Kliff Kingsbury is on fire, these days. Fresh off a victory over a foe from the heralded SEC West, and a spitting fire kind of press conference, and with a hot new movie coming out - oh wait, wrong guy - the players have never been more confident under their leading man. Gary Patterson and crew, now without (hold on, math)... eightish players?, will hve plenty of work to do on both sides of the ball to prepare for the Red Raiders high flying offense and suddenly super aggressive D. Let's look at this week's Keys to Victory.
TURN THE BEAT AROUND (and your head): There is no shortage of speed in the TCU secondary, but what they have in pure athleticism, they lack in experience and savvy. The Frog corners had few problems running with SMU's talented receivers, but struggled to make the play once the ball was in the air and the battle commenced. Too many pass interference flags extended drives, and too many mistimed jumps and bad body position led to big plays down the field. With Ranthony Texada out for the year, the onus will fall on a young, inexperienced corner (Nick Orr, DeShawn Raymond), a veteran who has had their struggles in the past (Corry O'Meally, Robert Lewis), or the kid that didn't quite get it done Saturday night (Torrance Mosley) to man the sideline opposite Denzel Johnson. Coach P mentioned his guys "panicking when the ball was in the air" against the Ponies, so playing each pass through the entire play will be paramount this weekend. You can bet those guys got a lot of work on the deep ball this week.
SEE IF YOU CAN RUN IT: So, you may have notice, TCU plays a bit of an up-tempo style on offense these days. And they do it pretty darn well, at that. But, as defenders drop like flies, it will be on Cumbie and Meacham to not only put points on the board in a big way, but keep the clock ticking as they do. Boykin directed a picture perfect drive in the fourth quarter Saturday night, driving the Frogs 53 yards over five minutes, spear-headed by an angry running Aaron Green. Green, who hardly touched the ball in the first quarter, put the team on his back and the ball in his hand late, as part of a 21 carry, 164 yard, two score night. TCU will need more of that, as well as the pounding style of Trevorris Johnson, and the speed of Kyle Hicks. I would also expect the kind of short passes that function like running plays to guys like Desmon White, Shaun Nixon, and KaVontae Turpin (heart emoji), that move the chains and give the game changing athletes a chance to operate in space. Boykin has been accurate on the short stuff and the passes to the slot receivers this season, he will need that to show Saturday afternoon more than ever.
THE DOCTOR WILL SEE YOU NOW (in the end zone): Just give it to Josh. I mean, seriously. Assuming Kolby Listenbee in healthy (fingers crossed), hitting him on a deep ball or two will do wonders for his teammate on the other side of the field, but even if not, Doc has shown that if you can put the ball in his vicinity, he's probably going to come down with it. When seemingly nothing is going your way, sometimes you have to lean on your leaders and best players to make their own luck - and for TCU, that means a big game from their two peak performers - Boykin and Doc. Those two guys are just going to have to be the ones that get it done from here on out, or at least until the defense gets up to speed. It was Josh's twisting/turning/circus catch that saved the game for the Frogs a week ago, it will be on him to make the big play when it matters most once again.
WE'RE GOING STREAKING: One of the most impressive streaks in the country came to an end under the lights last week, as the Frogs failed to record a turnover for the first time in what had been a national best 27 games. And it wasn't even close. With little pressure put on the QB and little resistance put up by the secondary, the opportunities to force a fumble, run the tip drill, or intercept a ball just weren't there. And for a team that thrives on creating pressure on and confusion for the opponent, not doing so surely spells disaster. If TCU wants to have a shot to steal one in Lubbock, it will be up to the spare parts brigade to make something happen to take the Raiders out of their rhythm and give Boykin and co extra opportunities to put the ball in the end zone - thus forcing a younger QB to press and make more bad decisions. TCU will need to start a new turnover streak, and you can be sure Patterson is looking for any weaknesses to exploit to do just that.
THE BACKFIELD IS NICE THIS TIME OF YEAR: Can we get a pass rush, please? I think I caught Matt Davis filing his nails in the pocket at one point during the third quarter, as the normally stout TCU pass rush was rendered near obsolete by having to focus on containing Davis and trying to protect the back end by blitzing less and putting the secondary in fewer man to man situations. The loss of Lathan didn't help, nor did the continued absence of Davion Pierson. With both looking probable/possible/who knows to return to the field in Lubbock, the Frogs will be closer to full strength on the line than they have been all season. Pierson alone is a huge difference maker - by virtue of being, well, huge - and his return alone could signal a completely different feel along the front four. With Travin Howard and Montrel Wilson also being more confident and comfortable, it makes sense that we will see them more aggressive as well. While they may lean run heavy early, when the opportunity to crash the pocket presents itself, their pure speed will be a handful for the Tech offensive line.
This game is looking more and more like a shootout, so maybe the biggest key is the one yet to be mentioned - just hold on to the dang ball. The team that turns the ball over less will likely be the one that comes out victorious, so for TCU, win that battle, win the game.