The University of Texas is finally headed back to Fort Worth for the first time in almost two decades with a team loaded with returning talent and a bye week to prepare for the struggling Horned Frogs. Hopefully it's not quite as grim as all that, but we'll break down the horns offense and defense to find out. We'll lead with a quick series history lesson.
First game in 1904
Last game in Fort Worth was 1994
Texas leads 57-21-1
Texas leads in Austin 31-12-1
Texas leads in Fort Worth 26-9
The Frogs are on a one game winning streak after upending the Longhorns in Austin last year. TCU has (strangely) had more success playing in Austin than just about anyone- 12 wins against UT in Austin is tied with Texas A&M for the most of any team, and the Frogs accomplished it in 11 fewer attempts. In Fort Worth the Frogs haven't had similar luck, winning just once at home since 1958. It looks bad on paper, but when you're looking at the long view with the third most successful program in NCAA history it's rarely pretty- even Alabama has only one win against Texas compared to seven losses.
Texas on Offense
The Longhorns offense runs the majority of plays out of the shotgun, but are more of a traditional shotgun team than a spread offense, as you see a lot more looks with three receivers and a tight end or a flex fullback/tight end in the backfield than you see four wide. Since David Ash started missing games due to injury the Longhorns have gone to a more ground based attack with Case McCoy, as the Horns actually averaged about 6 more pass attempts than rush attempts in their first two games before the numbers swing to the running game with 1, 13, 23 and 38 more rushing attempts than passing attempts. I actually see a parallel between the TCU and Texas offenses, as both teams had their highly touted preseason all-Big 12 quarterbacks injured in the second game of the season and were forced to play the loser of the offseason quarterback battle.
The difference? While Major Applewhite has let the Texas offense transition to a ground based attack to minimize the shortcomings of Case McCoy, Jarrett Anderson has stubbornly continued trying to shove the square peg of Trevone Boykin into the round hole of Casey Pachall's down field passing game, and as a result the Longhorns dropped a game to Ole Miss before winning three straight when they really amped up the runs, including a dominant win over Oklahoma, snapping a losing streak to K-state (and, admittedly, a very questionable win over Iowa State) while the Frogs have dropped games to Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma state while picking up wins over SMU and Kansas that were much closer than they should have been. So expect to see a whole lot of Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown who had over 50 combined rushes against the Sooners, particularly on first down where the Longhorns repeatedly ran or threw quick passes to set up manageable second and third downs.
The (slightly) good news out of this is that there's a bit of a stubborn streak in Applewhite, as he's shown a willingness to keep using the run even when the returns are minimal- against Iowa State Gray managed to bust one big run to help his average, which before that was hovering just below 3 ypc. Against a TCU defense that has been very good at stuffing the run (especially early in games) it's likely to see the Longhorns in some third and long situations that force Case McCoy to pass, which McCoy has had some mixed results with this year. McCoy has only thrown one interception in three games, but did have issues in the game in Ames because the Cyclones were able to harass him consistently, driving down his YPA average (it would have dropped even further if not for a miraculous 44 yard touchdown coming from a desperation heave at the half).
TCU has the best secondary that McCoy will have faced all year, and he did give some gifts to the Frogs in relief of David Ash last year, so it's entirely possible that TCU can get sacks and turnovers from solid coverage, but right now McCoy is looking like a much improved player. He may not ever become an all-conference type of quarterback, but he's good enough in the heavy play action game that Texas uses to move the chains consistently. Jason Verrett is likely going to spend a good deal of the game covering Longhorn wideout Mike Davis, who is Texas' big play threat. I like the matchup of Verrett against anyone, but I will advise lord dreadlocks to keep his eyes on Davis at all time, as not only is he a cheap shot artist who went after the knees of an unaware defender after a play was over, but he's an unrepentant one, saying "If the DB's loafing he deserves to get cut".
