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TCU vs. Oklahoma Advanced Stats Preview: Be Still In Haste

The Frogs need a new attitude going into Arlington.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

How quietly I begin again
from this moment
looking at the clock, I start over

so much time has
passed, and is equaled by whatever
split-second is present

from this moment
this moment is the first

Wendell Berry, Be Still in Haste

Last Week:

Football Team from Waco (107th S&P+, 86th Offense, 110th Defense) 22
TCU Horned Frogs (13th, 42nd, 7th) 45

The Five Factors scoresheet from the game can be found here. As I projected last week, Matt Rhule evidently focused on the offense in the preparation for TCU, as the Offense performed in the 35th percentile, while the defense in the 16th.

What Went Well?

Here’s how TCU put away the Bears after an early scare:

  • Shut down drives and kept the Bears’ Defense on the field (3.9 plays per possession for the Bears), while stringing together long drives to wear down the opponent (15 possessions, 74 plays).
  • Converted on Scoring Opportunities: TCU scored 4.5 points per opportunity this week, meaning that when they got in the opportunity zone, they converted with points.
  • Came out of the half on fire and passed for efficiency: 71% success rate in the third quarter and a 53% success rate on passing downs.
  • Pushed the Bears’ starting position back: The Football Team from Waco started just about on the 25 on average this game.

What Went Poorly?

  • TCU struggled to shut the Bears down on Standard Downs: The two big touchdowns both came on Standard downs. Take those two plays away, and TCU runs away with a massacre. That’s a good reminder for Saturday.

This Week:

TCU Horned Frogs (13th, 42nd, 7th)
Oklahoma Sooners (9th, 1st, 100th)

I invoke the patron saint of Kentucky, Wendell Berry, to remind the Frog Faithful that each week brings a new game, an empty scoreboard, and a clean sixty minute slate upon which two teams can write - or rewrite - their story. This moment is the first. TCU is the 13th most efficient team in the country according to S&P+, and Oklahoma the 9th. This is not David versus Goliath; the TCU Horned Frogs, at their best, are pound for pound capable of beating Oklahoma, on both sides of the ball. They are absolutely in the same echelon as Oklahoma, albeit with a different style.

In his FEI recap this week, Football Outsiders’ Brian Fremeau acknowledges the Greatness of Baker Mayfield’s Offense, the challenge for the Frogs this weekend:

“Against West Virginia, the Sooners had six first-half possessions in which they took an offensive snap, and they scored a touchdown on all six drives. They also scored a touchdown on each of their first two drives of the second half, before finally punting for the first (and only) time with less than 13 minutes left in the game. In terms of opponent-adjusted offensive efficiency, Oklahoma's performance against the Mountaineers ranks as the third-best single-game offensive performance of the year. It was the Sooners' eighth single-game offensive performance that ranks in the 90th percentile of all offensive games played this season against FBS opponents.”

Let’s look at OU’s offense from week to week. Fremau is perhaps too modest even in this paragraph. All of OU’s games this season have featured offenses in the top 30 percentiles of performance, meaning that at OU’s worst on offense, they still outperform more than 70% of the country.

A stellar performance from the Oklahoma offense is a fact of life for 2017; the Sooners are going to get theirs. A win over the Sooners lies not through stopping their offense, but rather through affecting the margins of their game plan, through bending and not breaking, through temperance. The Frogs cannot stop the Oklahoma offense. The Frogs can temper the Oklahoma offense. The Frogs did it on only two drives the last time they played: Oklahoma scored touchdowns on five of seven first half drives. OU averages 1.47 points per successful play, meaning that they average a touchdown every 5 successful plays, more or less.

Their first half touchdowns against TCU in round one came on drives of 4, 5, 4, 5, and 6 plays. Those drives each had 2 plays of more than 15 yards, and two of them had 3 such plays. The OU Offense specializes in a peculiarly effective mutation of the “dink and dunk” offense where instead of chipping away at you for 3 yards here and 4 yards there, they chip away at you for no gain, no gain, and then find themselves standing in the end zone a couple of twenty yard gains later. That cannot hold if TCU is to win this weekend.

TCU has to play an aggressive defense committed to making the Sooners earn every yard. Each second on the clock is more or less a weapon in Baker Mayfield’s arsenal, and thus patience is a virtue for TCU’s defense. If TCU can focus on eliminating the long game and turning OU’s hyper efficient, low-play offense into a grinding, bit-by-bit affair, not only will they wear down the vaunted offensive line, but they will take away additional scoring opportunities for the Sooners implicitly.

TCU’s offense, on the other hand, scored on two of eight first half drives against the Sooners. That also cannot hold if TCU is to win this weekend. The OU offense does not define the Big 12 Championship, albeit the talking heads would have you believing otherwise. The defining characteristic of this matchup will be the TCU offense. The TCU offense against Oklahoma set out to go punch for punch with Oklahoma and hope the defense limits the damage. This was, in a word, misguided. OU’s defensive weakness (114th in explosiveness, 68th in rushing, 44th in passing) lead the Frogs to believe that quick offensive strikes would yield benefits.

But again, similar to what the defense must do, the offense has to change the game. OU treats defense as a rest for the offense, and to exploit that, TCU needs to grind out drives and disrupt the game narrative to which the Sooners have acclimated themselves. Strong, effective rushing will set the foundation for effective timing routes in the passing game. Keep Baker on the sidelines. Let him wear out some of that energy leading cheers. Wear down the defensive line and force a weak linebacking core and secondary (124th and 109th in havoc rate, respectively) to make plays, and the points will come.

S&P+ predicts this game to be a three point affair in favor of OU. Unless TCU comes at this game with a wildly different prerogative than last game, this is a wildly optimistic prediction. Last game, OU got a lead early and the settled into milk the clock mode; the looming playoff uncertainty all but guarantees the Sooners will be looking for blood for 60 minutes. TCU’s hope lies not in going round for round with the heavy-weight champ, but in the twin virtues of temperance and disruption.

Other Games I’m Following:

  • (AAC Championship) UCF Knights (8th in S&P+) vs. Memphis Tigers (17th): This game will be a barn burner, or UCF will win by thirty, like they did last time these two teams played. Looks like the Big 12 isn’t the only league where a conference championship rematch could ruin a team’s high aspirations. I’ll keep particular tabs on this game, as the public online sentiment for UCF is bordering on the obsessive, similar to the groveling for flash-in-the-pan Houston’s quest to the Big 12 last season. Yes, the AAC is ignored in the playoff conversation, but UCF has a long way to go before they can start talking about the respect they’ve “earned.”
  • (CUSA Championship) FAU (15th!) Fightin’ Kiffins vs. North Texas Mean Green (47th): Granted, I have some qualms with the way S&P+ reconciles strength of schedule issues, but FAU has been toasting folks, and this ought to be another impressive display.
  • I’m not recommending the MAC Championship because Ohio lost again and ruined everything.