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TCU Football: West Virginia Preview

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Are we destined for another nail-biter? Or can TCU--or even West Virginia--dominate the game and actually win by more than 1?

Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

The game is rigged, but you cannot lose if you do not play. This is a wonderful quote from Season 1 of The Wire. The former applies to college football, the latter apparently does not; because in a bye week, TCU, according to some National media writers, fell completely off Earth as if it were flat. Boykin fell in the Heisman rankings, and TCU fell out of some Top 10s. Trust me, I know I shouldn't care. And for the most part, I really don't, but- their opinion still matters.

In college football, the "what have you done for me, lately" applies.

I don't have a problem with TCU being omitted from just about every Playoff Prediction right now. They know that given what they have left, they'll more than likely make it into College Football's new Holy Grail if they beat Oklahoma and Oklahoma State on the road and cap off their 2015 campaign with a win against Baylor on Black Friday.

What I do have a problem with--as any college football fan should--is consistency. Don't say TCU hasn't been impressive on the road, then praise Michigan State and Ohio State. Good win for Ohio State against Rutgers. But listen to the last part of that sentence. Go into a bathroom, turn off the light and say it aloud. It's quite hilarious. The only thing more hilarious is remembering when x-announcer gave Ole Miss credit for a gritty win against Vanderbilt at home. Until Saturday, Vanderbilt hadn't won an SEC game since 2013, and they beat a Missouri team who hasn't scored a touchdown in nearly a month.

I'm not wearing a tinfoil hat quite yet, but I've gone to H-E-B to at least buy it. I'm ready. Prepare yourself, too, but don't get angry yet. There's a lot to accomplish.

West Virginia Preview:

After much deserved rests for both teams, the Mountaineers roll into Fort Worth for their second time as conference. Like the Texas series until 2015, the home game has always lost this matchup. Unlike the Texas series however, no game has yet to be boring; and the last team with the ball the last three years has won the game.

WVU Preview Graphic 4 realz

One could even say that the genesis of Boykin's knack for a comeback happened three years ago in Morgantown. Down 31-24, in an era where it seemed like a miracle for TCU to scrape more than 30 points, with no timeouts and 85-yards away from tying the game, Trevone Boykin flipped the switch that's now obvious had been inside him the whole time. Having a dismal game by his 2015 standards, Boykin thrived on the pressure. He was sacked on the first play of TCU's final drive in regulation, meaning the Frogs were 91-yards from tying the game. The next play he scrambled, escaped the pressure, and improvised a play to Boyce on a pseudo in-route, that would've been good enough for a first down, but instead tied the game at 31.

What should we run?

Here you go, BJ.

Haha just kidding

What's good, Cam?

Thanks, Brandon

Touchdown

Thanks to one of the biggest plays of Jason Verrett's extraordinary career--a blocked chip shot to set up a 2OT--Boykin had another chance to lead the team to victory. After the blocked kick, the Mountaineers responded with a touchdown, meaning the Frogs had to score a touchdown to tie it. Sorry for watering it down for those of you who (a) remember the game or (b) can follow the rules of overtime. Nevertheless, in a hostile Morgantown crowd, overtime wins are few and far between. And thanks to possibly the greatest design of Anderson and Burns' tenure, a trick play--a wide receiver reverse pass--TCU came within one of tying the game in Morgantown yet again.

To beat a dead horse, wins don't come cheap in Morgantown and arguably, going for it in double-OT could've had a remarkable butterfly effect on TCU's 2012 season. They were the road warriors that season, and Joel Klatt, who'll be in the booth this Thursday, made note of how the Frogs had a keen ability to rise from the dead. Which was a nice sentiment since it came just a day after El Dia De Los Muertos ended. Yet, where the Frogs were at this point in the season, maybe a loss would've put them in a do-or-die against Texas, and maybe that first win in Austin never happens. But Gary, uncharacteristic for him--especially at the time, let the Burns and Anderson go for it. Though Boykin's sell on the throw to Josh Boyce--the King of big catches--was equally as bad as the throw, he still made it happen. For a RS freshman in his second start on the road to pull that off is pretty impressive. Three years later, TCU is still rising from the dead like a Wildling in Hardhome. The conversation around this game is completely different than what it was a month ago. This is because, and this is probably the college football word of the year; attrition.

The Mountaineers were still able to manage 471 yards against Baylor's defense, despite losing the game 62-38. The game was perhaps more deceiving than the score indicates. Though the Bears controlled the game, West Virginia hung within ten points until late in 3rd; then Baylor did their Baylor-thing in the 4th quarter.

Even with their own defensive woes, this is arguably the easiest a TCU defense has had against West Virginia. No Stedman Bailey, no Geno Smith, no Kevin White, etc. Not to say that it won't be a difficult task maintaining a speedy unit with a mastermind like Holgorsen chess-piecing around Patterson's 4-2-5; but without the tremendous and exciting playmakers like they've had since joining the Big 12, it's going to be as tough as it's ever been for them against TCU, which is saying a lot.

Skyler Howard, who went to Brewer in TCU's backyard, has filled into the starting role admirably. With a completion percentage just under 60%, Howard is averaging 8.33 yards on his throws, accumulating to 1,566 yards threw the air, and has 15 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. At 6-0, in cleats, Howard has a tendency to run; he collected over 40 yards against his last two opponents, undefeated Oklahoma State and undefeated Baylor. He's regressed since Big 12 play, including a statistically awful game against Oklahoma, and statically respectable game against Baylor; Howard has been under 50% with his throws in Big 12, and has 6 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, 3 of which were against the Sooners. While Howard's Big 12 stats have been rather meh, given that he's played three teams contending for the Big 12 title--he'll see the fourth and final Thursday night--that's about as tough as stretches get, and he deserves leniency for that. The Frogs best not sleep.

