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Five Keys: TCU at Purdue

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Stopping Purdue’s passing game and being decisive on offense should be enough to deliver a win for the Frogs.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 26 Cheez-It Bowl - Cal v TCU Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Purdue is a dangerous team in the way brown recluse spiders are dangerous. You can stick your foot in a shoe 10,000 times and never get bit, but the 10,001st time will send you to the hospital. Purdue can play dozens of higher-rated teams and lose dutifully each time, but the Boilermakers have the capability to ruin a team’s season, as we saw last year with Ohio State.

I don’t know where West Lafayette is in Indiana, exactly — it’s barely enough for me to remember Texas geography, and besides, Indiana seems like a small enough state that it doesn’t have a north or south or east or west portion, just one big shapeless amalgam of Indianans — but I do know that I’m worried about TCU going there.

This year Purdue is injury-riddled and suffered an embarrassing loss to Nevada in the first game of the season, but the home field advantage on a Saturday night will be substantial, and the Horned Frogs are still working through issues of their own.

Here are five things TCU needs to do to ensure a win against the Boilermakers and ensure Frog fans don’t spiral into a panic.

BE DECISIVE

This sounds generic, and perhaps it is. But what I want to see out of TCU is a clearly defined game plan on offense against Purdue. In the season opener, the Frogs ran pure vanilla on offense against UAPB and looked lackluster as a result. Max Duggan and Alex Delton split time at quarterback, and TCU coaches maintained that neither player won the job.

I would disagree with that, but I don’t have access to the same practices and film that the coaches do. So what I want Saturday is for TCU, for better or worse, to look as though it has a specific goal on offense, and to stick to that goal until the game is in hand or it becomes clear the goal isn’t working. Either way, I’m looking for defined strategy...

RUN THE DANG BALL

...as long as that strategy involves more of the run game. Against UAPB, the Frogs passed 45 times and ran 36 times. On the Stats O’ War Podcast, Parker Fleming and I talked about how that might be due to TCU treating the season opener as a quarterback audition, and if that’s the case, so be it.

But Purdue’s run defense isn’t anything to write home about — the Boilermakers are young on the defensive line, and starting linebacker and leading tackler in 2018 Markus Bailey is out for the year with a knee injury. TCU needs to establish the run early and make Purdue commit more defenders to the ground game in order to open things up for Duggan and Delton.

KEEP RONDALE MOORE FROM GOING LONG

The sophomore receiver for the Boilermakers is a bona fide star, earning an All-American distinction as a freshman and catching 13 passes for 220 yards and a score against Vanderbilt. He’s really, really good.

I don’t profess to be a football coach in any sense of the word, and I’m sure Gary Patterson has a scheme drawn up to stop Moore and the Purdue passing game. But I’d like to see the Frogs jam Moore at the line of scrimmage to try to throw off timing on his routes. Moore is listed at 5-9, 181 pounds, and TCU lockdown corner Jeff Gladney is listed at 6-0, 183. If Gladney can use his reach to push Moore around off the snap, and if the Frogs can bring safety help over the top to prevent Moore from running go routes, his effectiveness can be limited. One other thing will come in handy, and that’s tackling in space. Moore is shifty, and TCU will need to focus on wrapping him up to prevent a 5-yard route turning into a 50-yard gain.

Easy enough, right?

START STRONG

This was another Stats O’ War podcast discussion, but it’s appropriate to discuss here as well.

Purdue jumped out to a 24-7 halftime lead in the loss to Nevada, and turned a 14-10 halftime lead against Vanderbilt into a 28-10 lead after three quarters. The Boilermakers like to rack up points early, but inexplicably fall apart in the fourth quarter.

Against Nevada, that can be attributed to five turnovers. But Vanderbilt scored 14 in the fourth quarter as well, and TCU has the capability to match that. The key is not letting Purdue build a lead early. If the Boilermakers score on the opening possession, they’re likely to build on that and stack touchdowns in a hurry. TCU can’t be swept away by an early score. The Frogs need to keep their heads and stick with Purdue early, and if they do that, then they’ll be in a great position to take advantage of the Boilermakers’ fourth quarter woes and win the game.

GET PRESSURE

Quite frankly, Purdue’s rushing attack isn’t anything to worry about. The Boilermakers had 31 yards on 18 attempts against Vanderbilt, good for an average of 1.7 yards per carry.

TCU can sell out to stop the pass, but that attitude comes in different forms. The Frogs need to get pressure on the Boilermakers’ quarterback — whoever it is. Elijah Sindelar is a stud, but he’s battling a “slight” concussion suffered against Vanderbilt, and Jack Plummer is an untested backup. (Also, he’s not related to Jake Plummer, no matter how much you want him to be.)

Limiting Purdue’s time to throw means limiting the amount of time Moore and the rest of the Boilermaker receivers have time to shake defenders. The defensive line will be just as crucial in stopping the passing game as the secondary.

PREDICTION: TCU 38, Purdue 27