Someone, somewhere over the summer went into a Bed Bath and Beyond and broke every damn mirror in the name of TCU's defense. Adding insult to injury, quite literally, Ranthony Texada, TCU's best corner and second-to-last starting returner from last year who hadn't, in some capacity, been injured yet in 2015, went down for the season after a punkish offensive interference play.
While the defensive line and the linebackers will work themselves out just fine--Lathan won't be out for the season, and Pierson (and possibly Lathan) should be back this week--it's not an insane statement that TCU's secondary won't cause them severe problems. This has a lot to do with the Frogs being completely lost at Weak Safety (WS). We'll talk about this more below, but if I'm Kliff Kingsbury, I'm salivating at the thought of Michael Downing starting and burning my inside receivers against him. Despite Downing playing one of the worst games I've seen a defensive player play in the Big 12 era of Gary Patterson's defense--literally never turning around to defend a ball--the other two safeties; Denzel Johnson and Derrick Kindred have been top shelf brilliance thus far this season.
Weird shit happens in rivalry games, and even when TCU went undefeated and won the Rose Bowl five years ago, the SMU game was the sloppiest of the season. SMU scored about 10 more points than I thought they would, which means it was about 20 more than everyone else thought; and even though Morris' club is, and will be far better than anything June Jones ever put out, the only play that kept the Mustangs in the game were killshots. Granted, some of them were because the SMU receivers simply out-muscled the secondary, but whatever that happens. Credit Matt Davis for making things more kinetic, and creating more opportunities, because of his mobility, but some of the coverage was awful. When Texada went out, Orr, Johnson, and Kindred had their men locked down--Downing and O'Meally? Not so much. Once Texada left, there's no question that the feeling of the game changed.
SMU's opening drive, riddled with generous penalties, was a fluke. TCU had them done at 42-17--though it should've been 50-something at that point--but once Davis saw those two weak spots, it was nearly another upset. Thank the football Gods that TCU's offense, especially when it wants to be, is as good as gets it college.
And that's the good news. While the Frogs may give up more points than they ever have throughout the season, at least they can punch right back, and more often than not, punch much harder.
I don't really care how not-good Arkansas is this year; Tech was very impressive on the road, in a tough environment, and shoved the foot even further down Bret Bielema's mouth. However, the pride comes before the fall, and despite Tech having all the chances in the world, Kingsbury's confidence is usually the last breath of air before the Red Raider balloon pops.
Editor's Note: ANDREW FELTS IS AMAZING. :-)
Tech has every right to want to be pissed at TCU. I mean, the Frogs scored 82 on them last season, and by all means they could do it again. But they'll have a much bigger response from the Red Raider offense this year. Or at least, from what the first three weeks have told us. And that's the thing, we don't really know. We don't really know (a) How improved Tech actually is and (b) How TCU's plan will change having a week to prepare for Texada's absence.
But let's try.
The defense on both sides should be interesting. We are only three games into this season, so we must take literally everything with a grain of salt. SMU killed TCU's defensive stats, but there's a still brilliance in Patterson's defense despite the injuries. Texada and Iloka's knee injuries are tough to swallow, and even though their replacements have been underwhelming, there's plenty of reasons--on offense and defense--to still believe in TCU's preseason prophecy. Games, especially tough road games like they'll see Saturday, are now going to be shootouts instead of blowouts.
Texas Tech's defense under David Gibbs is much better. Jah'Shawn Johnson was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week after the Arkansas game, and Gibbs' defense has allowed only three points in the second half of his last two games. Even though we can ask "How good is Arkansas, really?", that's still an impressive stat--yes, even if Arkansas eats up clock and managed only 12 against Toledo. The bottom line is that Gibbs is making improvements--Tech leads the Big 12 with 8 turnovers--and in the comfort of Lubbock, a few big plays early against TCU's offense would likely align with a win given, TCU's defensive state.
