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Keys to Victory: TCU at Oklahoma

TCU heads to Norman for the regular season finale, what do the Frogs need to do to get bowl eligible with a win?

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Texas Christian Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

TCU will end their regular season with a trip to Oklahoma. A victory means the Horned Frogs will move to 6-6 and become bowl eligible. A loss, and the Frogs will have a losing season following a National Championship game appearance. Since the start of the playoff, the worst record for a full season following an appearance in the National Championship game was 9-4 by the 2015 Oregon Ducks. Funny enough, that team lost to TCU in a triple overtime thriller in the Alamo Bowl. LSU went 5-5 in 2020 following their National Championship win, but that was with no non-conference games. So, what does TCU need to do to avoid becoming the first team in the playoff era to have a losing season after a National Championship game appearance?

Oklahoma Offense

When Lincoln Riley left and the Sooners hired Brent Venables it was supposed to be the start of a new era. Oklahoma was going to get their defense fixed and finally win a championship in the playoff era. In year 2 of the Venables era, this team still hasn’t flipped the script. The Sooners come into this game ranked #7 in total offense. They’ve been led by star quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who has thrown for 3,260 yards and 27 touchdowns with just 5 interceptions on 242/346 passing. The Sooners are ranked 7th in passing offense, and they average 315 yards a game through the air. The rush attack is also potent, ranking 38th in the country with an average of 178 yards per game. Freshman Gavin Sawchuk has emerged as the feature back, and he’s rushed for over 100 yards in 3 straight contests for the Sooners.

The explosive play battle will be huge again this week. The Sooners have 66 plays for over 20 yards on the season, which ranks 11th in the country. TCU has struggled to prevent big plays this year, especially on the road. The Frogs have allowed 50 plays of 20+ yards on the year which ranks 74th. What’s most concerning to me is that 56 of Oklahoma’s explosive plays have occurred in the passing game, and TCU has given up 38 explosive plays against the pass. Part of the Sooners’ success in the passing game comes from the fact that they’ve only allowed 14 sacks on the season, good for 22nd nationally. I expect Oklahoma to have at least 2 explosive passes on Friday.

Some of the offensive struggles TCU fans have watched this season are unknown to Oklahoma fans. The Sooners convert 68% of their red zone trips into touchdowns, ranking 31st nationally. They’re also 3rd in the nation in total red zone trips with 56. Third downs haven’t been an issue for this offense either, as they convert 49% of the time. As if all that wasn’t enough, the Sooners are averaging 48 points per game at home this season. They’ve been a drastically different team on the road.

I think there are 3 things TCU must do defensively to have a shot to win this game.

  1. Pressure must be created in the passing game.
  2. Winning the turnover battle would be huge, but forcing 1 or 2 would also be a huge lift.
  3. Prevent explosive plays from the passing game. If the Sooners beat you with a great day running the ball I think you just have to live with that.

Oklahoma Defense

In terms of yardage allowed, Oklahoma has been incredibly average this season. The Sooners give up 378 yards a game (64th) with 145 coming on the ground (57th) and 233 through the air (77th). However, this defense does a few things incredibly well. The Sooners allow just 20.2 points per game, good for 29th. That number gets even more impressive at home as the Sooners allow just 16 points per game in Gaylord Memorial Stadium.

The Sooners have a few standout players who lead this defense. Linebacker Danny Stutsman has 91 tackles on the year, so expect to hear his name a few times on Friday. Defensive lineman Ethan downs leads the team with 4.5 sacks on the season. And perhaps the biggest playmaker on this defense is safety Billy Bowman. Bowman has 52 tackles and 5 interceptions on the year, and he’s returned 2 of them for touchdowns, including a 100-yard return last week at BYU.

The Sooners rank 2nd nationally in turnovers created, so it will be imperitive that Josh Hoover takes care of the football on Friday. Luckily, the Sooners have been horrendous at pressuring the quarterback this year as they have just 18 sacks (107th) on the year. Strangely, Oklahoma ranks 8th in tackles for loss with 83 on the year. To me, this signals a “bend but don’t break” mentality, which I think is shown by the total yardage and scoring stats listed previously.

Probably the most important matchups in this game come when TCU has the ball. If TCU takes care of business offensively, this will turn into a shootout. If they don’t, well, it could get ugly. The Sooners have been great this year in 2 other defensive categories, and they’re incredibly important ones. Oklahoma ranks 10th in 3rd down defense, allowing conversions on just 29% of attempts! The Sooners have also exceled in the red zone, as they allow a touchdown on just 48% of attempts, ranking 17th nationally. TCU has been great on 3rd downs this year, converting on 47% of their attempts (17th). But as we all know, that red zone offense has been horrific. The Frogs now rank 88th in touchdown percentage on red zone trips at 56%.

TCU will have opportunities to create big plays in this game, but the performance when the field gets condensed is going to decide this game. If TCU is going to have a shot to win the offense has to do the following 3 things:

  1. Take care of the ball! If Hoover throws 2 interceptions I don’t see a way TCU wins. If he keeps it to 1 or less, they’ve got a shot.
  2. Convert more 3rd downs than not. The defense is going to give up points. Period. The offense has to avoid going 3 and out. Extended drives will give TCU the best shot to win.
  3. Score touchdowns in the red zone!

I don’t think the return game will be a factor for either team in this one provided that the wind doesn’t get bad. If it does, it’s definitely possible to see some action, but neither team has been great at returns this year. I don’t feel as bad about this matchup as I did the Texas game, but Oklahoma definitely has the talent advantage. It also doesn’t help that the game is in Norman and the Sooners have been fantastic at home. However, there is definitely a path to victory for the Frogs in this one, and they’ve played much better since the loss at Texas Tech. A bowl game would be huge for the development of the younger players, so let’s hope that they can make it happen.