This is it--don't get scared now. Somehow, November is here, and unsurprisingly, TCU's undefeated. Like I said in my Oklahoma State preview from the summer, November is when College Football, especially the Big 12, gets real. TCU's getting more love in the polls than Oklahoma State, which is a microcosm of the perception of the Big 12. Even Baylor, who've done historic things offensively this year, have also received the short end of the stick in a lot of cases.
They haven't played anyone.
And yet National writers salivate over an Iowa team that beat Wisconsin 10-6. 10 to (I've reached my f-word count this year) 6. Trying not to go all Leave Britney Alone!, I get it: Iowa is ranked seventh in total defense, Wisconsin is ranked third, and Michigan is ranked second. The Big 10 is a defensive heavy league, and that's great. The Big 12 is offensive one, and that's great too. Tuesday night, we'll see how much that matters to the committee. Do they prefer defense? Do they prefer offense? Do they prefer balance? Or do they simply prefer game control?
You can drive yourself crazy with thoughts like, 'Well the Big 10 defenses are good because their offenses are so bad'; and, 'The Big 12 offenses are good only because the defenses are crap.' If you watch games in a vacuum, there's a lot of truth to that statement. College football is about numbers, sure. It's about talent. It's about playmakers like Leonard Fournette and Trevone Boykin. But above everything else, it's about matchups. It's why TCU can struggle against Kansas State, Texas can pretty much suffocate the Wildcats, but then the Horned Frogs can dominate Charlie Strong's squad. Why did Ole Miss fans talk trash about their brutal landshark defense and say I was crazy to think that the TCU would score more than 30 points off of it? The matchups. Chris B. Brown's riveting piece a few months ago exposed that.
No college football team has proven themselves to be truly great quite yet in 2015. Iowa is really good. So is TCU. So is Baylor. So is Clemson. So is LSU. So is Michigan State. Thank God for November, because this is really when our questions get answered.
Oklahoma State Preview:
The 2012 Oklahoma State game had an extremely positive start. I mean, TCU went in there with a new-ish quarterback and struck first, controlling most of the first half. But a lack of depth killed them in 2012, just as a complete lack of offense killed them in 2013. Ironically, the incompetent offense in 2013--and yes, that's the polite way to put it--had a much better chance to win, despite being down 17-0 at the half. It was a game where Jason Verrett and the defense literally kept them in the game, and had the Frogs pulled it off, it would've been the rare case in which a defense had literally won a game by themselves.
If it means anything, that's when I knew it had to change. That's when I knew that Jarrett Anderson and Rusty Burns couldn't call plays in the Big 12, at least not with a quarterback like Trevone Boykin. I cringe to think back to that season where I'd get out of my seat and cheer every time the offense went 10+ yards.
This year, TCU should probably be on upset alert. There will be a lot of talk about that, so just prepare yourself. I'm still not entirely sold, because like the Horned Frogs, Oklahoma State isn't flawless. Phantom Calls calls aside, Oklahoma State played three very underwhelming games in a row; at Texas, Kansas State, and at West Virginia.
"I keep hearing that we can't play defense"
TCU can control the game early by dominating Oklahoma State's underwhelming offensive line. The defensive line against West Virginia was easily the best it's been all season, and I'll admit that the final score was a tad misleading. Plenty of ‘Eers receivers dropped passes that should've been caught, and in spots, TCU's secondary had some of the worst blown coverage it had all season. Being familiar with Patterson, however, and given how the defensive line played, it likely was a scheme issue than anything else. Credit fantastic play from the defensive line, and newly christened Julius Lewis--even though Gary took him out of the game early.
For a defensive that has done a fantastic job making adjustments, and who've only allowed 10 points over the last 7 quarters; the biggest problem Saturday will be about controlling not only Mason Rudolph, but JW Walsh as well--the latter of whom feels like he's been at Oklahoma State longer than Mike Gundy. Thankfully, Walsh and Rudolph are never on the field at the same time, so whatever package is on the field, will have any easier time because it's one tailored to a specific quarterback. On the bright side, TCU's tackling has improved tenfold from what it showed during the Tech game. By way of a miracle, or just great coaching from Meacham and great execution from Aaron Green, the Frogs escaped Lubbock with a big road win, and the lack of tackling got swept under the rug. Five games later, tackling is just one of several ways the defense is putting the pieces back together.
Aside from having to prepare for Rudolph and Walsh, the Cowboys have three very dangerous receiving weapons in David Glidden, Rennie Childs, and Marcell Ateman that will greatly test a TCU secondary that got very lucky with some very bad drops by the Mountaineer receivers last Thursday.
Appreciate Boykin and Doctson.
Seriously. Gary said what we're all thinking. Kenny Hill, or whomever, may very well lead TCU to greater things than Boykin and Doctson have yet to do. But as far as impact from a combination of players, this is as good as it gets. Don't count out Listenbee, either. Somewhat due to injury, Listenbee has been the shadow to the larger-than-life Peter Pan which Doctson and Boykin have created.