Patrick Mahomes, and Tech's speed, will (obviously) be the biggest uphill battle for the Frogs. The speed part is mainly about Jakeem Grant, who gave TCU trouble even in their 82-27 dismantling in 2014. Mahomes has already thrown for over 1,000 yards (1,029) this season, not to mention 9 touchdowns, an admirable 66.4 completion percentage,129 yards, and 4 touchdowns on the ground. Like Boykin, I'm not worried about Mahomes' 3 interceptions. I blame that more on the scheme than the players themselves. Sometimes, you just have to stick to script, have trust in the design, and just hope it pays off. Mahomes has thrown to 12 different players thus far this season, and before the game Saturday, I would've told you that inside guys like Jakeem Grant and Ian Sadler would be the receivers to watch out for; now, with Texada gone, any Tech receiver can have a game-changing impact.
Tech's running game should be significantly less of a problem than the passing game, even though it's been really good. DeAndre Washington (287 yds, 1 TD) and Josh Stockton (107 yds, 2 TDs) are great backs, and both of their longest runs of the season have gone for touchdowns. The running game will be strength in the sense that it's a nice balance to their passing game and will keep TCU guessing. But, I'd only expect it to make an impact on that kind of front, not so much in the box score.
We can talk all day about the problems that Texada's absence could cause and really, already has--the same goes for Downing at weak safety--but there's one more thing I'm worried about if I'm a TCU fan. I didn't have many complaints for the first two games on defense, but after Saturday, I had plenty. Davis taught us over the weekend that a mobile quarterback could be Frog poison. Not only did the mobility allow Davis to find the open receivers that Downing, O'Meally, and even Mosley allowed to get open, but the tackling on Davis was piss poor to say the least. The latter could've been a fluke, because up until the 3rd quarter Saturday, I had no reason to be worried about the tackling. Emotion, among other things, could've been running amuck, thus explaining the missed tackles, but it's something that just can't happen Saturday if the Frogs don't want to be upset in Lubbock.
I still believe in this defense, though. Even though I complained about Downing above and still dread him as a backup, with Orr in the weak safety (WS) spot, as well as the other two brilliant safeties in Derrick Kindred and Denzel Johnson--the Horned Frog defense should handle the Red Raider inside receivers, namely Jakeem Grant, just fine. Mismatched size tends to be an issue with the Frog secondary sometimes, but with Grant, it won't be. Tech won't try to burn the TCU corners on every play, but that's where the Red Raiders' best chance lies--again, neither Torrance Mosley or Corry O'Meally have been convincing thus far. The good news, however, is that speed is not an issue. All they have to do is turnaround, and those pass interference calls disappear.
You can drive yourself crazy, like Looper or Primer crazy thinking about all of the ways TCU has to stop Tech on offense. Or how Sonny Cumbie's influence and familiarity with Kliff and Tech will have on the game. Kliff pretty much does it himself, and doesn't have a counterpart like Doug Meacham to rewrite the script completely and give off tendencies that Cumbie won't recognize from the booth. Then you have to ask yourself how complicated and how finite Kliff will get against TCU's defense. Doug Meacham once told me that he doesn't really look at other team's defense, they just stick to their plan. So if Kliff sticks to his plan, and doesn't get terribly complicated, Gary and the defense, even wounded, can essentially win a game of "Battleship".
**Mahomes vs. Boykin**
Even though TCU is running plays at a slower-pace than they were in 2014, it's produced some interesting dividends. They've opted to use the Listenbee killshot sparsely, opting instead for in-routes to guys like Shaun Nixon, Ty Slanina, and KaVontae Turpin; but it's produced a more efficient offense. We've talked about how much more in control Boykin this season. He's been much more efficient passing than Mahomes has, despite the discrepancy in passing yards and completion percentage. In those stats, Mahomes doesn't lead Boykin by much; he ranks (Nationally) two spots higher in passing yards and three spots higher in completion percentage.
While the offense isn't as flashy as it was last year, and they're squandering some redzone opportunities, we are still seeing an improved Boykin. The senior, and TCU's everything, is controlling the game on an insane level. He ranks 10th in yards per-completion (15.15) and 10th in passing efficiency (176.5)--and in both categories he leads Mahomes by a considerable margin. Not to mention, his feet are always a weapon; like we've always said, the weapons around him only make him better, and Boykin ranks 2nd Nationally in touchdown passes because of it.
