Up next we've got the other new kids on the block as our old pal Gary Patterson comes to town with his young charges from TCU. It's purple-on-purple violence. To get you all ready for it, we sat down with HawkeyedFrog from TCU's excellent SB Nation blog Frogs o' War to get the skinny on things.
Jon: You've had fifteen games to settle into your new conference digs. Obviously, the move was going to be a win for TCU no matter what, and I doubt anyone has any honest regrets... but has watching the win total shrink caused any serious heartburn?
HF: To me it's not the shrinking win column that has caused heartburn, as I was prepared for the big upgrade competition in the Big 12 to mean a lot more 8-9 win seasons than 12 win seasons, as I saw TCU's place in the Big 12 as somewhat of an Oklahoma State/Kansas State- consistent bowl team with maybe one year in three or four where the right pieces fit and you win or seriously challenge for the conference title. I had even come around to the fact that a bowl bid is never guaranteed in the Big 12 (despite everyone except Kansas getting one last year) and had TCU simply been out-talented or injury plagued this year I think I'd still be able to carry on optimistically. The issue this year has been the coaching on the offensive side of the ball, which I'll expand upon (at great length) further below.
Jon: Last year, TCU could have done a lot better in the standings; the Frogs were only a couple of scores away from going 9-3/6-3, and that would have been an unqualified success as a first-year team. This year, it seems like a lot more of the same, as TCU could be 6-4/4-3 just as easily. Are you at all worried about whether Gary Patterson can get the team over the hump and start winning these close games?
HF: If Patterson were new in town that would probably be a fair concern, but as Patterson has been around for well over a decade now it's easier to see the big picture with him. The first thing to love about Patterson is that he's not afraid to go for the win on the road- going for two point conversions to take the lead late at Boise in 2011 and in overtime at West Virginia last year. We also have vivid memories of a Rose Bowl triumph preserved at the last minute and even tight escapes from BYU and Utah in 2005 (before we learned how to blow their doors off). The only thing that would cause me to be concerned about Patterson winning close games in the Big 12 is if we keep the offensive staff after this year. Man, I've teased that twice now, fortunately the full story is up next.
Jon: Obviously, Casey Pachall getting hurt and Devonte Fields having issues were not the way to get the season rolling. But obviously there's more to the Frogs' issues this year. What's gone wrong?
HF: Even though there have been injuries and expected starters leaving the team (starting tackle Tayo Fabuluje quitting football two weeks before LSU was painful, Devonte being suspended than injured for the season was worse), the main issues have been the offensive playcalling. It was harder to see last year due to the injury/surprise late draft departures of our star quarterback and top three running backs, but the play calling has suffered substantially since the departure of Justin Fuente to be head coach at Memphis to the point where a running back who was averaging almost ten ypc last year before his season ended can now get perhaps two-three carries in a game.
That's not exaggeration- Waymon James was averaging 5 ypc against Tech (without a run over ten yards to boost the average) got two carries against Kansas and three carries against Texas. Those numbers are one thing if you're a team like Tech or Baylor and have a highly accurate quarterback distributing the ball to a number of talented wide receivers, but quite another when you're trotting out a backup quarterback who's been splitting snaps all season at wide receiver and running back to throw the ball 30+ times a game.
As a result, we've had a whole lot of three pass plays and out (or an interception) to take next to no time off the clock (yet we're awful at hurry up as well) and trot the defense back out there again and again and hope that they can hold up playing the vast majority of the game. Even with Devonte Fields out the defense is incredible to the point where I'd put them up against just about any unit in the country as they do everything well apart from get consistent quarterback pressure (this is where we miss Fields), and as many times as they bail the offense out of a bad situation by forcing the other team backwards any team is going to get tired and frustrated when one side of the ball is doing all the work. Think of the Baltimore Ravens teams before they drafted Flacco. That's this year's TCU team.
Jon: Along those lines... what's gone right, and other than the obvious folks like Jason Verrett and Pachall and Boykin, who should we be keeping an eye on?
HF: I'd love to say running backs Waymon James and B.J. Catalon, but you probably want guys who are going to get the ball more than three times, don't you (yes, I'm bitter)? Linebacker Jonathan Anderson has been a nice surprise given his quick insertion into the starting lineup after presumed starter Joel Hasley quit during fall practice and is the team's most sure tackler after all-everything cornerback Jason Verrett. Also keep an eye on the men in the middle, as DTs Davion Pierson and Chucky Hunter have been positively beastly in crushing the run this year while also often getting enough push up the middle to be the best pass rush options on the team as well. On offense apart from Pachall and Boykin watch out for the inside and outside combination of Ty Slanina and LaDarius Brown, as Slanina has the smooth speed and excellent hands to make grabs anywhere on the field while Brown is simply a beast whose size makes him virtually impossible for a cornerback to bring down alone if Brown has any momentum.
Jon: Tell us a little about how Patterson is these days on the sidelines. What sort of schemes is he favoring this year? Any particular wrinkles we need to be concerned with?
HF: The defense never really changes- it's the same 4-2-5 base no matter if you're playing a finesse spread team like Baylor or Mike Leach's Tech teams, a power team like Wisconsin or even a triple option team like Air Force. We've been seeing more corner blitzes this year, as TCU's secondary is good enough to take on an extra man, so on passing downs keep an eye on Verrett for more than just coverage. Patterson's other preferred blitz this year has been sending a man straight up the gut, as with all-Big 12 talents at both DT positions (Hunter was on the team last year, I think Pierson makes it this year) it's hard to account for an extra man coming in the middle, particularly when it's well disguised. On offense we throw the ball a lot, but it hasn't been particularly well until Pachall returned and then the o-line hasn't been able to keep him from being killed (he was hit over 30 times against West Virginia, an absolute nightmare). Be concerned if we start running the ball a lot, but don't be too concerned because we're ten games into this damn season and we haven't done it yet.
Jon: TCU's boss against the run, so I imagine you're not exactly worried about Daniel Sams busting loose for two bills or John Hubert popping a buck fifty in the first half. What DOES concern you about Saturday's game?
HF: I worry about the same thing I worry about every game this season- where are the points going to come from, and is the defense going to hold up? Those concerns are magnified this week, as Kansas State's running offense is good enough where it's not going to be entirely shut down, and TCU is going to throw the ball an incredibly stupid number of times and spend a whole lot of time on the sidelines whether it's successful passing or not. I'm concerned that the defense is going to be ground down to dust by late in the third quarter like they were against LSU (where thanks to a fumbled kickoff the Tigers had the ball twice before our offense took the field) and the three or four yard gains start to turn into five or six yard gains until someone busts a big run to turn a close game into a rout. I've seen it happen against much worse teams than KSU, so here I'm terrified of it.
Jon: Finally, you know the drill. Tell me what's going to happen in Manhattan.
HF: If TCU is going to win this game they're going to have to win it like we won against Texas last year, by shortening the game with the run, converting third and short-medium with regularity and keeping the defense fresh enough to put on an absolutely dominant performance. This is not going to happen. Instead Casey will throw the ball about 37 times, have a decent completion percentage but stall out on a lot of third downs and Kansas State will wear the TCU defense down to turn a competitive first half into a comfortable victory by the end. KSU 27, TCU 13.
As always, a huge thank you HawkeyedFrog for some great answers... and some great questions, too.