TCU faces a challenge with Oklahoma State's offense, not only because of the improved quarterback play, but because improved quarterback play and improved offensive production as a whole, keeps a really good defense off of the field for more time. That was a major problem for the Pokes last year. The defense was loaded with the talent, but even Emmanuel Ogbah is human, and humans get exhausted; with more rest, this Oklahoma State defense will be more unforgiving. Not only do you have to prepare for Ogbah (who's averaging over a sack per game), you have Jimmy Bean (25 tackles), the left to Ogbah's right at defensive end; as well as Kevin Peterson (22 tackles, 1 INT) and Jordan Sterns (OSU's leading tackler at 64). The depth will challenge TCU, but undoubtedly the biggest challenge will be Ogbah. Like we said, the NFL-ready wunderkind already has 26 solo-tackles, 9 sacks and 14 quarterback-hurries, but two forced fumbles and 1 recovery as well. West Virginia may have been the best coached, and Minnesota may have had the best secondary, but all the moving parts, again, make this by far the best defense--in both health and talent--that the Frogs have seen all year.
It won't be a cakewalk for TCU's best players. Oklahoma State may have the best defensive line in the Big 12, and Boykin has yet to see pressure like he'll see in Stillwater. Also, a healthy, but far from flawless secondary, will double-cover Josh Doctson. This, however, is what makes Kolby Listenbee so special himself. Not only is Listenbee a tremendous talent, but as literally one of the fastest players in the country, it makes double-covering Doctson nearly futile because it leaves Listenbee the opportunity to make a big play. It's a Russian doll effect: Double covering Doctson and using what's left to cover Listenbee gives way for inside receivers Shaun Nixon, Desmon White, and KaVontae Turpin. We praised Doctson, Listenbee, and Boykin above, but the devil is in the depth for TCU. Boykin's a once-in-a-decade quarterback for TCU, but having an arsenal of dynamite to play with is what makes makes this offense so unfriendly to opposing defenses.
Also, I have a confession to make. I really love Melissa's film room recaps. The TCU run-game is something I often think about while I'm eating lunch like Steven Glansberg, alone. Unlike Glansberg, this is (mostly) by choice. I really enjoyed her piece today asking just where in the hell the running game has gone. It's hard to call what Aaron Green has been doing lately a "mid-season" slump, because (a) it's been more of scheme issue, (b) he hasn't been getting good blocks from his receivers, and (c) it's hard to call getting 60+ yards a "slump". As much as I'd like to see Green more, I'd also like to see Kyle Hicks, and non-garbage time Trevorris Johnson.
The latter I'd particularly like to see in the redzone more, the only place where TCU had any true woe Saturday if you're willing to forgive and forget the blown coverage and dropped balls by some of the ‘Eers receivers. Again, some of that's a scheme issue, but it's mostly an athleticism issue. West Virginia just has a lot of speed, and breakaways like that will happen.
For TCU's offense, the redzone is a tough place to excel when you're facing a 3-3-5 like the Mountaineers put back in place, but also the Frogs have been far from great in the redzone, at least for a team that's statistically and visually one of the best and most exciting offenses in the country. Granted they're not in the redzone as much as most teams are, as they create more big plays than most teams do, but again, for the Horned Frogs to boast the 63rd-best red zone offense in the country is worrisome, especially given how polished they are elsewhere. Thankfully, the matchup Saturday is somewhat favorable, and in another semi-paradox: a really good Oklahoma State defense only boasts the 53rd best red zone defense in the country.
The red zone offense is the only complaint I've ever had since TCU's new system has been in place, and it's hard to believe it's only in year two. Some of it, I think, could be the youth. Jarrison Stewart has been fantastic, but has been prone to drops in the endzone. Desmon White--like myself, Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Hart, and Tom Cruise, is on #TeamShortButNoDannyDevito--gets overthrown on those quick passes. As seen with the Wildcat call against SMU, which again is a call I liked, Trevorris Johnson may not have the elusiveness to be an effective red zone back anywhere outside the 5-yardline. Of course, you'd like Boykin to run a read option more but (a) most teams see this coming, more so than they see it when TCU's on their side of the field (see Kansas State); and (b) because teams may see this coming, you set Boykin up for big hits. He executed a keeper perfectly against West Virginia, but his Jackie Chan Rush Hour 2 moves, caused all of us to lose our breath.
For TCU to really be effective not only Saturday in Stillwater, but in Norman and in their 2015 regular season coda against Baylor at home, they're really going to have to be better in the endzone if they want to fulfill their preseason prophecy. Maybe Kyle Hicks is the answer? From what I've seen, he's the most effective red zone player, other than maybe Boykin, TCU has. If the offensive line can watch their holding when he's given the ball in that area, it could really take TCU's offense to even greater heights; and greater heights mean more points, and more points means less pressure for the defense.
Intangible-wise--and I hope not to jinx it--but the weather should actually be pretty favorable. The Frogs haven't been a great road team these past two seasons, but its worst two games on the road last year were also in horrible, cold weather. Stillwater is prone to miserable weather, and if the weather was supposed to be crap on Saturday, at least the 2:30 kickoff could negate that crappiness; thankfully, however, the weather should be in sunny in the 60s with a 0% chance of precipitation, and only 10-mph winds. I'm Marshall Weber, and this has been your weather report.
Score Prediction| TCU 38, Oklahoma State 34
Given that this is the best defense that TCU have played, I'm taking a low score by Big 12 standards, and a shootout by SEC or Big 10 ones. Like I've said the past few weeks, Boykin and Doctson can win them every game, but a defensive takeaway will seal it and take pressure off of them to have win the game in the final seconds.
I see this game being back-and-forth throughout its entirety. The Frogs get to 38 late-ish in the 4th quarter, then the Frog defense forces a huge stop--as the Pokes can't tie or win on a field goal and thus have to take a different approach--with two or so minutes left in the game, then the Frogs pick up a first down and close it with Boykin kneeling it.