I'm sure there will be Longhorn fans out there who will defend Davis' character, as he did issue an apology later in the week (after the country was in an uproar about him not being suspended by the Big 12 or disciplined by Brown), but judging the man by his actions and his words- I wouldn't feel safe turning my back on him until he's turned first. Jaxon Shipley is possibly the more dangerous Texas receiver, but is more of a possession guy with only one of his 32 grabs this season going for more than 25 yards. It will be tough for the secondary to assist too much in the run game with the amount of play action that Texas will run, so stopping the run consistently with the men in the box will be they biggest key to the game on offense.
Texas on Defense
It's hard to say what makes a coach successful in one place and unsuccessful in another. Coach Fran turned around New Mexico and TCU and started building a program at Alabama that left the Tide fuming when he left, only to flame out at persistent winner (to that point) Texas A&M. Greg Davis coordinated a hell of a defense for Mack Brown in Texas, only to fail miserably as a head coach at Syracuse. Fair enough, being a good coordinator doesn't make you a good coach, but going to Rich Rod's Michigan brought footballs winningest team terrible grief more often than not as the defense was immolated again and again.
I watched almost every one of those Michigan games with Rodriguez coaching, and watching that defense try to tackle was absolutely painful. Manny Diaz seemed like a much better coach, helping Mississippi State improve dramatically and bringing an aggressive ideal to the Texas defense that worked fairly well in his first season. Then suddenly things went awry and Diaz's teams ended up looking a whole lot like the Davis teams at Michigan, so Diaz was fired after giving up a school record rushing total to BYU and Greg Davis was brought in to take the reins... and it's worked beautifully.
Not only does this give me hope that Jarrett Anderson may be able to find success somewhere else (as soon as possible), but it makes me rethink my judgement of those Rich Rod Michigan teams- was coach Davis just coaching a 3-3-5 Stack that he knew nothing about at the insistence of Rodriguez, and he's actually a decent coordinator after all? Depressing to think about. Texas runs a basic 4-3 and mixes in some nickel against spread teams, the usual stuff from a 4-3, but the most pronounced difference between Diaz and Davis is pressure. Diaz played a more aggressive style defense to try and force offenses off the field quickly, while Davis is a more milk toast style coordinator who rarely sends blitzes on passing downs and will generally take a bend-but-don't-break approach.
That's the good news for a TCU offensive line that has been iffy in pass coverage. The bad news is that Texas has a lot of talent on the defensive line, highlighted by DT Malcom Brown, DE Jackson Jeffcoat and DE Cedric Reed who has grown to be the leading tackler for the Horns this season, that the Frogs will need to block straight up to give Trevone Boykin time to throw into a secondary that will generally be sitting back in coverage. Not the most cheerful picture, given what we know of Boykin, but there is hope for those who would attack the Texas defense: running the ball with the help of a mobile quarterback.
Despite the improvements that have been made with Greg Davis coordinating the issues have still been there for the Longhorns and it took Bob Stoops' stubborn refusal to let Blake Bell do the things that Blake Bell does best to stop a string of Texas opposing QBs having spectacular days on the ground against the Longhorns. Even the generally none-too-mobile Cyclone quarterback Sam Richardson averaged over 6 yards per carry against the Longhorns, so if TCU comes out running the ball it's reasonable to think that they'll have the same sort of success that every team Texas has played since week 2 has had on the ground against the Longhorns.
If you remove Blake Bell's sack yardage OU averaged a whopping 5.7 yards per carry against the Longhorns, but let the game get away from them when they tried to force Blake Bell to be an exclusively throwing QB. If Jarrett Anderson were still calling plays I'd expect a similar result for the Frogs, but Rusty Burns may not be a fool on the level of Greg Davis at Michigan. We'll just have to wait and see, as this is yet another game that TCU looks like it has several advantages in- but we've seen how that's worked out for us so far. Still, a two game winning streak over the Longhorns for the first time since 58-59 would do a whole lot to ease the tension in the fanbase right now. Go Frogs.