A dominating defensive performance led to a very important win for the Frogs on Saturday as they clinched a spot in the Big 12 championship game and moved to 10-0 on the season. TCU moved to 8-3 against the Longhorns since joining the Big 12 and 5-1 in Austin with a 17-10 victory on the road.
The Defense: The performance from the Frog defense on Saturday was as good of a showing as a TCU defense has had since potentially the Peach Bowl in 2014. Texas was held without an offensive touchdown the whole game and only managed 1 offensive drive that ended in points. The main concern for TCU coming into the game was how well the defensive front would hold up against the second-best running back in the Big 12(behind Kendre of course) in Bijan Robinson especially with linebacker Dee Winters missing the first half for targeting in the second half against Texas Tech. Those worries were put to rest with a complete stuffing of the Texas rushing attack as Texas was held to 43 total rushing yards (excluding sacks) and 2.5 yards per carry. The defensive line was dominant at the point of attack, eating up blocks to allow the linebackers to make tackles at the line of scrimmage. Johnny Hodges specifically had an excellent game with 11 tackles, 1.5 of which were for a loss. Hodges consistently made quick reads and met the ball carrier in the hole to prevent the generally very explosive Texas running backs from getting into open space. Shadrach Banks did a very good job filling in for Winters in the first half and continued to play well in the second half as well and was inches away from picking up a Quinn Ewers fumble in the backfield before Ewers fell on the ball. The secondary also deserves credit for their efforts in the run fit as Mark Perry continued his great play against the run. TCU defensive backs were very aware of who had the ball and did a great job of preventing chunk runs when Texas running backs did rarely find a bit of space with some excellent open-field tackling. The pass defense for the Frogs was just as dominant if not more dominant as both the pass rush and pass coverage were firing on all cylinders. Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson had his best game of the season with an interception on a deep post, an open field tackle of Ewers at the line of scrimmage when he tried to scramble, and 3 total passes defended. He was targeted 8 times and gave up only 1 reception on those targets as well. The safeties had an excellent game as Bud Clark had a couple pass breakups where he showcased phenomenal closing speed and Millard Bradford looked like the player we saw have an excellent start to the season before missing a couple of games due to injury. TCU had 2 sacks on the day but the pass rush had an impact way beyond that as they were able to find success while only rushing 3 or 4. Dylan Horton had another great game picking up another sack, continuing his run of excellent showings the past couple of weeks. The defense just played faster and more physically than the Texas offense and a lot of credit should go to Joe Gillespie for preparing the defense that well to where they could make quick, confident reads and fly to the ball.
Running Game: For the second week in a row, the ground game for TCU wore down the defense in the late second half, opening up running lanes and allowing the Frogs to seal the game running out the clock. The TCU offensive line outlasted the Texas defensive front after struggling in the first half to get much movement up front. Running lanes started to open up in the second half when fatigue set in for the Longhorns. Kendre Miller’s 75 yard house call was the first touchdown of the game on a run in the second half on a play where Miller made a last second jump cut to a backside gap where no one was home. Miller finished with 138 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown and had one of the more impressive 10-yard receptions I’ve ever seen on a screen pass where he was hit almost immediately after making a tough catch, stayed on his feet, and got a first down on a third and long. Emari Demercado had a good game as well with 11 carries for 65 yards, averaging 5.9 yards per carry on the day. Miller’s patient, jump-cut style and Demercado’s downhill style of running have complemented each other very well and kept opposing defenses off balance all season and this past Saturday was no different. The stamina demonstrated by the TCU offensive line the past two weeks to outlast and outwork opposing defensive fronts despite early struggles has been very fun to watch and is a useful tool when trying to drain the clock at the end of games.
Quentin Johnston: Quentin Johnston’s impact on TCU’s offense is immeasurable. Johnston did not appear to be at 100% on Saturday as he limped off the field after making catches a couple of times but still was the leading receiver for the Frogs with 3 catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. Even while playing a bit hobbled, the Texas defense did all they could to prevent 1 on 1 matchups between him and a cornerback, giving TCU’s other receivers more space to work with. The TCU passing offense struggled at times on Saturday as the pass rush for Texas was very successful, but Johnston was a huge part of the success that TCU did have through the air. Johnston has proven during his time at TCU to be a true competitor, especially through his willingness and ability to run block from his wide receiver position, and his performance while injured on Saturday was another example of that toughness.
Jordy Sandy: Jordy Sandy had easily his best game of the season on Saturday with big time punts to help TCU win the field position battle in a game where both offenses struggled. Sandy had a punt downed inside the 5 yard line and 4 punts downed inside the 20 on the game. As always, he did an excellent job of preventing punt return opportunities as none of his punts were returned by Texas. TCU fans know from having watched Derius Davis return punts that a big punt return is a great way to provide a spark to the offense and Sandy’s ability to help out the TCU defense by preventing any chance of a return was a big part of the win on Saturday.
Pass Protection/Sacks: The pass protection for the Frogs was not great on Saturday. The Longhorn defensive line was able to sack Max Duggan 5 times and impacted the TCU game plan tremendously as deep throws were going to be hard to execute consistently with the amount of pressure being generated every play. TCU’s offensive line has been excellent in run blocking this season but the Achilles Heel has been pass protection and the need to keep extra blockers in consistently in order to pass the ball beyond 5 yards downfield. There were a few times where Max held on to the ball a bit too long leading to a sack and Texas has a very good defensive front as well but pass protection is an area to work on for the Frogs. One specific area of concern is a play-action pass play where a defensive lineman is left unblocked for a pulling guard or center to pick up. Ideally, the defensive tackle should be slowed by the play-action fake giving the guard enough time to get over, but multiple times this season the puller has not had enough time to get there leading to a sack where Duggan never has a chance to get the ball off. Either the footwork for the pullers needs to be improved, a better fake to further freeze the defender needs to happen, or that play might need to be run a bit less to prevent huge negative plays that can stall drives.
Wide Receiver Screens: Garrett Riley did make an effort to run more screen passes as an attempt to slow down the Texas pass rush on Saturday. Unfortunately, the success rate on wide receiver screens was pretty much zero. Some credit should go to the Texas defense for realizing that TCU probably didn’t have enough time to take a ton of deep shots so they could play closer to the line to take away the screen passes. That being said, TCU has struggled to gain yards on wide receiver screens pretty much all year. This feels like an area that could be improved in practice as this is one of the only throws Max has consistently struggled with this year. He certainly has the talent to make this throw, it just takes a ton of reps to be able to quickly grip find a grip on the ball, not necessarily on the laces, and throw a pass that allows the receiver to immediately turn upfield and run with after making the catch. The blocking from wide receivers on these plays has room for improvement too as oftentimes the receiver making the catch has nowhere to go after the catch.
Play of the Game: