TCU Horned Frogs (36th in S&P+, 74th on offense, 17th on defense) vs Texas Tech Red Raiders (28th, 6th, 101st)
2018 Texas Tech fills the Big 12 role of “distant yet ascending” shooting star - the Red Raiders have increased their S&P+ ranking by 27 spots in the first six weeks of the season, and at week seven sit 28th, 4th in the Big 12. Though the Raiders have the slight overall efficiency edge, Texas Tech and TCU meet in Fort Worth tonight as mirror images: Tech, that of the hyper-efficient offense and sluggish-yet-somehow-better defense, and TCU, characteristically stingy on defense, unexpectedly vexed on offense. (For more comments pertaining to TCU’s specific offensive ineptitude, see my bye week column.) TCU vs. Texas Tech will be a true “best on best” matchup, as both teams will look to stifle opponent strengths while highlighting their own.
When Tech has the Ball:
Texas Tech ranks in the top 20 in virtually every offensive category. Notably, the Red Raiders move the ball at an elite clip (49.4% success rate is 18th in the nation), and when they create a scoring opportunity, they capitalize with touchdowns (5.6 points per scoring opp, 12th in the nation). TCU’s “break-but-don’t bend” defense has limited opponents’ success this year, but backed up in their own territory, have allowed touchdowns with a generous indiscrimination. The Horned Frogs hold opponents under 40% success rate (46th), but allow 4.45 points per scoring opportunity, a mediocre 64th.
The Red Raiders succeed on Standard downs, indicating a mix of run and pass respectable enough to keep teams guessing. Their Big Play rate (27th in the nation, almost 10%) belies how they like to run their offense - fast and long. The Raiders have lived on their 3rd down success, keeping drives alive with a 49.1% third down success rate (19th) despite facing an average of third and 8 (105th). That third down efficiency, coupled with a high percent of first downs coming on first or second down (71.3%), illustrates an offense who can move the ball at will. Of course, with Tech scoring at least 30 in every game but one, you don’t need advanced stats to see the ruthlessness of the Red Raider attack. TCU’s third down attack, which lead the nation last fall, has not disappointed this season, but decisively sits at a lower level. The Horned Frog defense faces an average of 3rd and 8 (41st), and allows a 34% success rate (40th). They’ve needed that third down defense to stop drives, allowing 68% of opponent first downs to come on first and second down (68th).
Much of TTU’s success comes at the hands of the offensive line (10th in adjusted sack rate), as evidenced by TTU’s success on blitz downs (42.9% success rate (7th) and 12.7% big play rate (21st)). Tech capitalizes on weak blitzes, as they convert big plays more often against the blitz. This speaks to Alan Bowman’s timing and accuracy, and to the pass blocking scheme’s ability to adjust and anticipate. TCU’s blitz will determine the pace and mettle of this game - the Horned Frogs hold teams to 20.4% success rate on blitzing downs (19th) and allow big plays only 3.7% of the time (18th). Yet again, TCU’s strength will have to outpace Texas Tech’s for the Frogs to win this game.
Keys for TCU’s Defense:
Third Down Shut Down - get Tech into their third and longs, but stifle their strength
Pressure - Early and Often
Prevent Scoring Opportunities - Take care of business on your end of the field first
When TCU has the Ball:
Texas Tech, notoriously a poster child of the “Big 12 Defense” meme, confirms the stereotype again this year. No one ranked higher than Texas Tech has either unit ranking in the 100s, and Tech boasts the second worst defense of the top 40 teams in S&P+ (weirdly enough, Mississippi is the worst at 112). Texas Tech also boasts the largest discrepancy in unit quality: their defense sits 95 spots below their offense, a disparity worse than OU’s defense/offense and LSU’s offense/defense splits. In short, a healthy, functioning, living, breathing spread offense should score early and often against this Red Raider team.
Now, of course, we’ll have to assess whether the TCU Horned Frogs have a healthy, functioning, living, breathing spread offense or not. But first, let’s not write off Texas Tech’s defense entirely. Tech has recovered 3 fumbles and intercepted 7 passes, both indicative of a group of talented athletes who won’t roll over and let you score.
Texas Tech’s defense allows an average starting field position of 28.1 (52nd) and presses opponents to an average distance of 3rd and 8 (38th in the nation). Their third down success rate (32.8%, 34th) highlights a defensive mentality of “no easy plays”, and when the Tech defense has been in true Raider fashion - swarming and chaos. The LB corps and the Defensive Backfield both rank in the top 25 in havoc rate, and despite allowing a passing marginal efficiency of 4.2% (118th), they make opponents work for yardage, limiting the opposing offenses to a 55.4% completion percent (32nd). Complimenting that havoc mentality, Tech utilizes a blitz and solid positioning to make contact at the line (23% stuff rate, 27th in the nation). The blitz is particularly disruptive - 21.7% success rate allowed on blitzes is 26th overall, although they rarely get to the QB (99th in blitz sack rate) and are susceptible to big plays when the blitz doesn’t work (71st in big play rate on blitz downs).
Tech’s resilience will also challenge the Frogs - Texas Tech allows only a 16.7% success rate when opponents are “backed up” and ranks 18th (36.4%) in success rate inside the ten. They have allowed a 100% goal line success rate, but my guess is that the sample size there isn’t more than one or two rushes, so do with that what you will (hopefully nothing).
Keys for TCU’s offense:
Make it count - convert scoring opportunities
All completions are good completions - chunks of yards will wear down the defense
Make your plays - contain the blitz and minimize DB/LB Havoc
I want to say “Fireworks.” This has all the makings of another TCU-Texas Tech all-time thriller, with no certain outcome either way. S&P+ has this as a coin flip, and given the series, that sounds about right. I think this will get pointsy, but not as much as the public would like. Give me Texas Tech, amped in their throwback whites, on the road, by a nose. The offense is too much for TCU to contain, and the defense holds on just enough to cause the Frogs to stumble late. TCU 31, Texas Tech 35
Other Games I’m Watching
- Friday: USF at Tulsa, but mostly a skippable slate.
- Saturday (early): Is Auburn capable of losing to Tennessee? Maybe, and I hope so, but I’m going to stick with the Big 12 early on - Oklahoma State hosts Kansas State and we all get some more information about some surprising and weird Big 12 middle class teams and future Frog opponents. Keep an eye on Nebraska at Northwestern, as that is a similar game, just with Big Ten implications.
- Saturday(Afternoon): Georgia at LSU is my answer, albeit a boring one. If you’re looking to get weird, UCF at Memphis should be some kind of fun to start, although I don’t envision the directionless Tigers get very far. Keep an eye on the Baylor-Texas score, though. Things happen.
- Saturday(Evening): I don’t love any of these. Outside the Big 12, Missouri has an actual offense and might give Alabama a spark early on, but I’ll probably keep my clicker on WVU at Iowa State, with some flip over to Wisconsin-Michigan.
- Saturday(Late): Hawaii at BYU. Hawaii at BYU. Hawaii at BYU. Hawaii at BYU. Hawaii at BYU.
What games are you watching, any that I missed? What do you think about the upcoming TCU-Texas Tech matchup?