**Green, In-Routes, and the Returners**
What this game can really come down to, shootout or not, is TCU's run game. Aaron Green, who broke out last week against SMU, gaining over 160-yards on the ground, has an opportunity to really do damage and hurt Tech where they're the weakest: linebacker and defensive tackle. Not to mention, the Frogs' superb depth of Kyle Hicks, Trevorris Johnson, and Shaun Nixon behind Green, serving to wear down the defense and give the offense fresh and varied looks. My only complaint is Johnson running the wildcat in the redzone. Any clown could've stopped that. To win Saturday--and ail their red zone woes--the Frogs may have to swallow their pride, line up under center and drive the ball into the endzone to ensure no points get left off the board. They'll need all of them they can get come Saturday afternoon.
This is also another chance for the in-route to take flight. Once called the "the next run up the middle," it's really been the play of the year thus far for the Frogs, and KaVontae Turpin and Shaun Nixon have been huge benefactors of that. While we may have only seen a fraction, at most a fourth, of the playbook, what we haven't seen hinges on the inside receivers like Turpin, Ty Slanina, and the hybrid, Nixon. Turpin is absolutely brilliant on that run; the blocking is solid--but he doesn't really need that, or any juke moves to beat the SMU defenders, he literally runs straight down the middle of the field and beats them purely with speed. With Tech's weaknesses on the defensive line and at linebacker, the balancing the in-rout and the run will be the key to winning.
Momentum is another huge narrative going into this game. Tech is, and again to say this, is trending up. They tend to play off of momentum well, and winning in Fayetteville puts even more pressure on a battered TCU squad. Before the season began, mostly in conversation, I said at least one advantage of Tech-TCU, for the Frogs, was that the Razorbacks would tire Tech out; mentally and physically. Well now that's not so much the case. The Red Raiders are still plenty chippy for this game.
My favorite part of Saturday, when I'm not vomiting into a paper bag, will be watching the returners--Jakeem Grant versus KaVontae Turpin. The latter has already proven himself as one of the promising TCU players in recent memories. Turpin, filling in for Cameron Echols-Luper quite admirably, has already made a name for himself among TCU fans, and now with a Nationally televised game on Fox, he has a chance to make a bigger footprint. Oddly enough, the game Saturday could come down to these returners. Hell, it came down to one, possibly two, punts in 2013. Either Grant or Turpin, if not both, can completely change the pace and dynamic of this game.
Is it strange to say that no one is talking about Josh Doctson enough? Doctson had his first 100+ yard game of the season, and not only that, he had his best catch in his history of great catches. I never thought a receiver could replace Josh Boyce in my heart, but damn Doctson is tugging on those heart strings. Just like Saturday, expect JD to have the play of the game, a play that could very well decide the game...
Tech Prediction: TCU 59, Tech 56
Only an idiot would think Tech doesn't have a really good chance to walk out the Jones on Saturday with a win. But only a bigger idiot thinks a Red Raider win against this TCU team is a given. The Red Raiders, seemingly in one game--and in one delightfully brash Kingsbury press conference--have erased most of the doubt that was cast upon them this offseason. Like the Texas game last year, it's now trendy to pick against TCU. And only three games into the season, who can blame them for being so high on a team that allowed 45 points to Sam Houston State?
TCU dominating, much less winning on Saturday, is not far from impossible. The Texada injury stings just as much as the Iloka, as their replacements, again, have been very underwhelming. But there's still about 70% of offensive playbook that we haven't seen; and now that we're in conference play, it's going to open up.
This is another the game that's always a little weird; the triple overtime in 2012, the damn fox on the field in 2013, and then the huge blowout in 2014. Let the weird reign. And believe it or not, we are the underdog, regardless of what Vegas says. Tech has plenty to lose in this game, sure. But the Frogs have infinitely more. The doubt is starting to cast a cloud over Gary's team, but to paraphrase what he said in TCU's win in 2006 against Tech--the game's going to hinge on speed, baby. If the Frogs win Saturday, I think they can cruise until Oklahoma State. If they lose? It could be a long season.
In a weird way, I got my wish. And even though I said above that TCU has more to lose--and that's true--I feel like the Frogs are the underdog. Prepare for a shootout.