First things first, I'm a realist. No wait. First things first, HawkeyedFrog is NOT in any way, himself, affiliated with the Iowa Hawkeyes. Here's the explanation: "I have a cousin who's a die hard Iowa fan and while I was trying to choose a moniker I had the poor judgement to make a wager with her that she could pick my name if Iowa beat Michigan that year (one of Rich Rod's teams. This was a very bad idea in retrospect), with the only caveat that it would have to have Frog in it. Iowa won 30-28 and HawkeyedFrog it was."
It seems RichRod's tenure laid waste to everyone.
Anyway, you know how this works. I ask, he answers. Also, this week, he asked and I answered over at Frogs O' War.
JDMill: After averaging 11+ wins from 2005-2011, the last couple of years have been a bit down by TCU standards. 7 wins in 2012, and last year just 4. Additionally, TCU didn't beat anybody particularly impressive in those four wins. What has happened the last couple of seasons? Is this just a product of moving to the Big 12, or is there more to the story?
HawkeyedFrog: To be perfectly frank we're not entirely certain how much of the record is due to the move up in the Big 12 as there have been several outside factors that have dragged TCU into the mud over our first two years in the new conference. Our "friends" from Baylor and Tech have been quick to point out that "TCU has an excuse for everything other than that they're just not good enough", but I'll let you decide for yourselves. The first issue was the "purple haze" incident- the massive drug bust that went on in the 2012 offseason that crushed our depth and removed several starters (particularly on the O-line) which pressed freshmen into a few key starting roles. Still our first season things were clicking... if starting tailback Waymon James (who had averaged an unreal 10 YPC through the first two games) hasn't had an absolutely horrifying knee blowout on the last play against Kansas. Still, with the offense piloted by All-MWC quarterback Casey Pachall we got through a monsoon in the next game, when halfway through the prep week of our first conference home game, Casey went for a drunken drive and ended up removed from the team for the remainder of the season, forcing freshman Trevone Boykin, who had been practicing at running back thanks to the James injury, into starting the remainder of the season. The defense was great, but the offense didn't adapt from the downfield passing mindset that Casey did so well, and as a result 7-6 happened. Last season things were supposed to be better, as Casey returned from rehab, the defense was returning a mob of starters and the running game should have been strong- instead Casey broke his arm in week 2 (and though he returned, he never got back to his old confident self) forcing Trevone Boykin back to starting (he had been splitting time at wideout this time) and again the offensive coordinators put together absolutely miserable gameplans- trying to run play action without setting up the run, throwing bubble screens when the defenders were in press coverage, and we ended up in third and forever situations almost every series- and though the defense was absolutely phenomenal (we almost pulled an upset @ Oklahoma without getting a single first down in the first half), the offense never put together a consistent effort and the defense got left on the field all game. All told I'd say perhaps 30% of the struggles we've had are about the actual upgrade in competition, and 70% are from a number of exceedingly poor one-off kinds of situations.
The Enemy Asks - We Answer
The Enemy Asks - We Answer
JD: The Horned Frogs played Samford in week 1 and it wasn't much of a contest. TCU scored on 8 of 16 drives, put up 555 total yards, averaged over 4 yards/play, and dominated time of possession. So, I guess what I'm saying here is MORE LIKE SAMFORD BuLOLdogs AMIRIGHT?!?!?
Okay, seriously. Try to look past the fact that you played a group of wet blankets and tell me a couple of things the Frogs (Can I call them the Frogs? Or is "Horned" required?) did that you liked.
HF: The most important thing I saw from the opener against Samford, and yes they were pretty awful, is that for the first time since TCU joined the Big 12, the entire offense looks like it has a clear idea of what it's doing. I'm going to continue to bury last season's offensive coordinators here, but there's one game in particular that will always stand out to me as the indicator that change was needed. Down two scores against Oklahoma State with about five minutes left and in hurry-up mode, the Frogs got a delay of game penalty- with the clock running the whole time. Let me repeat that for emphasis. In our hurry-up offense, we got a delay of game penalty. I had never wanted to be one of those bloggers who calls for people to be fired, but that performance cinched it for me that the offense was beyond salvaging. Against Samford not only were there no delay of game penalties, but the offense actually played with tempo early on (before slowing down once the game was out of reach) and things looked really good, taking timely shots downfield and giving Boykin a few pass/run options that make him such a dangerous talent. In terms of surprising individual performances though, I was extremely pleased by Kolby Listenbee- he's always been the fastest player on the field, but now he seems to have a much better understanding of routes and how to get open. If Minnesota doesn't shade a bit of help over to Listenbee's side, any completion has a great chance at becoming six points for the guys in purple.
JD: QB Trevone Boykin went 29 for 41, 320 yards and two passing TD's in addition to rushing 10 times for 29 yards and a TD. Those absolutely look like QB1, he's-our-guy kind of stats. But TCU brought in Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel and there was pre-season steam on true freshman Foster Sawyer as well. Is Boykin the guy or is there QB controversy in Fort Worth?
HF: All offseason the coaching staff talked about an open quarterbacking competition, but it wasn't something that Frog fans/experts actually believed- There had been talk about an open quarterback competition between Pachall and Boykin, and Boykin had ended up starting the season at wide receiver. Then in replacing Pachal, Boykin had been putrid and we had brought in a graduate transfer who not only knew the offense, but had worked under Kliff Kingsbury (like new co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie) so the terminology would be the same as well. Still, the reports from camp kept trickling in that "Trevone Boykin looks a lot better", "Trevone Boykin looks comfortable at quarterback", and again we dismissed them- Joeckel had chosen us over several other teams looking for quarterback help and you don't make that choice unless you're confident that you're going to start. Then the game rolled around and Patterson announced that Boykin was the starting quarterback and we were all fairly shocked. Boykin is a true running threat every time he touches the ball, but until he actually hit the field against Samford there calling him a dual threat would have been a kindness. Still, Boykin made the right reads, put the ball in the right places (even his incompletions were put in places where it was either our guy or no guy making the play) and suddenly the decision made a lot more sense. Joeckel would have to be a much better thrower than Boykin to justify a starting spot over a quarterback that can both pass and run, and it just doesn't seem like he's good enough. At this point Foster Sawyer is a lock to redshirt, which we're all fairly relieved about (nobody wants to relive the Freshman Trevone Boykin experience, no matter how highly touted he is).
