We've gone to national writers once again this week, to once again see what the national opinion is of the TCU-Baylor game happening this Saturday, as well as what people are saying about the two schools. This week, we have two SB Nation national college football writers, Bill Connelly and Peter Berkes, answering our questions, so thanks to the two of them for doing this.
1. First, what are your general thoughts on TCU so far this year/the upcoming matchup with Baylor?
Bill Connelly: Gary Patterson has proven that he only needs a good offense -- not a great one -- to have a really good team. It had been a couple of years, but fewer injuries and the new offensive coordinators have made a world of difference. I think the Horned Frogs' rise this year has been sound and legitimate, and if they win on Saturday (and in Waco, the odds aren't great), they're the prohibitive Big 12 favorites.
Peter Berkes: Honestly, I wasn’t expecting a ton from TCU before the season, but I’ve been really pleasantly surprised with the Frogs, especially on offense. Boykin looks like a completely different guy, and having a real viable passing threat has made the offense much more dangerous, and the scoreboard reflects that (42.8 points/game this year compared to 25.1 last year). Baylor will probably be the toughest game of the season, though, and the offense will need to be humming in order to keep up with the Bears.
2. Obviously TCU's win this past weekend was over a really solid Oklahoma squad, but Baylor may even be better. What are some of the key differences between Oklahoma and Baylor offensively?
BC: This year, Baylor's throwing more than Oklahoma on standard downs and running a lot more on passing downs. That alone makes a pretty big aesthetic difference. Baylor's offense is also more efficient than OU's this year, though both do a lot of their damage with big plays.
Baylor's also a lot better on passing downs, perhaps because of the variety in the play-calling.
Texas went all out to stop the pass last week, and it worked (32 percent completion rate, three sacks), but Bryce Petty avoided killer mistakes, and eventually the run got going. The Bears WANT to pass, but they've proven that they'll do whatever you let them do to move the ball. They impressed me in that regard last week, even if the passing game's struggles were a concern (especially considering TCU's pass defense).
PB: Oklahoma and Baylor look fairly similar to me, offensively, but Baylor just kind of does everything better. They get a lot of press for the explosiveness and big plays, but the thing that really impresses me is that they’re that explosive without sacrificing efficiency. Baylor averages 9.3 yards/passing attempt, and a hair under 5 yards per carry on the ground. It’s hard to get them off schedule, but even when you do, they convert nearly half their third down attempts.
The thing that really separates them from Oklahoma in my opinion is their ability to stretch the field with multiple players. They have six guys with more than 10 receptions that average over 10 yards per catch, led by KD Cannon at just under 22 yards per catch. The Sooners can hurt you deep too, but you’re mainly worried about Sterling Shepard doing it. The Bears just have a lot more guys that can hurt you.
3. Bryce Petty is a great QB, but he struggled against Texas. What can TCU's defense do to force Baylor to go to the run, which plays into TCU's strength?
BC: Well, you obviously have two choices if you're gearing specifically to stop the pass. Either you send as many pass rushers as you can and pressure Petty into either making rushed reads or throwing short passes (which is a solid option if you tackle well), or you drop as many guys into coverage, clog the passing lanes, and hope you can still swarm to the ball if they run.
If you can get a good push with just your front four, and you don't have to blitz to get pressure, that's the optimal situation, though "have a really good line" is optimal against any offense.
To stop a good offense, you basically have to willfully give something up. "We're willing to risk getting beat this way to stop you from doing this other thing." TCU's biggest strength, however, is that its base defense is so good -- powerful up front, deep in the back -- that it doesn't always have to give something up. If you master the 4-2-5, you can stop the spread as well as anybody, but only TCU seems to have mastered it.
PB: The easiest way to disrupt Baylor’s offense (or really any offense), is to make a mess of the line of scrimmage and get in Petty’s face. It’s a risky proposition considering how good of an athlete Petty is, but you start putting him on his back regularly and disrupt the timing of between he and his receivers, the Bears will have to get more predictable. The defensive backs can also try to body up the receivers at the line and throw off their route timing, but again, that comes with the risk of getting burned to a crisp by their speedy receivers.
There’s no real safe way to go about this, but football is a game of calculated risks. TCU has the personnel and ability to make a hash of the pocket and make Petty uncomfortable. That’s got to be their primary strategy to throw off Baylor’s offense.
4. Defensively, Baylor is much improved over past seasons. How can TCU's new offense put up points to keep up with Baylor's offense (if it comes to that)?
BC: TCU's offense has been all about efficiency. The Frogs are staying on schedule as well as anybody in the country this year -- the continuity of the lineup and proficiency of the new coordinators/miracle workers has been staggering. There aren't a ton of big plays here, but TCU has the potential to control the ball, make Baylor's offense sit for a while, and dictate how the game plays out. If it's a battle of big plays, the Frogs get killed, but if TCU is gaining 5-6 yards on first down while Baylor's gaining 3-4, that will add up.
PB: The toughest part of Baylor’s defense is the front four, led by Oakman. Making sure those guys aren’t killing you every play is the top priority, because if they’re running free it’s hard to do basically anything. The good thing about having a QB that can move like Boykin is that you can read a guy out of the play with a properly run read option, and then effectively you’re moving the odds to 11 on 10. But besides that, mix up play calling so you’re throwing on running downs and running on passing downs, just keep them guessing. The Bears have been crowding people near the line over the past few weeks, so it’s a fair bet they’ll try that again. If they do, Boykin will have an opportunity to take the top off the defense, but only if he has time.
5. What matchups, on both sides of the ball, does TCU have to win in order to leave Waco with a win?
BC: On both sides of the ball, it's all about line play. If Boykin has a chance to read and throw, and if there are at least decent running lanes for Boykin, Catalon, and Green, TCU should have the balance and efficiency it needs to put points on the board. But if Boykin is rushed and the runners are only getting three yards per carry, TCU won't keep up. Granted, Baylor can get over-aggressive on passing downs and can get gouged by screens and counter punches, but it's a lot to ask of an offense to score 30+ while facing constant third-and-longs. Baylor's biggest defensive improvement has come up front, and TCU's OL faces a big task.
On defense, TCU can slow Baylor down if its defensive line remains strong. The TCU line makes more disruptive plays than anybody in the country, and it sets the table for a secondary that is one of the best as well. If the line holds its own without extra assistance from blitzing linebackers or DBs, and if TCU can drop seven into coverage without allowing Petty tons of time to find open men, TCU can do what Texas did last week. Only, TCU's defense is better than Texas', so the Horned Frogs might even do it better.
PB: The most important matchup of the game is TCU’s defensive front against the Baylor offensive line. If the Frogs can be disruptive and throw off their offensive rhythm, they can win this game. If they can’t, well, it’s going to be a much taller order.
6. Finally, what's your score prediction for the game?
BC: Every time I think of TCU-Baylor, I think of that awesome 50-48 game in 2011. It's always easy to assume a similar shootout, but I think this one might be more in the 34-28 neighborhood. The numbers say this is a game Baylor wins two-thirds of the time, and that sounds about right to me, but I would be shocked if Baylor is able to lay the hammer down. This is a legitimately strong TCU team, and the Frogs should be able to both make some stops and move the ball. Win the turnover battle (or pull off another key pick six), and you'll have a shot.
PB: Baylor 38 - TCU 31. I just think the Bears have too many weapons to get completely pinned down. I think the Frogs keep this close all the way through, but come up just a little bit short.