It will be an uphill battle for the Horned Frogs in Norman tonight, as they face arguably the best player in college football and certainly its most electrifying QB. But winning this game is not out of the realm of possibility by any stretch, and TCU has no reason to doubt that they can finally win in Norman for the first time in 12 years.
Here is how we think the Frogs can win, and who the key players to help them do so are.
Keys to Victory
The Frogs absolutely have to play clean football tonight in Norman, as OU hasn’t exactly been turnover prone this season. When you are playing a great team, and one of the greatest players in the country, you can’t afford to give them extra opportunities. And when you are playing on the road in what is expected to be the most hostile environment for an away team in the last decade, you don’t want to swing momentum to the home team. If the Frogs can hang on to the ball, it gives them a much better chance to steal one from the favored Sooners.
Baker is going to get his, that’s a fact. But, when facing off against a player with his skillset, it’s not about stopping him, it’s all about containment. Can the TCU defense limit the big plays and keep OU offensive playmakers in front of them? That’s the question the top defense in the conference will have to answer against college football’s best offense. I love Robert Olson’s defensive game plan suggestion (he’s brilliant - if you don’t already follow him, you should):
TCU's defense does a lot of pattern matching, so when Baker tries to extend the play, it shouldn't be easy for him to find open WRs. Gary will have to keep the D-Line fresh, because they'll have to contain him. On 3rd & long, I'd love to see Innis Gaines mirror Baker (in Dime).— Robert Olson (@RobertOlson92) November 11, 2017
The Frogs have the athletes; Gaines, Travin Howard, and Ridwan Issahaku all present problems for the opposition. If those three can have big games, mainly in their approach to Mayfield, we could see the Frogs situate themselves for a championship game appearance.
If I’m Oklahoma (and thank god I’m not), I am 100% selling out to stop the run and daring Kenny Hill to beat me with his arm. And if they are able to force that, they will have a big edge defensively. Hill has only really been asked to a win a game two times this year, against SMU in September and Iowa State a few weeks ago. He got the Frogs a victory at home against the Mustangs but had a near disastrous performance in Ames. Thankfully, the Sooners defense looks much more like the Ponies’ than the Clones, and there will likely be free-running receivers all over the field tonight. Kenny has to trust himself, but not too much, be on target, and put the ball in the hands of his playmakers. His legs could also be a big factor, as the Sooners are prone to give up big plays to running QBs. If the Hill who willed his team back against SMU, made just enough plays against WVU, and made the big throws when he needed to against OSU shows up, the Frogs will be in good shape. If ISU Kenny is there instead? Woof.
Cumbie and GP need to be working in tandem tonight to control the speed, tempo, and time of the game. The less opportunities the Sooners have to score, the better, and that means a great performance from the Frogs defense as well as a ball-control game plan by the offense. David Ubben wrote a great piece on Patterson’s secret sauce, and it gives excellent insight into how TCU will attack the Sooners on the road. Time of possession, limiting opponent offensive plays, leaning on the running game, big time special teams efforts, and time of possession - all of these will go into securing a program-defining win.
Picks to Click
As mentioned above, Gaines is kind of an X-Factor on the TCU defense, and his role and execution will be a huge difference maker this evening. Gaines may be asked to blitz, to shadow, and to drop in coverage, while also helping against the run. Good thing he’s as versatile as anyone in the conference on that side of the ball. I think Gaines, one of my preseason picks to click, will be up for the challenge.
The Frogs’ best defender has to come up big in the biggest game of the season. TCU’s leading tackler, defensive leader, and arguably the best linebacker in an illustrious history will need to control the middle of the field, dominate in the run game, and leak out in pass coverage. OU has so many weapons, it will be all hands on deck, especially when Baker breaks contain. I predict a double-digit tackle day ofr Howard and a big forced turnover.
Hicks is going to have a huge game tonight, I can feel. A great runner, pass-catcher, and pass-protector, the senior running back hasn’t been asked to do too much all year coming off of injury. But tonight is the night the offense rides their best horse, and he should be able to slice and dice a Sooner D that is allowing over 400 yards and 150 on the ground per game in conference play.
No one took the Iowa State loss harder than Diarse, who has really become the heart and soul of the team, along with Ben Baogu. The senior receiver might not pile up huge stats on the night - TCU spreads it around too much for any one player to dominate the stat sheet, but Diarse can certainly put his stamp on the game in other ways. Not only will Diarse make a couple of big catches, but he will be the one that keeps everyone focused and level. As a redshirt senior, and a guy who has played some big games in big stadiums, the moment won’t be too big. Now, the question is, can he keep his young, inexperienced teammates, feeling the same way?