JD: TCU rushed for 200 yards against the BuLOLdogs, but nobody had more than 43 yards rushing. What's the RB situation? Running back by committee? Nobody has emerged yet? We played an awful team so FOOTBALLS FOR EVERYONE?!?!?!
HF: Running back is TCU's deepest position, as we return a Doak Walker candidate (junior B.J. Catalon), a former five-star recruit in junior Aaron Green and a lot of youth that can give you a lot of different skills at running back. I think that a lot of what we saw in the running back mixup was wanting to get snaps for a lot of players in case something terrible happens to a presumptive starter (it happens a lot in Fort Worth). B.J. Catalon is simply too good to be on the sideline for any extended time, and Aaron Green is an absolutely explosive option out of the backfield, so I think Minnesota will see heavy doses of both of them, with perhaps a few short yardage carries for the other backs.
JD: The Frogs were fairly balanced on offense, even in a blowout, throwing 50 times, rushing 46 times. Up north in B1G Country we call that Too Much Damn Passin'. What kind of mix do you expect from TCU as the season progresses?
HF: That is one of the questions we're quite eager to find the answer to ourselves, as though TCU has typically thrived with a balanced attack, the priority has always been setting up the run first and mixing in the pass later before shifting back to the run (typically a fresh running back) to salt things away in the fourth quarter when defenses are worn down. There's been a lot of fuss about the air raid change this off season, as the perception about it is throwing the ball all game and many (myself included) were hoping for a move to a more ground based spread attack that nobody in Big 12 really has. However, the early results seem to have kept that crucial balance, even if there's a slight shift toward the passing game early in games, and I think that we'll definitely continue to see a commitment to that balance throughout the season.
JD: TCU held Samford to 143 total yards and just generally abused them all game, so forget about that. In general, what is the strength of this defense?
HF: TCU returns nine starters from one of the best defenses of Patterson's career (and that means a lot), so it's really hard to identify one area of strength in the defense- the run defense should continue to be the strength of the team, as though we've had some adaptations for the spread over the years, Patterson's 4-2-5 defense was designed to stop the run first and foremost- giving teams a lot of different looks in the secondary while keeping generally keeping eight men in the box to shut things down. TCU's secondary should be the best in the conference this year though, so I'll give it to a very ball-hawkish back five- running on TCU is tough, but trying to throw on them is going to be murder this season.
JD: Tell us a few names on TCU's defense that will probably stand out on Saturday.
HF: We'll start with safety Sam Carter, my preseason pick for Big 12 defensive player of the year this year and a likely candidate for some major awards. Playing at strong safety in Patterson's 4-2-5 asks a lot of a guy, your priority is to stop the run, but you also need to cover and blitz to keep the looks varied and Carter excels in every role, leading the team in takeaways last year and piling up tons of tackles and tackles for loss as well. DT Chucky Hunter is another returning All-Big 12 level player who is just about everything you want in a DT- strong, stocky, not too tall and has a phenomenal motor- his job will be to force Minnesota to run outside where the speed of TCU's defense is waiting- and he's very good at that job. Finally I would be remiss if I didn't mention cornerback Kevin White. Few teams could lose a first round draft pick at cornerback and not worry too much about the impact, but White has been waiting for his time in the spotlight for ages now, and he was absolutely sensational against Samford, not just in defending passes but he delivered the best hit of the game when his man was targeted for a quick screen pass. TCU may not ever be "Cornerback U" but the odds are good that Kevin White will be following last year's first rounder Jason Verrett into the NFL.
JD: The Frogs got a bye week in just Week 2 so they've had a week to "recover" from Samford and two weeks to prepare for the Gophers. Jerry Kill and Gary Patterson are good friends so folks around here have quite a bit of respect for TCU's coaching staff. How do you think the week off will affect TCU? Is there any scenario in which you think it will hurt them?
HF: Having a week off before the Gophers is probably a good thing (even though we've been salivating for another game over at FoW) as with the transition to the Air Raid this offseason the TCU defense hasn't faces as much of a sledgehammering running attack in practice as they generally would. Patterson pointed out in his presser that Samford actually does a lot of similar things to Minnesota in the ground game, so it's essentially three full weeks of prep for the Gophers, and I think that that will be what the team needs to get into the mean and nasty mindset you need to take on a Big Ten team.
JD: Prediction time. Who wins? What's the score? How does the winning team make it happen?
HF: It's going to be an interesting one for sure, and I can see circumstances develop where either team comes out on top, but right now I'm of the belief that TCU will win and a score of 38-21 sounds about right. The simple fact of the matter is that I have a lot of faith in TCU's defense slowing/shutting down the opposing run game, particularly if there's no need to provide additional support for the secondary from the threat of a dynamic passing attack. Minnesota will run, and run, and run and try to wear the Frogs down, but if they don't stay on the field (and the Frogs manage a few quick scores) the Gophers are going to have to throw the ball successfully to win the game, and with the huge question marks for the Gophers at quarterback I don't see it happening. The game is close through three quarters, but the Gophers have to throw in the fourth to try and make up the difference and it makes the score look worse than it was.