TCU and Baylor limp into Black Friday with every intention to knock the other in the mouth. The Bears, as of last Saturday, are in better shape for a New Years Six Bowl, with a possibility to sneak into the playoff. The Horned Frogs were sans their leader, Trevone Boykin, in Norman--but only on the field. Boykin was there, coaching Foster Sawyer and Bram Kohlhausen--the latter of whom was more highly touted than Boykin out of high school. The latter also led a 16-point surge, right as TCU's defense was buckling brilliantly on the Sooner offense.
Baylor is coming off one of their best games under Briles--a 10-point victory in Stillwater, where the score is far from indicative as to just how much Baylor actually dominated the Cowboys.
This may not be quite the game we asked for, but hey, with these two teams, I'll take it.
Both Baylor and TCU are hobbling into this game, but that shouldn't take away from its spirit. It's hard to explain this rivalry if you didn't go to either of these schools; it's not like when a Texas graduate has some cousin they all kinda make fun for being the lone Aggie in the family and conversely, the Aggie counters with the t-sip routine. The Revivalry may not have the weight that TAMU-Texas had, or what Ohio State and Michigan have, but once Gary and Art's respective tenures come to an end, ten to fifteen years from now, I don't think many will second guess the heavy amounts of sodium chloride involved.
These schools--from the fans, to the coaches, to the administrations--don't regard each other kindly.
Officially announced Wednesday morning, Jarrett Stidham will be out the rest of 2015, thus leaving the game in Chris Johnson's hands. Johnson, obviously not that Chris Johnson, who might've helped your fantasy team literally one year, and destroyed it every year since, has one of the better arms I've seen in the Big 12 in quite some time. He can throw the deep ball very, very, well, which obviously is favorable against TCU's secondary and can greatly destroy their momentum. Johnson, the 6-5 sophomore from Bryan, laid credence to the notion that Briles' system is in fact a plug-and-play and he and big-time TCU hater, K.D. Canon, were dynamite in Stillwater. The Frogs couldn't stop Samaje Perine, but they made the stops when they needed to--especially when Baker Mayfield left with a head injury. However, Friday could be a different story because Johnson is much better than Trevor Knight-- the quarterback who took over for Mayfield and who the Frogs beat last year in Fort Worth.
This will technically be Johnson's first start; on the road, against a hated rival, and in less-than-ideal weather nevertheless. The 40s-ish temperature should keep this game all the more interesting and it should help TCU's secondary a little more. Though the disadvantages go both ways, the wet conditions could dramatically slow down Baylor's run game, which has taken a backseat to its brilliant quarterback play all season. Not to mention, their star running back, Shock Linwood, is listed in Briles speak--the speak that brought you the infamous "non-win"--as "very questionable" for Friday's game.
As a TCU fan, I'm required to hate Art Briles. But it's a situation of loving, or at least admiring the art, but hating the artist. Briles' up-tempo hybrid that falls somewhere in between an Air Raid and a Run-and-Shoot--i.e "The Bear Raid"--has been tearing up TCU secondaries, even when TCU's secondaries were quite good. Despite being on this third quarterback, like Gary with his defense, Briles is proving his own system is very much a plug-and-play. There's something to be said about a third-stringer winning in Stillwater, a place where Briles had never won before last Saturday. It was something that even TCU fans had to admire a little and something that undeniably drove Texas fans insane. Seriously, what if you told a Texas fan ten years ago that Baylor, Baylor, would have a third string quarterback better than their first string? When RGIII beat Texas on Halloween Weekend in 2010, you thought it was going to be a flash-in-the-pan; now looking at it, it was clearly a taste of things to come.
The Briles-Patterson is the matchup. The two men--one born in Kansas, the other in Texas--are both unquestionably brilliant at what they do. It's one thing for them to be savants, but it's taken to another level when you consider that their respective expertise is on opposite sides of the ball. The eternal struggle of the unstoppable force that meets an immovable object will be the narrative for years to come. Briles versus Patterson isn't just a battle of philosophy, it's a personal battle too, whether either of them care to admit it. At its core, hatred is a difference in philosophy; it's not just systemically an offense versus a defense with these two either, it's everything and all things.
The memories of being exiled and battling his way through places like the Mountain West and Conference USA have stuck with Patterson; while he wasn't there when TCU got the cold shoulder from the Big 12, he felt the chill. He made it very clear after TCU beat Tech as a lowly non-Power 5 opponent in 2007. "We're just a Texas school with Texas players. I'm tired of being treated like a stepchild in this state, and in this town." His quote was spoken nearly ten years ago, but the spirit of it is still carried with Patterson today.
You could argue that Baylor lobotomized itself from the years it cleaned the bathroom with a toothbrush off of every Big 12 team's floor before Briles got there. Hand it to Briles for wanting to forget that. He had nothing to do with it, so he shouldn't be blamed for it. But talking to Baylor fans and having to run into them on Twitter will make just about any fan, from any school, frustrated by their amnesia. I think of the rivalry like this: places like Texas Tech may hate Gary Patterson, but they respect him. On the field, TCU fans respect Art Briles' mind. Baylor fans, in addition to fat shaming him on Twitter, don't respect Gary Patterson.
