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2007 Opponent Preview: TCU

Arkansas State may be a gimme, but Texas' second opponent of the season, TCU, provides a much sterner test. Many Horned Frogs fans believe TCU can pull the upset, and recent history justifies their optimism.

The Longhorns undoubtedly will be favorites to win at home, but let's take a close look at Texas' first real test of the 2007 season.

Game 2: TCU at Texas
Saturday, September 8th, 2007 • DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium • Austin, TX • 6:oo PM • Fox Sports Net

TCU Offense

Starters Returning: 5
Lettermen Lost: 9

2006 stats (NCAA Rank)
Rush Attempts per game: 42.9 (4)
Rush Yards per game: 194.6 (9)
Rush Yards per attempt: 4.5 (26)
Passes Attempted per game: 27.1 (75)
Pass Yards per attempt: 7.9 (28)
Pass Yards per game: 213.8 (48)
Points per game: 29.2 (28)

Overview: The good news for TCU is that they return eight of their top ten linemen and their best running back. The bad news is that they must replace both their quarterback and top pass catcher from 2006. Gary Patterson prefers a rush-based attack, so the current situation is preferable to the inverse, but TCU may struggle to put points on the board against teams which can contain its running attack.

Quarterback: Jeff Ballard was quietly effective last season, helping guide an efficient TCU offense to nearly 30 points per game. Over his last four games, he threw for 1,004 yards, with 8 TDs and 0 INT, while completing 75% of his passes.

Replacing Ballard will be sophomore Marcus Jackson, who did take some meaningful snaps in 2006. Jackson replaced the injured Ballard against Baylor in last year's opener, racking up 386 yards passing, including 2 TDs. He wasn't nearly as good the rest of the season, but TCU at least isn't starting from scratch. Jackson also brings a scrambling element to the position, and he can make people miss if he gets into open space. That running ability should help him hold off redshirt freshman Andy Dalton, who's probably a better pure passer at this point. Unit Grade: B-

Running Backs: TCU loses Lonta Hobbs to graduation, but junior Aaron Brown (154 rushes, 828 yards, 5.2 ypa, 9 TD in 2006) returns. The Mountain West freshman of the year in 2004, Brown's got excellent speed and isn't afraid to go through traffic in the middle. Sophomore Joseph Turner averaged 6.9 yards per attempt last season and should easily replace Hobbs as a nice complement to Aaron Brown.

Brown undoubtedly will be the Horned Frogs primary attack weapon on offense, putting Texas' rush defense to the test early and often. He simply must have a strong evening running the ball if TCU is going to have any chance of picking up enough points to win. Unit Grade: A-

Wide Receivers: TCU loses Quentily Harmon (52 rec, 791 yards) to graduation, leaving only Donald Massey with significant experience at the position. TCU likes to use their tight ends in the passing attack, and they've got a great one returning in junior Shae Reagan. Texas' linebackers and safeties will need to do an excellent job of keeping Reagan in check; if Jackson's going to move the ball through the air, Reagan's a great weapon to look toward to move the chains.

Along with the quarterback, this is the biggest question mark for TCU heading into '07. Can they muster any significant passing attack this season? If not, opponents will cram the line of scrimmage in an effort to harness Aaron Brown. Unit Grade: C

Offensive Line: TCU loses first team All-Conference lineman Herbert Taylor and  right guard Maurice Bouldwin, but return their top eight hogs on the line beyond that. With more experience on the line heading into 2007, it's reasonable to expect this group to be one of the MWC's better lines. TCU's taken the attitude of being a physical, in-your-face running team that takes its cue from their offensive line. This group will have its hands full as they try to keep Frank Okam, Derek Lokey, and Roy Miller from blowing up the middle of the line. If Texas is getting penetration from the tackles, it's going to be a long, long evening for TCU. Unit Grade: B+

TCU Defense

Starters Returning: 9
Lettermen Lost:11

2006 stats (NCAA Rank)
Rush Attempts per game: 28.2 (5)
Rush Yards per game: 60.9 (2)
Rush Yards per attempt: 2.16 (2)
Passes Attempted per game: 29.7 (67)
Pass Yards per attempt: 5.9 (12)
Pass Yards per game: 174.1 (21)
Points per game: 12.3 (3)

Overview: This unit was one of the nation's very best last season, as the numbers clearly illustrate. Teams simply couldn't run on TCU, and were only marginally more successful through the air. Texas Tech chucked the ball up in the air 47 times, but completed just 23 of their attempts for 204 yards and an abysmal 85.4 QB Rating. The only blemishes from 2006 came during back-to-back losses against BYU (John Beck 23-37, 321, 3 TD, 0 INT) and at Utah (Brian Johnson Brett Ratliff 19-32, 223, 2 TD, 1 INT).

