary Patterson announced that starting quarterback Kenny Hill, among a handful of others, would be questionable heading into the game against Texas Tech this week. If Hill can’t go then true freshman Shawn Robinson would be getting his first career start. It would be a less than ideal scenario for the true freshman, as getting your first start on the road (in Lubbock no less) would be a tough task. As Patterson noted though, Robinson is no ordinary freshman. The former four-star recruit led his high school team to an undefeated state championship in the highest classification in Texas. The talent is there, but with little meaningful game experience it is hard to predict how he would play if given the start.
All of this might be moot though, because there is a still a chance that Hill will start. Whoever starts for TCU though will have to do so without the teams leading rusher. Darius Anderson suffered a foot injury against Oklahoma, and has been ruled out for the rest of the year. The good news is that senior Kyle Hicks is available and fully healthy. Hicks is probably the most complete back on the TCU roster, as he excels as a pass catcher and a blocker. Sewo Olonilua is now in line to backup Hicks. Olonilua has primarily been used in short yardage situations, but will now get the chance to show he is more than just a short yardage back.
Defensively, TCU saw their first big set back of the season last week against Oklahoma. The Sooners put up 38 points in the game. Credit to TCU for holding the Sooners scoreless in the second half, but the damage was already done. This week will present similar challenges as the Red Raiders also boast one of the best offenses in the country. The Red Raiders have tons of talent on offense, and quarterback Nic Shimonek does a great job of spreading the ball around.
Travin Howard, the leading tackler for the Horned Frogs, is questionable for the game. Much like if Hill is out, if Howard can’t go then things become much more difficult for TCU. The good news for TCU, compared to last week, is that the Texas Tech offensive line is not nearly as talented as Oklahoma’s offensive line. Texas Tech ranks 69th in the country in sacks given up. Defensive ends Ben Banogu and Matt Boesen should be able to get to Shimonek at least a few times.
An interesting thing to watch out for when TCU is on defense is 3rd down conversions. Texas Tech is 15th in the country in converting 3rd downs, converting on 46% of their 3rd down attempts. Defensively though TCU is 13th in the country at opponents 3rd down conversions, only allowing conversions on 28% of 3rd down attempts. Whoever is winning that battle will have a great chance to win this game.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS (5-5, 2-5)
These last two games of the season will be huge in defining how the 2017 season is looked upon, and could also spell out Kliff Kingsbury’s future in Lubbock. At 5-5 the Red Raiders just need one more win to get to bowl eligibility, but neither TCU or Texas are games that are considered guaranteed wins. If Kingsbury drops these final two games the Red Raiders will be 2-7 within the conference with their only wins coming against Baylor and Kansas. As of right now Kingsbury is 15-28 in Big 12 play since taking over at Texas Tech in 2013. The beginning of the season seemed like a turning point for Texas Tech as they raced out to a 4-1 record. However, Kingsbury’s seat as heated back up considerably since then as they have gone 1-4 over their last five games.
As has been the case since Kingsbury took over the offense has not been the issue. Year in and year out the Texas Tech offense is one of the best in the country. That is no different this year. Heading into this game on Saturday Texas Tech is 15th in total offense, 13th in scoring offense, 3rd in the country for completion percentage, 8th in country for touchdown passes, and 7th in passing yards. Nic Shimonek has thrown for over 3,300 yards, as well as 28 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
In the backfield the 1-2 punch of Tre King and Justin Stockton are both over 500 yards rushing on the season. King is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, while Stockton is averaging 6.1 yards per carry. The real strength of this offense though is the receiving core. It’s led by Keke Coutee. Coutee has over 1,000 yards receiving this season and has hauled in nine touchdown receptions. Coutee is a player that the TCU defense needs to account for at all times. After Coutee though there are four other receivers with at least 300 receiving yards: Derek Willies (304), T.J. Vasher (327), Cameron Batson (438), and Dylan Cantrell (723). All of these players are dangerous, and will present a huge task to the TCU secondary.
As good as Texas Tech is on offense, they are usually equally as bad on defense. This year has seen steps in the right direction for the Red Raiders, but the numbers don’t lie. Currently, Texas Tech ranks 113th in total defense giving up 453 yards per game. Additionally, Tech is 120th in the country in opponents completion percentage, 128th in passing touchdowns allowed, and 104th in opponents 3rd down conversion percentage.
The biggest bright spot for the Red Raiders this season has been Dakota Allen. The junior college transfer who gained a minute or two of fame from his appearance on Last Chance U has been rock solid from his linebacker position. Allen leads the team in tackles with 72 on the season. Allen also has two interceptions and a fumble recovered.
There have certainly been moments of greatness that have flashed this season for the defense, but overall this unit is a huge liability, and will have to probably play their best game of the season to defeat TCU on Saturday.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR TCU
TURPIN TIME – It’s been said before, and I’ll say it again. TCU is just flat-out a better team when KaVontae Turpin is getting lots of touches. He is the most explosive player that TCU has on offense, and if they want to maximize their chances of winning then they need to get him at least 15-20 touches.
NEXT MAN UP – As Gary Patterson alluded to in his press conference, if players get injured it’s all about the next man up. With a growing list of players who might be sitting out on Saturday it will be vital for the next man up to be ready to play.
PRESSURE SHIMONEK – Shimonek is a very good quarterback. If you give him enough time he will be able to easily pick apart your defense. It will be very important that TCU continually harass Shimonek to get the Texas Tech offense out of rhythm.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR TTU
KEEP IT CLEAN – The Red Raiders are one of the most penalized team in the country, currently ranked 128th in penalty yardage. If they hope to have any chance of pulling the upset on Saturday, then they have to cut back on penalties. Extending drives for TCU or putting yourself behind the sticks is the fastest way to play yourself out of the game.
AIR IT OUT – While TCU’s defense is one of the best in the country, they have been more susceptible to the pass than the run. With the amount of talent Texas Tech has at receiver, and TCU’s propensity to give up more yards in the air than on the ground, then Texas Tech should put an emphasis on attacking TCU through the air.
ACCOUNT FOR HICKS – With Darius Anderson out, I expect Kyle Hicks to get the ball early and often. Hicks is such a versatile weapon for the Horned Frogs, and can hurt you in so many ways. Just last week Hicks showed his talent by leading the Horned Frogs in RECEIVING against Oklahoma. The Red Raiders will need to make sure that he is accounted for at all times.
As I mentioned earlier this game is almost guaranteed to get weird in one way or another. When Texas Tech and TCU face off it seems bound to happen. Add in the fact that they are now playing with a trophy on the line, and its only going to add some extra excitement to the affair.
It’s hard to put predict this game without knowing exactly what the injury report for TCU will look like. This game could look very different if Kenny Hill and Travin Howard aren’t suiting up for the Horned Frogs.
With that being said though, I feel like TCU is going to be very hungry coming into this game. TCU is still in full control of if they make the Big 12 championship game or not. Knowing that they can win out and get a rematch with OU will help get the Horned Frogs focused to play a complete game against Texas Tech.
I like TCU to win this one, but don’t expect a blowout of any kind. I think Vegas set a good line for this game with TCU -7. I say TCU will win by 4-8 points.