Trevone Boykin's status is still up in the air, but I'd be very surprised if he didn't play his final game in the Carter against his team's most hated opponent. Boykin's smarts, arm, and running ability have undeniably been missed these past two weeks. But more than anything, his leadership and telepathic-esque connections with his receivers were missed most. Neither Foster Sawyer nor Bram Kohlhausen displayed even a fraction of Boykin's intelligence in Norman--which, to be fair, wasn't really their fault.
It'll take more than Boykin's multitude of talents, however, to get the win on Friday night. Coming off one of his best performances, this game is just as much Aaron Green's as it is Boykin's. Green completely took control of the game in Norman, running Lesean McCoy-like through the Oklahoma defense. The senior from San Antonio kept the Frog offense alive and as someone who tweeted out "61-58 on my mind", I think Green will give us something very special this Friday. To beat Baylor, they won't necessarily have to play as perfect as they would've had to escape Norman with a win. They're just going to have to play a little smarter. Granted, they'll likely be sans Sawyer no matter what, which means no laying off the deep ball when it's not working, but instead, going to back to the in-routes and balancing it with Green, Kyle Hicks, and Trevorris Johnson to eat up clock and keep it out of Baylor's hands.
It'll also be an interesting test for both defenses. Like we've said, the TCU defense, particularly the defensive line, (arguably) played its best game of 2015 in Norman. Mike Tuaua, Davion Pierson and Chris Bradley are going to have to gruel through an industrial-strength Baylor offensive line without Aaron Curry. In a lot of ways, that matchup is the key to the game. The Frog cornerbacks, are mostly out of everyone's hands, but getting to Johnson and not allowing him the time to sit back and fire killshots to Corey Coleman or KD Canon will win the Frogs the game. It should be a blow-for-blow game, but getting to Johnson would prevent the Bears from jumping out to an early lead early, and thus prevent TCU from fighting an early uphill battle in the awful weather.
The Frogs couldn't stop Perine in Norman; they were out-gained by 146 yards on Saturday and Derrick Kindred was the only defensive player to force a turnover--an interception--but, they made the plays when they needed to. They brought a fantastic, to say the least, third-down defense, forcing the Sooners to convert only 4 of their 20 attempts. TCU didn't keep the time of possession as close to the chest as I wanted them to, as the Sooners had the ball for nearly 12-minutes more than the Frogs, but they made the most of it late on the shoulders of Green's fantastic running. Thus a big key for TCU's defense is its own offense.
The smarter plays: short passes, designed runs, and keeping the ball out of Baylor's hands gives TCU's defense (a) more rest and (b) more time to plan and adapt accordingly. No one's doubting Doug Meacham or Sonny Cumbie, but the Bears are still scoring at a rapid pace, so if Iowa State was able to slow them down by eating up clock, there's no reason TCU can't do the same. No one's saying TCU shouldn't be aggressive, but keeping better time management-- especially in the first half-- prevents them from having to burn themselves out by having to cook up a second half comeback.
Baylor's defense is far from awful, but it's definitely been its glaring weakness. Shawn Oakman is basically just a meme at this point, but players like the linebackers Grant Campbell, Travon Blanchard, Taylor Young, and safety Orion Stewart allow for the Bears to be quite good and aggressive versus the run--allowing just over 156 yards per game--giving them the second best rush defense in the Big 12.
Oklahoma's defense has been by far the Big 12's best, but despite all of the attrition, Gary Patterson has still made it into the second best in total defense in the conference. Granted, not a lot separates TCU (2) from Baylor (4)--only about 3 yards in fact, or even Oklahoma State (5)--about 18 yards. Even though Gary's the only team, aside from Texas, yet to play the Bears, which may skew the numbers by season's end, it's still an impressive feat. Especially the adjustments the secondary makes in the second half, because at times, it looks non-existent in the first half.
About 20 yards of passing offense separate TCU's pass defense (2nd in the Big 12) from Baylor (5th in the Big 12) so should Boykin play, it's something Meacham and Cumbie could take advantage of. But like TCU's defense rests on its defensive line and getting to Johnson, Baylor's falls on its defensive line too. It's one of the best in the Big 12 against the run and with Joey Hunt out, it will dramatically impact a healing Boykin's ability to make plays. His improvised runs will be limited, so he's going to have to help TCU win this game with short, in-route passes, and balancing the killshots to Listenbee. Although he had a few misreads early in Norman, Emmanuel Porter showed how aggressive he could be in the endzone. While he's not Josh Doctson, yet, he still leaves the fantastic option for Boykin and his favorite play, the endzone fade, to not be a total disaster.
Prediction| TCU 48, Baylor 44
Even banged up squads show up for rivalry games. If Boykin plays, I think it's very much TCU's game--and if they'd announce it, I think TCU would be favored in Vegas. As good as Baylor's plug-and-play system is, the Horned Frogs' defense played what was arguably their best game all season last Saturday in Norman. And I'm not so sure a banged up Bear squad without Seth Russell, Jarrett Stidham, and Shock Linwood will be able to dominate the game like some of the Baylor players think they will. It won't rest completely on Boykin's shoulders, either. It'll take a strong balance in the running game and being a little more conservative with the deep ball--basically just smarter possessions--to win the Holy War, the Revivalry, or whatever you want to call it.
I don't think there's going to be any vacuum-like surges by either team. I think this goes blow-to-blow right down to the final whistle, where the Frogs make their biggest defensive stop of the year and win the Rivalry game for the first time since October of 2012--yeesh.