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Keys to Victory: TCU vs Texas

What do the Frogs need to do to score an upset over the Texas Longhorns?

NCAA Football: Big 12 Football Media Days Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Longhorns Offense

While the Texas offense has seemed to struggle at times, it’s worth noting that the Longhorns have scored at least 30 points in every game they’ve played this year. Quinn Ewers did fine in the passing game, but it’s been the run game that has made this Texas team so dangerous. The Longhorns rank 31st nationally in rush offense at 186 yards per game. In total, the Horns average 457 yards per contest which is good for 18th in the country. Ewers won’t be playing on Saturday, so Maalik Murphy will be in control of the Texas offense once again. It will be interesting to see which version of Murphy we get on Saturday night. In the first half against Kansas State, Murphy was 12/21 for 175 yards with a touchdown and one interception as the Longhorns held a 17-7 lead. They’d jump out to a 27-7 lead in the third quarter before a furious comeback from Kansas State. Murphy finished the game 19/37 for 247 yards with a touchdown and 2 interceptions.

If you watched the Texas-Kansas State game you could see Sarkisian get more and more conservative with his play calling as the game went on. He knows that Murphy isn’t the best decision-maker and is turnover-prone. The only way I see TCU having a shot to win this game is by forcing Maalik Murphy into making a few bad decisions and then capitalizing on those opportunities by creating multiple turnovers. Even if TCU is able to create turnovers it still may not be enough. The Longhorns have played in multiple games this year where they lost the turnover battle and still found a way to win. In their only loss of the season, Texas was -3 in turnover margin and still had a shot to win the game late.

Preventing big plays will also be important in this game. Texas ranks 22nd nationally in explosive plays. As we saw in TCU’s game against Kansas State this could become an issue. The Frogs are now 77th in explosive plays allowed, and it could get even worse this weekend. More importantly, however, Texas has really struggled in the red zone this year. The Longhorns rank 98th in red zone scoring and they are an astounding 125th in touchdown rate in the red zone. TCU should absolutely take a bend but don’t break approach in this game. Make Texas beat you in the red zone.

My biggest concern with the Texas offense is the two outstanding wide receivers. Xavier Worthy and Adonai Mitchell. The two speedsters have combined for 86 receptions, 1,196 yards, and 12 touchdowns on the year. They both have the ability to make great catches and create big plays. Given TCU’s problems against the pass this year, it will be crucial to hold the two in check. In addition, tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders is one of the best in the country and he has 22 catches for 378 yards and a touchdown.

Texas Longhorns Defense

This is where my biggest concern for the entire game lies. Texas’ front seven is elite. They have incredible talent up front, and they also have plenty of depth. Defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat will set the tone. The 6-4, 362-pound senior may not jump out on the stat sheet, but the havoc he causes in the middle of the defense cannot be understated. He will consistently eat up double teams, and that allows the other players in the front 7 to make plays. He is a huge reason this Texas defense is 10th against the run, allowing just 90 yards per game. The linebacking corps is anchored by one of the best in the country, senior Jaylan Ford. Ford leads the team in tackles with 65. True freshman Anthony Hill Jr is another linebacker to watch. Ethan Burke is an edge player who has 5 sacks on the year, so he will need to be dealt with as well.

Texas’ pass defense has been where they get taken advantage of this year. Their deficiencies on the back end were exposed by Kansas State as Will Howard threw for 327 yards and 4 touchdowns as the Wildcats fought their way back into the game. Michael Taaffe has 3 interceptions on the year, but other than that the Texas secondary isn’t particularly dangerous. What does this mean for TCU? The Frogs will have to rely on Josh Hoover and the receiving corps to make plays to win this game. The problem is that Hoover has not done a great job of taking care of the football. Since he took over in the Iowa State game, Hoover has thrown 6 interceptions in 3.5 games. And I think we can all agree that he easily could’ve thrown 5 against Texas Tech last week. If Hoover is reckless with the football, as he has been so far, you can kiss TCU’s chances of winning this game goodbye.

Another matchup I don’t like in this game is the TCU red zone offense vs the Texas red zone defense. We’ve all watched this offense struggle in the red zone this year. The Frogs now rank 127th in red zone scoring, and they’re 102nd in touchdown percentage. On the other side, the Texas defense is one of the best in the country in the red zone. The Longhorns are 2nd in red zone defense, allowing scores on just 65% of possessions, and they allow a touchdown on just 30% of red zone possessions. I hate to say it, but this one has the potential to get ugly.

Texas Special Teams

Last week, I pointed out that there was a really good chance Texas Tech would have a big return against the Frogs. The Red Raiders only got 1 return off in the game, but it went for 29 yards. The potential is there again this week for a big return. Xavier Worthy is one of the better returners in the country. He ranks 4th nationally with 19 yards per return, and he has returned one for a touchdown. The TCU punt unit is 91st in yards allowed per return. Once again, don’t be surprised if you see the Longhorns break a big one.