Greetings, friends, and welcome to what might be the merciful end to a dreadful TCU season or a ray of hope and a spark of good vibes to send the Frogs into bowl season: the Thanksgiving matchup. This year, Oklahoma State travels to the Carter to write another chapter in a hilarious rivalry.
This Week: TCU Horned Frogs (65th in S&P+, 98th offense, 27th defense) vs Oklahoma State Cowboys (24th, 4th, 78th)
TCU is 2-4 against the Cowboys since joining the Big 12, and the margin of victory has not been less than 20 points only twice.
- 2017: TCU + 13.
- 2016: Ok. State + 25.
- 2015: Ok. State +20.
- 2014: TCU +33.
- 2013: Ok. State + 14.
- 2012: Ok. State + 22.
Currently, S&P+ projects a Cowboy win by a touchdown, which wouldn’t be a surprise - OSU’s last four games were decided by a score, and TCU has played four one-score games this season . What that margin of victory won’t tell us is how the game has been played.
Points Per FBS Victory, 2018:
Points Per FBS Loss, 2018:
You can tell what kind of game each team wants to play. The Pokes want a shootout; The Frogs can only win a slugfest. I want to cast the 2018 version of this game as a point on a continuum between “shootout” and “slugfest”. OSU has a 66% pregame win probability, and the further on the continuum the game moves towards “shootout”, the higher this goes. TCU’s hopes in bowl eligibility rest on repeating and expanding what they did for the first 26 minutes against West Virginia and for the whole Baylor game: disruptive on defense, slow and steady on offense.
The Baylor game was a return to the TCU we know and love - 21st percentile performance on offense, 87th on defense. When TCU’s defense gives an elite performance, of which they are capable, TCU’s offense can do just enough to get the Frogs across. In all three conference wins for the Frogs, the defense gave an 80th percentile or better performance and the offense was no better than 35th percentile. That’s the kind of game TCU needs to win; a slugfest.
When OSU has the ball:
Despite your preconceived notions, Oklahoma State actually rushes better than they pass - their offensive S&P+ ranks 20th on offense, 32nd on defense. This is probably attributable to volume - they only complete 61% of their passes, but their marginal efficiency is 20th in the nation. Justice Hill is putting together a predictably solid season, with 9 TDs and 5.8 yards a carry. Baylor’s offense ranks 38th in Rushing S&P+, and the Frogs were able to hold them to 140 yards rushing - 3.5 yards per attempt. That kind of stifling defense is exactly what TCU needs to stymie the Cowboy offense - short or no-gain rushes burn clock, and force an offense to reset, breaking up momentum. There is evidence the Frogs can affect the rush - Oklahoma State’s line is 30th in opportunity rate (50.5%), but 83rd in stuff rate (19.7%). For comparison, TCU, injuries and all, is 38th in opportunity rate (44.3%) and 19th in stuff rate (23.5%). The Frogs can disarm the Oklahoma State offense with a consistent rush defense.
Oklahoma State thrives on big plays. Their IsoPPP, 1.28 is 21st in the nation, and their big play rate is 8th. Against the blitz, that number is augmented - the Cowboys are 2nd in the nation in big plays against the blitz. Their sack rate is 74th, though, and 100th against the blitz - so there is a bit of a risk-reward to bringing pressure. As I’ve mentioned before, TCU’s injuries in the back seven necessitate a big rush. Oklahoma State will inevitably score big touchdowns; it’s what they do. TCU can win the game by shaking those off and keeping up the pressure. Getting burned and letting it affect you on defense will cause a spiral, and the game will get out of hand. The best thing TCU’s defense can do is come after Taylor “Yukon” Cornelius with a fury, and disregard the end result of the play.
TCU secured a positive turnover margin last week, for the first time all season. Oklahoma State struggles with takeaways and giveaways, similar to TCU and Baylor. The Frogs are going to have to keep up their ball security and find some turnovers to change the equilibrium of this game from a shootout to a slugfest.
Key Issues for TCU:
- Stop the rush!
- Have a short memory!
- Keep the takeover train rolling!
When TCU has the ball:
Run the ball. Run the ball. Establish the run, for the love of all that is good and holy. Oklahoma State’s rushing S&P+ is 88th in the nation. Their opportunity rate is 97th, and their stuff rate is 78th. All TCU’s got this weekend is Demercardo and the Mule (a great folk band name, by the way), and they’re going to have to have the game of their lives to pull this off, but crazier things have happened. I mentioned last week somewhere that TCU actually benefited from Collins going down, just in terms of play calling - it became more run-centric, more quick throws, more rhythm based and less frantic. Hopefully that keeps up with a full week of prep for Mule.
TCU had two big touchdowns last week on the back of Jalen Reagor, and they’re going to need more of the same from the electric WR. Oklahoma State is 107th in big play rate, and the Frogs will have to exploit that by getting Reagor in space and letting him work.
Finally, Oklahoma State’s defense is vicious when opponents are backed up, first in backed up success rate. On the flip side, inside the opponent thirty, they bend, substantially, but don’t break. 50.7% success rate inside the 30-21 yard line, which drops to 4.7% inside the 10. TCU’s going to have to win the field position battle to avoid putting themselves in poor position, and then take advantage of longer TDs to avoid tangling with OSU’s defensive strengths.
Key issues for TCU:
- Run the damn ball.
- Take advantage of big plays/ Have a day, Jalen Reagor
- Win the field position battle
If TCU rushes the ball 45 times and the defense pulls down a couple of turnovers, this game could be ugly and weird, which is the name of TCU’s highlight tape for this season. I think it’ll be a close one, but who am I to pick the Frogs in this situation? The letdown effect is real for the Cowboys, and I think it’ll be closer to two scores than one. Give me OSU 31, TCU 18.
Other Games I’m Watching:
Thursday: I’m afraid I won’t be in control of the TV at relative’s house, but I’m going to have the Egg Bowl streaming on the phone at least.
Friday: Houston at Memphis decides who gets sacrificed to UCF the next week, and so it’s worth watching - Houston has struggled but Memphis hasn’t found itself quite yet. Oklahoma at West Virginia and Washington at Wazzu might be the two most entertaining games of the week.
Saturday (early): BUTT BOWL! Just kidding, I’m not watching that. Michigan - Ohio State is going to be interesting mostly for tactical reasons. All the stats love Michigan, but the Harbaugh memes are churning. Last year, the Wolverines mostly stopped JT Barrett, but didn’t have film on Dwayne Haskins, who came in and wrecked shop. Could the Buckeyes be trying something similar with Tate Martell this year? Don Brown has been vocal about press coverage, etc, but maybe he’s throwing out a fake signal? Anyway, this is the game to watch for the storylines, the stakes, and the tactics.
Saturday (Pre-Frogs): Take your pick of rivalry games. Conventional wisdom will be the Iron Bowl, and so keep an eye on that while you watch some FCS playoffs.