Opposing teams have had a difficult time creating big plays against the TCU Horned Frogs rush defense, with two mistakes by safety Chris Hackett the primary causes for the long runs by Oklahoma and LSU. However, the pass defense has been a little bit more susceptible to big plays, though the secondary is both experienced and talented.
The Horned Frogs actually rank tied for 91st in the country in giving up passing plays of 30 or more yards, as they have given up 12 on the season, though the pass defense still ranks No. 18 nationally in S&P+.
Several plays by the Jayhawks provide some perspective on how to beat the Horned Frogs in the passing game.
Against Kansas, TCU gave up a 50-yard pass to junior wide receiver Turzilli, who was able to beat star Horned Frogs cornerback Jason Verrett on a post route, exactly the type of play that head coach Gary Patterson's defense schemes to avoid.
Kansas has a heavy formation on the field, with a tight end and a running back that forces TCU to play with one safety at linebacker level, one safety as the end man on the line of scrimmage and the free safety at a shallow depth.
A pre-snap motion across the formation and a quick snap afterwards helps create some confusion with the Horned Frog secondary, which has to react quickly to the movement.
Since the free safety is responsible for a vertical route by the tight end, he's taken out of deep coverage on the play, leaving Verrett one-on-one with the 6'3 Turzilli, who is reported to have 4.45 speed in the 40. With little cushion, Verrett has to turn and run with Turzilli while maintaining his inside leverage, but the Kansas receiver is able to turn the All-American as he cuts inside on his post route and manages to create just enough separation to catch a rare well-thrown ball from Jayhawks quarterback Jake Heaps.
Still, Verrett is in good position to make the play and the difference may have merely been the size and speed of Turzilli, illustrating just how hard it is to beat Verrett, even when the offense has managed to isolate him without help in a way that the TCU defense, again, normally schemes to avoid.
One way to deal with a defense like TCU that is hard to beat straight-ahead is through some misdirection, which Kansas successfully employed early in the third quarter.
From a two-back set, the Jayhawks send running back Brandon Bourbon into the flat, while Kansas eliminates one linebacker from the play with a vertical route from an inside wide receiver. The offensive line for head coach Charlie Weis has been a disaster for most of the year -- they had to move their center to left tackle -- but the blocks on the playside linebacker and the playside safety both hit home, providing a big running lane down the sideline for James Sims.
For Texas to have success in the passing game, it won't be quite as easy as running double moves against over-aggressive cornerbacks as play caller Major Applewhite was able to do against the man-heavy Sooners. Instead, the Longhorns will have to rely on specific formations and perhaps even some motion to get favorable match ups and try to create some one-on-one opportunities for deep threats Mike Davis, Kendall Sanders, and Marcus Johnson without help from other defensive backs.
And the screen game with some misdirection built in may need to be part of the game plan. Teams haven't been able to pressure Case McCoy much this season, but the Horned Frogs may decide that they want to put some hits on him and get him out of the pocket and on the run to take advantage of his lack of ideal pocket presence. If that's a part of what Patterson wants to do, the screen game will be necessary to slow down the TCU blitzes, though Texas hasn't been as effective creating big plays on screens as they were last season, when the number of long down and distance situations the Longhorns were able to convert was probably unsustainable.
Last season, Texas wasn't able to produce a play of 20 or more yards against TCU, a task that should be possible this season, but won't be easy to achieve -- Major Applewhite will have to do his best work as a play caller to find holes in a defense that doesn't have many.