As we get to Week 7, this season is probably going in a different direction than what both TCU and Texas Tech thought they would.
For the Red Raiders, that’s a good thing. Texas Tech opened their season with many believing they would struggle to be bowl eligible, but big wins over Oklahoma State and Houston have propelled them to a propitious 3-2 start. In a wide open Big 12, things are looking up for head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who has a decent chance to win seven or eight games in 2018.
The Horned Frogs opened 2018 looking to return to the Big 12 Championship, but consecutive double-digit losses to Texas and Ohio State have dampened that enthusiasm a bit. Turnovers and other mistakes have been difficult for this TCU squad to overcome. Defensively, they look as tough as ever, but can this team make strides offensively?
Both teams are probably a little more even right now than many thought they’d be five weeks ago. Winning this Thursday game would give each team a winning record in conference play. Whoever gets the victory will be able to show that they’re an above average squad who’s not to be messed with in the Big 12.
Texas Tech Red Raiders (3-2, 1-1)
With two former Texas Tech quarterbacks facing each other on the headsets in this one, we have to start talking about offense. For the team in red and white, things seem to be humming along as they usually do on the offensive side of the ball.
Notably, the situation surrounding the quarterback position continues to be fluid. McLane Carter started the season against Ole Miss before an injury knocked him out, but true freshman Alan Bowman came off the bench seemed like he would never look back.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bowman is the highest graded true freshman signal caller in the nation. Up until the West Virginia game a little over a week ago, Bowman looked to be following in the footsteps of previous Texas Tech greats, but a collapsed lung took him out against the Mountaineers.
Backup Jett Duffey came in and led a late rally for the Red Raiders, bringing them within eight points of West Virginia before the final whistle blew. Duffey is much more of a runner with the football than Alan Bowman.
His Achilles’ heel is probably the puzzling interceptions he’s thrown so far this season. The redshirt sophomore has three picks on 36 attempts, which is a pick every twelve passes. Duffey’s ability to make plays is undeniable, though. He ran it for 167 yards on a Mountaineer defense that had been bottling opposing offenses up pretty well.
Will Bowman’s injury keep him out against one of the best defenses in the Big 12? The smart money seems to be leaning towards “no” as an answer to that question (Bowman reportedly is unable to fly on a plane), so probably look for Duffey behind center.
As always, the Red Raiders have weapons on the outside. Antoine Wesley and T.J. Vasher are standout wide receivers for Texas Tech, with Wesley leading the Big 12 in receiving yards per game with 124.2. There are a lot of capable backs for Texas Tech, and all of them are credible receiving threats. Ta’Zhawn Henry, a true freshman, has exploded through the first half of the season with over 300 yards from scrimmage.
Defensively, Texas Tech has been up and down through five games. The front six for the Red Raiders, with players like linebacker Dakota Allen and tackle Broderick Washington, has been fairly stout against the run.
Where the Red Raiders have had problems is in defending the pass. Statistically, Texas Tech is the worst in the Big 12 in that category, giving up 301 yards through the air per game.
Certainly, the Red Raiders have faced some of the best passing teams in the nation, but mental lapses have not helped them in the back end.
TCU Horned Frogs (3-2, 1-1)
On offense, TCU has had some serious issues with turnovers throughout 2018, having lost the ball twelve times this season. That’s the worst in the Big 12, and it’s hurt the Horned Frogs in several games.
At quarterback, Shawn Robinson came into the season as TCU’s heralded young dual threat player, but suffered an injury in the Horned Frogs’ last game. Gary Patterson hasn’t given any strong indication how much Robinson will play – if at all – but expect backup Michael Collins to start.
Collins is a transfer quarterback from Penn who put up a lot of yards at his previous institution. Although he’s more seasoned than Robinson at the collegiate level, he’s not necessarily as dynamic a player.
For that reason, expect offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie to lean on his two primary running backs in Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua. Anderson, who’s averaging 6.0 yards per carry, is probably the slightly more dangerous of the two. He can break a big run if he gets open space.
Among their skill players, TCU probably has the fastest cohort in the entire conference. If the Horned Frogs offensive line, which has struggled somewhat this season, can provide protection to whoever’s behind center, guys like Jalen Reagor and KaVontae Turpin can burn a defense.
Defensively, Gary Patterson teams rarely have glaring issues, and this one is no different.
Right now, the Horned Frogs have the best pass defense in the Big 12, allowing opponents to throw for a mere 167 yards per game. Partly, that is due to the play of a veteran secondary and pass rushers like Ben Banogu, a big yet athletic defensive end who will give offenses nightmares.
Injuries and youth up the middle of the TCU defense have them a little more susceptible to the running game, although giving up 125.6 yards per game does not exactly make them “soft” in that regard.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR TEXAS TECH
Find Creative Ways To Run The Ball – Utilizing Jett Duffey’s legs will absolutely be key in this game for the Red Raiders. A healthy dose of misdirection, zone read and designed runs for the quarterback will keep pressure off the quarterback from feeling like he has to beat TCU through the air. Try to sit back and sling it against the Horned Frogs is probably not a recipe for success.
Crowd The Line Of Scrimmage On Defense – The Texas Tech defense should play close to the line of scrimmage and force Michael Collins to show he can beat them consistently through the air. Expect Sonny Cumbie to call a more conservative to game to avoid costly turnovers and rely on TCU’s speed on the outside.
Be Disciplined In Punt And Kick Coverage – Turpin is an absolute weapon for TCU in the return game, and he’s proven time and again he’s more than capable of scoring. It will be important for the Red Raiders to keep that in mind and cover all of the kicks on the day with a sense of desperation. Make TCU earn yards and points like normal teams.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR TCU
Use The Short Passing Game To Open Things Up – Texas Tech will probably be keyed in on the run in this game, so try to substitute with the short passing game. There’s nothing wrong with trying to nickel and dime it down the field until bigger things open up deep.
Don’t Let Duffey Get Loose – This will be absolutely key for the Horned Frogs in this game. TCU hasn’t had a lot of interceptions this season, and Jett Duffey has shown before that he has a tendency to throw it to the other team. Make him a pocket passer, and good things will probably happen.
Get Back To Basics – In general, it would probably be wise for the Horned Frogs to approach this game in a more conservative fashion. Turnovers have really hurt TCU throughout the first half of the season, and turning things around needs to start with just playing solid, fundamental football and avoiding mistakes.
For this game, you really have to look at the matchups between the two sides of the ball in order to see who might have the advantage.
Texas Tech’s offense will dangerous no matter who starts at quarterback, although Kingsbury’d be lying if he said he’s not more comfortable with Bowman in the game. TCU is always very good at playing team defense, and in that respect, they’ll probably be able to keep this game somewhat low-scoring. The matchup of the headsets, Kingsbury against Patterson, is relatively even there though.
TCU’s offense will probably not be as explosive without Shawn Robinson, even as mistake-prone as the true sophomore has been through five games. Texas Tech can probably stop the Horned Frogs’ rushing attack, but if TCU’s wideouts get loose in space, watch out. You’d have to think Sonny Cumbie has a slight advantage in being able to make this happen.
Overall, these are two teams that are evenly matched coming into this one, but I’m going to go with TCU to pull it out at home. Texas Tech will cover, but the loss of Robinson will make this a less volatile contest and advantage TCU. Give me Horned Frogs by two.