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Playing cards: How a new offense wins in practice

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The seeds of success on offense are often sown well before you take the field, and revealing all of your tricks the week before a big game isn't the worst thing in the world.

The nifty spin that eludes this tackle?  Baylor's going to have to practice that.
The nifty spin that eludes this tackle? Baylor's going to have to practice that.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

After the win over Oklahoma that saw TCU run up 37 points and convert well over 50% of third downs for most of the game, I think that the few remaining holdouts against the air raid offense have pretty well come around- we're still not running the ball as much as many of us might like, but Boykin looking comfortable at quarterback for the first time in his career has made up for a lot, and the playcalling has been fairly inspired- to the point where I can't usually tell what's about to happen next.  As a result, Meacham and Cumbie have come into a ton of praise on the blog, and rightly so, not only for the playcalls, but holding enough of the playbook back to give Oklahoma a lot of looks and plays that they wouldn't have seen the Frogs do before.  That leads to two big questions going into the Revivalry tomorrow though, how much more does TCU have in the playbook that opponents haven't seen and, if they've emptied the tool box, how big of a deal is that?

If you've followed TCU for a while, you know that often early in the season there are moments where everything looks to have gone terribly wrong, and maybe the TCU defense is going to be down a bit this year.  That was all over the blogosphere after Shepherd burned the secondary for two deep strikes in the first quarter, and if you remember back to last season (I apologize for making you remember any of last season) in the Southeastern Louisiana game, the Lions not only stymied the anemic Anderson/Burns offense in the first half, but they had the game knotted until the last snap of the first half thanks to breaking off a few huge plays that had no one even close to making a play.  Of course, it turned out that the sky wasn't actually falling for the TCU defense in either case, as the Frogs adjusted in the second half of both games and the defense stood strong.  But why was it an issue in the first place?  In both cases Patterson said that "It was something new that they didn't have on tape".  So if you're getting a big edge on a coach like Patterson with the plays that everyone hasn't seen, it's a big deal, and resulted in 14 point swings in both of the games listed.  In particular, I'm very interested to see more of the diamond formation the Frogs showed with the very large O-line splits, because not only is it a great formation for what the Frogs are hoping to achieve on offense (spreading the defense out even wider and giving Boykin and the running back acres of room) there's a lot of potential to pass out of that formation that I don't think we've seen nearly the extent of yet.  If there's more that we haven't seen in the playbook, that could be a huge edge for the Frogs, as once an offense has been around the block a few times in the league (as Briles' has) there generally aren't that many changes that can be made that opposing coaches haven't seen before.  However, even the plays that we've already debuted against Oklahoma can be handy for putting pressure on the Baylor defense, as I'll explain next.

One of the things that I feel makes college football so much more enjoyable than the pros is the sheer variety of offenses and defenses that teams will run.  In the span of three weeks you may face an air raid, a flexbone triple option and a MANBALL power rushing attack with two tight ends and a fullback.  This makes the week of practice before any game a frantic period as the coaching staff is analyzing tape the night they get back for film study on Sunday and decide what they want the scout team offense to look like in the week ahead.  Then come four days of practice of varying intensity, with Friday serving as the final gameday walkthrough- and that's just not a lot of time to get reps.  What does that mean?  It means that for every item in the bag of tricks that you want your team prepared for, you're going to have to run through it a handful of times, even if it's something that you don't end up seeing in the game.  The little flip pass over to Catalon on the kickoff return?  Baylor will practice it.  The more things your offense has shown throughout the year, the more things that your opposing defense is going to have to have multiple reps against, otherwise it will essentially be another play they haven't seen- which as we mentioned before can lead to very big things.  And for every snap that Baylor runs against one of TCU's trick formations, that's one less snap of experience that they have against the TCU base offense, which means a greater chance of a blown assignment or coverage when TCU is doing the things they do most often.  It's an interesting chess game in college football when offenses look so different, and it won't ever be as much in evidence as it will be this week- Oklahoma State, TCU's next opponent, is playing Kansas this week, and if they're not spending at least a little time looking ahead to what the Frogs are going to throw at them, I'll eat my hat.  Fortunately our next opponent just so happens to be our most bitter rival and (on paper) the toughest team on TCU's schedule.

So don't be surprised if the Frogs do something that Baylor hasn't seen before on Saturday and it pays off big time for the Frogs, but if the vanilla plays- zone read, option, verticals and quick slants end up doing a bit better than you thought they would against a good Baylor defense, make sure to thank Meacham and Cumbie for showing off those super wide splits in the Oklahoma game- they may have made all the difference.

Go Frogs.