To compliment Howard's passing game, which ranks 29th Nationally in PYPG with 269.8, West Virginia balances out the attack nicely with the 21st ranked rushing attack, gaining 215.7 YPG on the ground, you can thank Wendell Smallwood for that. Still, while Smallwood wouldn't be foolish in licking his chops going up against the 6th best, or 4th worst rushing defense in the Big 12; Patterson is (most) always brilliant in making sure the opponents' run game doesn't dominate his defense, and the momentum of the game.This balance can serve them well, especially when they feel inclined to go deep, which should catch the Frog secondary off guard and force them into the PI calls that have devastated them this year. Gary generally handles the run well, but it's teams with this near perfect balance--your Baylors, your Oklahomas--that worry me more than Texas Tech did. Nevertheless, and like we said above, the lack of big playmakers, or at least ones that can't live up to the names of previous years, will be the dividing line that keeps West Virginia out of the game.

Ideally, we should see a strong balance with West Virginia's banged up secondary. Karl Joseph would've been an All-American, but lacking Terrell Chesntt and Ricky Rumph, and even with Doctson in double-coverage, Boykin should have a field day with his arsenal of weapons; Kolby Listenbee hasn't missed a step since he's been back, Turpin should be good to go, Shaun Nixon is like a stick of dynamite waiting to explode, Desmon White has been an unsung hero, and not to mention podcast favorite, Ja'Juan Story always posing a threat in the endzone. The running back corps could very well see its best game of the season. Aaron Green, his likely successor, Kyle Hicks, and redzone monster, Trevorris Johnson, won't give a limping West Virginia defense any room to breathe.

Boykin to Doctson is as good as gets. Despite leading the Frogs to a major comeback win, Boykin has yet to play a complete game against the Mountaineers, and the game always seems to be a gut-check game. It worked favorably in 2012 and 2014, but not so much in 2013. In 2014, it proved that TCU could brave the bitter cold and get a tough road win. They didn't come cheap then, and they haven't come cheap in 2015; but in the comfort of their own home, this game could bridge what has been TCU's season with what will be their 2015 campaign.

Giving up over 400-yards per game, on paper, West Virginia's defense isn't that much worse than TCU's. But you have to remember that's it's been free-falling the past few weeks thanks to injuries and getting bullied by Oklahoma in Norman. The Frogs rank 68th nationally whereas the Mountaineers rank 71st; the biggest difference being that TCU has given up half a dozen more touchdowns than the Mountaineers, and TCU allows less yards per play, which is somewhat perplexing, especially given how dominant West Virginia was just four weeks ago--which has only been three games with their bye week. Still, despite losing their last three games, the Mountaineers still give up the fewest first downs in the league.

One of the most interesting aspects of the game will come on third down. Per my prayers being answered, and something that's improved dramatically since the Minnesota game to say the least, TCU's offense is the best team in the Big 12 on third down. The only problem? West Virginia's defense is the best team in the Nation at stopping opponents on third down. However, they've given up 139 points in their last three games; which granted were all on the road, but entering a blackout Carter crowd won't do them any favors Thursday night.

Vegas likes the Frogs at home and that helps me sleep a little better at night. West Virginia's best hope Thursday night is how Iowa State was able to have a monster 1st quarter two weeks ago, and a big reason Kansas State was within a strand of Snyder's white hair from upsetting the Frogs; special teams. Punting-wise, TCU ranks 9th in the Big 12 (averaging 37.7 yards per punt), and while West Virginia only ranks 7th in punt returns, they have enough explosiveness to at least gain very solid field position. It's one thing for your offense, and your offensive coordinator to have to formulate something from inside the 20; it's another when you're on the 50. And even though TCU's been dynamite at limiting returns; when they do, it's only been good enough for 6th best in the conference; and when you're facing the (statistically) best kick returner in the Big 12 in Shelton Gibson, TCU must be very weary on coverage if they want to dominate this game.

Speaking of domination, and as we alluded to above, TCU isn't getting any love from the National Media. I mean, a little here and there, but it's certainly nowhere near what it was in the preseason. However, with the first College Football Playoff poll on the horizon, the Frogs have a chance to make their mark early. An early boost would certainly help, and at least give fans an idea of what they're (The Committee) are looking for this season; but it's just a name on the paper unless they finish undefeated, because unless you're name is Oklahoma, a 1-loss Big 12 team isn't going to the CFP.

Prediction: TCU 55, West Virginia 38

TCU just plays better at home. With Listenbee back, Turpin likely back, as well as a defense that's getting healthier and better in the areas it needs to with each passing week, it's hard to see the Frogs blowing a Thursday night blackout game at home. It'll happen one of two ways. (1) West Virginia will hang tough early, but Boykin and Doctson will take advantage of a weakened Mountaineer secondary and it'll prove too much. Or, (2) TCU will dominate early on offense and the defense will force a turnover early and the Frogs will run away with it. I don't see a desperate, and late comeback like Kansas State in this one.

A win against West Virginia will probably get tossed because it was at home. However, it should give the Frogs some significant confidence going into Stillwater, and should they win that; a nice buffer with Kansas coming to town, then playing Oklahoma and Baylor, should launch them back into legitimate playoff contention among the voices of National writers whose opinions matter about as mine do for which film should win at the Academy Awards.