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Keys to Victory: TCU vs Baylor

What do the Horned Frogs need to do to walk away with a victory over Baylor?

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

This season hasn’t gone as TCU fans hoped, but at least it hasn’t been as disastrous as Baylor’s season. Just 2 years ago the Baylor Bears won the Big 12 and then beat Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl to cap off a 12-2 season. Now, Baylor sits at 3-7 and Dave Aranda might be the next Power Five head coach to get fired. Both TCU and Baylor come into this game on a 3-game losing streak, having lost 4 of their lost 5. So, what must TCU do to get back in the win column?

Baylor Offense

There are not many things the Baylor offense has been good at this year. The Bears rank 112th in rushing, 96th in scoring, 90th on 3rd down, and 108th in the red zone. However, the Bears are 29th nationally in passing, averaging 274 yards a game through the air. In their two conference wins Baylor threw for 293 and 316 yards respectively. It’s worth noting that those wins came over Cincinnati and UCF, so Baylor is yet to win against a team that was in the Power Five last year.

Blake Shapen took over as the starting quarterback in October against Texas Tech and has held the job since. For all of Baylor’s struggles this year, Shapen has played pretty well. He’s thrown 12 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions on 164/268 passing for 1,991 yards. Last week he threw for 253 and 4 touchdowns with 1 interception in Baylor’s 59-25 loss to Kansas State. The offensive line has been Baylor’s biggest problem this year. Baylor quarterbacks have been sacked 30 times, which ranks 113th nationally. The single most important thing TCU can do in this game on Saturday is creating pressure on the quarterback and force turnovers. If Shapen ends up getting hit a few times he might end up making a few bad throws. He’s thrown an interception in each of the last 3 games, so I think TCU can find one on Saturday.

Baylor has yet to find a true difference-maker at their skill positions this year. The Bears have just 1 receiver over 500 yards this year, slot receiver Monaray Baldwin. The 5-9 junior has caught 35 passes for 592 yards and 4 touchdowns. I expect the TCU secondary to have a big day against this Baylor offense. One of the biggest head-scratchers I’ve seen in the Big 12 this year has been Baylor running back Richard Reese. Reese had a fantastic freshman campaign, rushing for 972 yards and 14 touchdowns on 198 carries. Reese was featured early in the season, and he rushed for 100 yards on 16 carries against UCF. In the last 5 games, Reese has touched the ball just 15 times in the rushing game. I tried searching around for some answers thinking he may have injury issues, but I couldn’t find any information. That leads me to believe that Reese is banged up and the Baylor coaches have kept it quiet, or something is going on off the field that’s impacting his playtime. Or maybe it does fall on the Baylor coaching staff. I don’t know, but it is certainly a strange thing to see. Dominic Richardson has led the Baylor rushing attack with 428 yards on 98 carries. As I mentioned earlier, the Baylor offensive line has been a problem all year, so I don’t expect they will find much success against TCU on the ground.

Baylor Defense

The Baylor defense has been downright bad this year. It’s something that has many Baylor fans confused because Dave Aranda was a great defensive coordinator before becoming a head coach. This defense ranks 95th in total defense, 118th in rushing defense, 46th in passing defense, 95th in third-down defense, and 53rd in red zone defense. Their best categories are things they’re just average at when compared to the rest of the country. The Bears also rank 93rd in explosive plays allowed. It took a bit of digging, but I was able to find one statistic the Bears are good at - fumble recoveries. Baylor ranks 14th nationally with 8 fumble recoveries on 20 forced fumbles (8th).

Most of Josh Hoover’s struggles have come when he starts to get pressured, and I don’t foresee that being an issue on Saturday. Baylor has just 17 sacks (110th) and 49 tackles for loss (105th) on the season. Their two sack leaders are linebackers - Byron Vaughns and Matt Jones both have 3 sacks each. This tells me that their defensive line has not been great at creating pressure, so the Bears have had to rely on sending extra rushers to make plays. The potential is there for Hoover to have another BYU-like performance on Saturday.

The run game shouldn’t experience any issues on Saturday either. As mentioned previously, the Bears are 118th in rushing defense, and they’re 115th in rushing success rate allowed. I expect that the TCU offensive line won’t have any trouble opening up running lanes for Emani Bailey. Provided that Bailey doesn’t put the ball on the ground, it should be a big day for him and the TCU rush attack.

The only real concern I have is in the red zone (I know, it’s pretty much every week at this point). Baylor allows a score on 81% of its red zone trips, ranking 54th nationally. However, the Beats allow a touchdown on 65% of red zone trips and that ranks 97th! After last week, TCU has moved down to 127th in red zone scoring, with just 70% of possessions resulting in points. The touchdown rate is a little better, ranking 89th for a score on 55% of possessions. If TCU wins in the red zone on Saturday I think the Frogs win this one comfortably.