TCU and Texas has becoming a surprisingly fun rivalry over the last few years, well rivalry in name if not in scoreboard. Now they meet again, with the Frogs coming off of a devastating loss and the Horns looking ready to turning the corner any day now. What will Saturday bring? We asked Jack Keyes of Burnt Orange Nation to find out.
FOW: Some fans were clamoring for Charlie Strong to be booted from the 40 Acres from almost the moment he arrived, and got their wish as well as their dream replacement in Tom Herman. What are the early returns on Herman, and how long will it take for him to turn the program around, if he's the guy to do it?
BON: The early positive returns on Herman is that this Texas football team has been more consistently competitive with good teams than it has been in years. It’s such a relief to feel confident in your team’s defense, and the Longhorn D is looking really solid right now. Specific players who had maybe not quite lived up to their billing, such as Malik Jefferson, are making tremendous strides which is a joy to watch. That said, Herman is not going to be granted a ton of time to turn this program around, because he pretty much inherited a roster that should be capable of winning eight games. I think Texas fans are still content with Herman so far because Texas could easily have a much better record right now if just a few plays went differently, but the new head coach will have a lot of pressure next year to win.
FOW: Texas has shuffled back and forth between Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger at QB this season, partially due to injury and partially due to performance. Buechele started last week and looked pretty decent, but it appears Sam is on the mend. Is the job the true freshman's or will it remain an open competition of sorts all year? Who starts Saturday? Who do you/fans want to hold the job?
BON: I think it will be a little bit of an open competition throughout the year. Ehlinger represents the new Tom Herman era for many Texas fans, so I think a lot of the Longhorn faithful are anxious to see him succeed. He’s played with great heart and toughness, but has also made several rookie mistakes, such as a poor interception in overtime against Oklahoma State to end the game. Buechele has a better arm and looks the part of the more experienced QB out there, but his slight downgrade in elusiveness is big considering Texas’ offensive line is in bad shape right now. TCU may very well see both quarterbacks on Saturday, but hopefully for us one QB can step up and establish some sort of rhythm against the Horned Frogs.
FOW: The Texas running game was so good last season, but has really struggled in 2017, averaging just 3.8 per attempt. How much of that can be attributed to scheme, how much to the offensive line, and how much to player performance?
BON: Losing D’Onta Foreman to the NFL draft hurts, but it’s very much the offensive line. The RBs are definitely underperforming, but Chris Warren is a talented back who has showed huge flashes of potential, and Kyle Porter (who nearly chose TCU) was a U.S. Army All-American in his own right. Texas is without future NFL first rounder Connor Williams due to injury, and have also lost fellow OT starter Elijah Rodriguez to injury as well. Still, the Longhorns didn’t run the ball very well even when healthy in their season opener against Maryland, so who knows. Texas fans aren’t super happy with offensive coordinator Tim Beck thus far.
FOW: The offense has struggled in the red zone, while the TCU defense has excelled at keeping teams out of it. What has been the Horns problem in converting chances, and how do you expect them to do Saturday in scoring territory against a stingy Frogs' D?
BON: A huge problem is that the lack of a consistent kicking game has put pressure on the offense to turn red zone opportunities into six points. Texas hasn’t done well on fourth down opportunities in opponents’ territories, so it would be great to capitalize on that assuming Herman still doesn’t trust in his kicker. Texas doesn’t have a talented tight end to get red zone looks, but they do have a good red zone target in wide receiver Collin Johnson. Johnson may be able to use his big body and athleticism to reel in some tough catches in TCU territory.
FOW: The Texas defense has been very good - they are solid across all three areas, and Malik Jefferson seems to be living up to his considerable promise. Which players are going to be key to slowing down the TCU offense, especially the running game? Can they have the same type of success against Kenny Hill that Iowa State did?
BON: Texas’ defensive line has played much better than expected and have allowed the strong linebacker and defensive back groups to shine. Breckyn Hager has emerged as a force at defensive end as of late and could put a lot of pressure on Kenny Hill, and Malik Jefferson is always worthy of a shout out when discussing the Texas run defense.
FOW: The Frogs' defense is a top unit as well, led by an aggressive defensive front. With the running game struggling, opponents have been able to tee off on the pass rush, leading to 21 sacks. How will the Texas offensive line handle the TCU front four as well as the blitz?
BON: Probably not very well. If it’s a free for all for the TCU defense, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ehlinger gets more playing time and Texas focuses on the short pass game.
FOW: Texas has been THE rival for many teams across the state over the last several decades, but many have caught up to the Horns in recent history, including TCU. What does this new/renewed rivalry mean to Horns' fans and how do they feel about how the series has gone since the Frogs joined the Big 12?
BON: TCU is 4-1 against Texas since joining the Big 12, and in the last three years have won by a combined 102 point margin. If the Horned Frogs win Saturday, they will tie their streak of most ever wins in a row against the ‘Horns with four. TCU’s victory over Texas last year prevented Texas from going to a bowl and nailed the final coffin in Charlie Strong’s tenure in Austin (if that fate wasn’t completely sealed already). So, Texas fans are certainly not happy with how the series has gone since TCU joined the Big 12, but the Horned Frog have been a really great addition to the conference. Just stop beating us, please.
FOW: How does Texas upset TCU on the road Saturday? What are their keys to victory?
BON: For this Texas team, it will always come back to defense. A defensive touchdown, perhaps from another DeShon Elliott interception, would take immense pressure off of an at times lifeless Texas offense. It would also be nice to see the Texas offense close one out and finish a successful late game drive. Texas perhaps succumbed to the pressure late against Oklahoma State, and the ‘Horns need to get that taste out of their mouths.
FOW: What is your prediction for the game?
BON: I will predict that it will be another close game for the ‘Horns. After severely hurting their CFP playoff chances, TCU could either have another let down game or bounce back with a vengeance. I predict it will be the latter and that the Horned Frogs will come in prepared and pull out a competitive game, 27-21.
FOW: BONUS: Governor Abbot declared that resuming the Texas-Texas A&M series was among his top priorities last week, and it made waves across the state. Do you think that the rivalry will eventually resume, and does the new generation of fans care as much as the older generation about playing the Aggies?
BON: I’m sure it will eventually resume, but I have no idea when. Texas fans will always root against Texas A&M, and this hatred is mutual for Aggies fans towards the ‘Horns too. It’s a beautiful thing.
Thanks to Jack for the time and be sure to check out my responses on Burnt Orange Nation today!