The TCU Horned Frogs and Texas Tech Red Raiders both return from bye weeks to engage in a Thursday night West Texas Championship, battling for the Saddle Trophy. It’ll be the 66th edition of the rivalry that dates back to 1926; Texas Tech leads the series 32-30-3, but TCU has won four straight and seven of the last nine, including the last four played in Lubbock. We caught up with Michael Macon of The Cotton Club Crew to understand the Texas Tech perspective on Thursday’s showdown.
Frogs O’ War: Well, this season is certainly not going how either of these teams pictured before the season - TCU is 4-4 coming off a beat-down from Kansas State while the Red Raiders fell to 3-5 with a loss to BYU in Provo. Are the quarterback injuries the primary cause for Texas Tech’s troubles this season or are there other underlying contributing issues?
Cotton Club Crew: You lost to Wyoming an Oregon with your preseason starter, so those games showed this team was flawed to start. The OC Zach Kittley did a poor job in preseason scouting himself, and called bad game after bad game. That includes the WVU loss that Morton would take over following Shough’s injury. That mismanagement fundamentally hamstrung Tech in those games, and has shown up in the other losses as well.
The KSU game likely wasn’t going your way even before Morton went down, but three straight turnovers when the game was in the balance by Jake Strong (QB3) ended any hope.
And the BYU game did just come down to not having a QB left who was capable of belonging on the field. There was other stuff going on in that game, dumb mistakes and penalties, but if you can’t touch the ball as a QB without turning it over it was never going to work.
Offensive line play, lack of receiver separation, and dumb mistakes have all contributed as well.
So a long answer just to say: little of column A, little of column B.
FOW: Speaking of the QB play, it’s looking like Behren Morton is set to return this week. What kind of skill-set does he bring and how do you see him attacking this TCU defense that is giving up over 230 pass yards per game on the season?
CCC: He’s a talented kid, with a live arm and good instincts. He seems most comfortable rolling out of the pocket, and has the ability to make any throw on the field. The issue is he’s still inexperienced and will put the ball in harms way. The other issue is I can’t say how Tech will attack this TCU D because this passing game is entirely out of sorts. Routes are called seemingly at random, and don’t seem to ever take advantage of what these guys do best.
The best I can hope for is Kittley shakes off the tendency to just call vertical shots to the sidelines repeatedly.
What I’d like to see is what Tech fans have been begging for, lots of short quick throws and intermediate routes. Routes that target the middle of the field and give your slot receivers their best chances to get YAC in space.
FOW: Perhaps Morton won’t be asked to do too much in his return, as Tahj Brooks has taken another step forward as one of the top backs in the conference, leading the Big 12 by a wide margin in carries taking on the bell-cow role. After giving up 343 yards on the ground to K-State, Brooks has to be salivating at the opportunity to face this TCU defense on Thursday. Will he continue to get that monster workload with Morton back in action and is there any slowing him?
CCC: He has to frankly. He is making a case as the best back in the conference, which sounds homerish but watch the tape if you don’t believe me. The man is running behind a sub-par offensive and turns nothing into positive gains pretty much every snap. I thought he had his worst game against BYU where the Cougars could ignore Jake Strong and target him entirely. He still broke 100 yards rushing.
He is critical to this offense’s success. Expect him to see 20-30 carries, or at least that’s what I’m rooting for. Then again, he didn’t really get a touch in weeks one or two, costing Tech both of those games so you just never know. But even with Morton’s returns, he’s the best player in this game on Thursday on either team. He HAS to get the damn ball for Tech to win.
FOW: TCU will be rolling with redshirt freshman Josh Hoover at QB in his third career start, with his previous two being a virtuoso performance over BYU and a horrific display last time out in Manhattan. With Tyree Wilson no longer around to torture offenses, who are the guys most likely to hassle Hoover and the Horned Frogs offense on Thursday?
CCC: Tech has generated effectively no pass rush off the edge, and the interior line he routinely flushed quarterbacks out just to see them scamper free and clear into the secondary as no one has contain. This defense is far improved from previous renditions in pass defense and rush defense, but the pass rush is just nonexistent in too many games.
Names to know are the terrible twosome, Jaylon Hutchings and Tony Bradford. They are the best interior DL duo Tech has had in generations, and there’s a reason these guys are near the top or at the top at the position in the conference and nation. They are really big dudes and they are the anchors to the entire D.
Otherwise, there isn’t a DL or EDGE how has consistently performed. Everyone expected Steve Linton to be the next big edge rusher, but he’s disappointed every single game but the showing in Waco. He is a raw physical talent, but there just hasn’t been any production.
FOW: What do you see as Texas Tech’s best path to victory in Fort Worth and what is your projected final score?
CCC: RUN THE DAMN BALL. Do it early, do it often, and lean on a defense that’s really done it’s job most weeks. Play ball control, and grind down a TCU defense that you can get to by pounding the rock. Give your quarterback easy throws helped by TCU being forced to put helmets in the box to stop Tahj.
Do that, protect the football, and Tech can put TCU away. Don’t, and this can get dicey.
Tech is capable of winning this game, or capable of getting blown out. After a bye week to get healthy, regroup, and watch more tape of Tahj Brooks dominating, I like Tech to win at home, 35-21. Will it happen? No earthly idea.
Big thanks to Michael for giving his time to provide feedback on the Red Raiders and this match up with the Horned Frogs in Lubbock on Thursday. Make sure to follow The Cotton Club Crew for all their coverage of Texas Tech Athletics. Follow them on Twitter: @CottonCC_FFSN.