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TCU Football: Q&A with Barking Carnival

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It's always fun when you're at the Carnival; the guys from BC stop by to talk Jerrod Heard, Charlie Strong, and the long lost Texas A&M rivalry...

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
Thanks for doing this. Like most of the country, I tend to watch Texas. I think they're getting a lot better. Their schedule right now, TCU being sandwiched between the Oklahomas isn't easier; but regardless, I think they're making steps every week. Explain what's going on, on the field, to make that happen.

This season has been an uphill fight so far on just about every front, from the schedule to youth to injuries and dicey depth to re-tooling the offense on the fly following the disastrous season opener at Notre Dame.  The results haven't been there in the win/loss column yet, but simply seeing the fight and toughness that's developing in this extremely young squad tells you that things are heading in the right direction.  On offense, the obvious catalyst has been rolling with Jerrod Heard at QB and tooling the offense to cater to his strengths by emphasizing a third-generation power spread attack that features plenty of simple reads and effective tactics for getting the ball into playmakers' hands in space.  On defense, the youth movement has forced us to take some lumps, but the flashes from young studs like Malik Jefferson, Holton Hill, Kris Boyd and Naashon Hughes combined with a brief glance at Strong's career track record tell you that big things are coming.

Is the support on Strong actually split? I think he's fantastic and is on the verge of building something quite special. Guys like Malik Jefferson, Holton Hill and Kris Boyd seem like the future standard? Please tell me I'm wrong and that more than half of fans want to give Chuck more time.

Strong's support base is pretty broad at all levels.  It's been tough to really rally excitement without that signature win to hang your hat on, but most Texas fans like him and realize that he's doing most of the right things to build real, sustained success.  There are folks in some corners who have been relentlessly petulant since the day Strong was hired because he wasn't Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Jon Gruden (seriously) or whichever guy they had decided was the perfect fit for the job.  Those folks - as well as a few die-hard Mackolytes who actually bought in to mackbrown-texasfootball.com as a sane choice for our team site's URL - are scattered here and there in the suites and the cheap seats, and they tend to make noise all out of proportion to their true numbers and their football acumen.

By and large though, Longhorn Nation is behind Charlie and last week's absolutely unprecedented duking at the hands of a rogue crew of refs has actually galvanized some additional support.  He doesn't have a blank check - contending for the conference crown in 2016 will be crucial to crossing the watershed line and assuring recruits, big ticket donors, and the fanbase at large that things are firmly moving in the right direction - but he'll get the chance to prove that he can get it done.

Heard has been great. He's still young though. I know he can run, he creates plays--whether improvised or not--what are his biggest strengths in your eyes. What are his weaknesses?

Heard's biggest strengths right now are his confidence and his ability to make something from nothing when a play breaks down.  His reads on most plays are still of the "high, low, time to go" variety, but he's electric with the ball in his hands and that forces defenses to mind their rush lanes, spy and otherwise alter their game to make sure he doesn't find the space to take off.  He's not rocking a laser-rocket arm, but he's shown more consistent zip than we saw from him in the Spring Game and is also demonstrating some nice touch and timing on deeper stuff like posts and 9 routes up the sideline.

His biggest weaknesses right now are pretty much what you'd expect from a guy going into his fourth start - he's limited in terms of the reads he can get through quickly on a given play, he's still learning how to get us into the right play against certain looks and blitzes and he can get confused by different coverage looks and get caught in the pocket by a disciplined rush.  His poise and processing speed are still much better than we probably had any right to expect at this stage, but right now he's in a race to develop and master more elements of the playbook faster than experienced defenses can take things away.

What is Texas' biggest weakness right now? Strength?

Right now, Texas' biggest strength lies with the explosive playmakers we can feature on offense.  Besides Heard running, guys like Daje Johnson (when he's not dropping screen passes), Armanti Foreman, John Burt andMarcus Johnson can hit home runs down the field or turn short throws into explosive plays when we get them the space to operate.  We're working to expand our playbook from the index card we used against Rice to a good 3-4 sheets of notebook paper, but so far the Jay Norvell/Jeff Traylor mind-meld on offense has done a pretty good job of giving Heard some simple reads and creative wrinkles to get those guys the ball quickly.

Texas' biggest weaknesses are in the trenches (on both sides of the ball before Hassan Ridgeway woke up against OSU, now mainly on offense) and youth in the back seven.  The two best players on Texas' OL are true freshman (always the sign of a healthy program!) and junior right tackle Kent Perkins should really be a road-grading guard.  When he went out against OSU the offense ground to a complete halt - Mack left us with a truly sorry state of affairs along the offensive front and it's still a tremendously fragile situation.

The youth in Texas' back seven (or back eight, given our preferred 3-3-5 looks) has hamstrung a lot of what Strong and (DC Vance) Bedford were able to do to attack Big XII offenses last season.  The disguised looks, mix-and-match coverages, and effective limitations on opposing ground games have been replaced by limited veterans blowing assignments and a lot of young guys busting coverages/missing run fits/generally fighting an uphill battle to learn on the job.  There is a ton of young talent back there - guys like Malik, Hill and Boyd could hear their names called on Friday (if not Thursday) in the NFL Draft in a few years' time, but right now they're just pups and you have to live with the ups and downs.

Credit Texas' scheduling because no team has had a tougher one thus far. With what we've seen, is this a good barometer or is there much more to this team than most people don't know about?

If you throw out Notre Dame, the Rice/Cal/OSU games were a pretty fair representation of our offense right now - a young, potentially explosive unit that can be derailed by any flux on the OL and hindered by defenses that can force Heard to stay in the pocket and play an intermediate passing game.  The defense has only put one truly credible showing together, but we started cooking with gas against Oklahoma State once we got a guy who just wasn't ready to play field corner out of the field corner spot and started getting some real disruption from Hassan Ridgeway.  Ridge is the catalyst for the entire defense - when he's on he can wreck the run game, tie up blockers and yet the young LBs flow to the ball and provide our only real one-on-one (or one-on-two, sometimes) threat to beat blockers and threaten the QB in the passing game.

Are fans excited for this game? Or is it just the salad you eat before the Red River entrée next week?

There's a good amount of excitement for this game, though it wouldn't have been the worst week to just stomp Kansas and get back to some winning ways.  There's the sense that this could be the signature win Charlie and the boys have been waiting on if everything falls our way, but at the same time we see the Frogs as a tremendously tough opponent that's part of a really brutal schedule stretch.  Our collective blood is still boiling from the outright injustice that Alan Eck's crew laid on us last Saturday, but the chance to go out and right some wrongs is tempered by the fact that we could easily come out of Saturday at 1-4 despite making real strides every week.  It's a weird place for Texas fans to find themselves.

Do Texas fans see TCU as a rival? Perhaps even a frenemy? As someone who grew up in Austin, maybe I see it differently. Even outside my circle, at work or whatever, Texas fans seem to generally like TCU. Think there's some overlap, with friends and family, and until kickoff happens, it's a pretty fun, civil rivalry--if you'll allow me to call it that.

I'd say there are largely friendly feelings from Texas fans towards TCU - at least to the extent that you can be friendly with any conference-mate.  In the SWC days Texas was generally on top and I think we viewed you as generally good dudes who occupied the head space of "better than Rice, saner than Baylor."  Your return to the Big XII largely coincided with tough times for Texas, so right now we've got a little more ill will towards everyone though savvy Texas fans tend to have a lot of respect for what Gary Patterson has been able to build in Ft. Worth.  There are plenty of Texas-TCU family ties out there and things tend to be all-in-all good natured - you guys are certainly my pick for Least Odious Non-Longhorn Conference-Winner, particularly since Baylor's true colors were revealed to one and all this summer.

The Aggies got a big kick out of #TCU15--basically they think they Mr. Robot-ed our ticketing system for the Super Regionals and thought they were going to dominate attendance. It was like 70-30 TCU fans. What's the cure for being an Aggie?

The simple act of attending Texas A&M doesn't necessarily consign someone to a lifetime of shame, social dysfunction and all-around abhuman status.  There are plenty of people who breeze through there, grab their degree, and live more-or-less normal lives with a slightly elevated tendency to annoy you during football season.  The ones who go all-in for the embrace of Old Army/Red Ass/milk men/jizz jars and the like are long past saving and far from worth the effort.  Aggie is as Aggie does.'

On a scale from 1-10, how much do you want that game back? Recruiting on the line being a big factor, what else is holding the rivalry back? Is it equal? Is one side more to blame than the other?

In terms of wanting the game back, I'm at a solid 2 on a 1-10 scale - which is pretty good considering that I used to be at a negative number large enough that it can only be expressed through scientific notation.  I'd be perfectly content to never play A&M again, though I'll concede that there would be a good amount of spice if we find ourselves matched up with them in a bowl game some time down the line.  There are some voices on each side in favor of, if not really renewing the rivalry at least exploring something in the 2020's while there are plenty more voices in opposition.

There was never any "fault" around A&M's decision to head to the SEC - they, like every single other school during the Great Realignment Fandango, acted in their own self-interest and sought to best position themselves for the next few decades as best they could.  Their decision to try and smear Texas on their way out the door with a series of comical falsehoods about everything from conference revenue-sharing to the Longhorn Network (which was originally offered TO A&M as a joint UT/A&M venture) was utterly shameful, and spate of BS is what has plenty of Longhorns in the "when Hell freezes over" camp.  Actually, the more I think about it the more I start drifting back into negative numbers myself.

How does Texas win on Saturday? How do they lose it?

Texas wins this game by rolling out a plan to attack TCU's youth and inexperience in the back seven with some well-designed run/pass options, screens, creative use of the Swoopes/Dozer package that we saw last week and plenty of individual brilliance from Heard on offense alongside a monster game from Hassan Ridgeway, Malik Jefferson successfully stalking Boykin and the young bucks in the secondary giving as good as they get from Doctson and company on defense.

Texas loses this game if Patterson can successfully bamboozle Heard with a variety of blitzes and coverage looks, if we're forced to roll with a not-ready-for-prime-time replacement for Kent Perkins at right tackle and if Boykin consistently creates with his feet well enough to keep moving the chains and buying time for Doctson to cook us deep.

Now for The Great American Pastime; give us a score prediction for Saturday.

With outrage from last Saturday's (now Texas Monthly-published!) officiating debacle fresh in my mind, I'm calling it 41-38 Texas if we get four quarters from Kent Perkins.  If we don't, it feels more like 45-28 TCU - it will just be one too many holes on the OL to overcome.