Defensive Line: Defensive ends Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz were first team All-MWC as juniors last season and both return for senior campaigns in '07. On the interior, junior James Vess returns as a starter, though the Horned Frogs must replace NT Jarrarcea Williams. That shouldn't be a problem, as junior Cody Morre is an experienced player with comparable block-eating abilities.

If Texas fans are wondering if the running game is going to improve in 2007, this will be as good a test as any to figure it out. You could argue that this is the best defensive line the 'Horns will face this year, and with Ortiz and Blake returning on the ends, tackles Tony Hills and Adam Ulatoski will both have to be playing great football to give McCoy time to throw. Unit Grade: A

Linebackers: The Horned Frogs run a 4-2-5 defense similar to what you see from Gary Darnell and Texas A&M. Junior Jason Phillips was a first-team All-Conference performer at one of the linebacker positions, and he's joined by returning starter Robert Henson.

In a defensive scheme like this one, the safeties often play like linebackers and assist heavily in run support (Safety Marvin White led the team in tackles in '06 with 86). Phillips has been the starter the last two seasons at the SLB position (73 tackles, 6 TFL last year), but he'll slide over to MLB this year with Henson taking over at SLB. Unit Grade: B+

Defensive Backs: The Frogs replaced three starters last season but once again stifled the majority of their opponents' passing attacks. TCU wound up starting two redshirt freshmen at cornerback last season, which gives them a far greater well of experience heading into 2007.

Last year's defensive MVP was Marvin White, but he's gone to the NFL (4th Round, Cincinnatti Bengals). Sliding in to his spot will be senior Brian Bonner, and though not quite as strong a playmaker as White, he's got three years of experience and won't present much of a dropoff in production. Joining Bonner in the secondary are safeties Corderra Hunter and David Roach, both with experience from 2006.

This group may just make or break TCU's chances of an upset in Austin, and this is the finest group of receivers they'll face all year. In particular, TCU's corners (both 5-11) may have trouble keeping Limas Sweed from making big plays. Equally problematic will be tight end Jermichael Finley, who at 6-5 with wide receiver speed, could have a big day finding open zones in short and intermediate routes. Unit Grade: B+

The Gameplan

TCU Will Win If: TCU's chances at an upset probably hinge on two keys to the game: containing Texas' wideouts and establishing a consistent running game. The Horned Frogs are going to want to slow this game down and make it a long, hard-fought physical battle won in the trenches. I'd guess they'll spend considerable capital trying to avoid being burnt for big plays by Limas Sweed, which means Colt McCoy, Greg Davis, and Texas will need to employ a deliberate, patient attack.

On offense, TCU simply has to establish some sort of running presence, if only to keep Texas honest. The common perception among observers is that Texas is vulnerable to the pass, and until we see otherwise, that's certainly a concern. Still, it's hard to see Marcus Jackson carrying TCU to a road win on his arm alone. They'll need Aaron Brown to have room to run.

Texas Will Win If: For Texas, the key will be to remain patient on offense and avoid allowing big plays on defense. The Longhorns run defense was one of the best last season and should be exceptional once again in 2007. If the secondary can avoid letting TCU score on big plays, it should severely limit the Horned Frogs' chances of putting up enough points to win this.

Offensively, Texas has more than enough weapons to win this game, but McCoy will need to be patient when things get rough. TCU won't be intimidated by the Longhorns, and they've got an outstanding defensive line that will make life hard on Texas. I think 24 points is enough to win this game, and I'd expect Davis to create a gameplan with something like that in mind. McCoy needs to be careful about forcing passes and take what TCU's giving him with Cosby and Finley in the middle of the field. If Texas avoids costly turnovers, this is a battle of attrition that they should win.

Final Thoughts TCU can win this game. Let's be clear about that. There's no question that if McCoy is struggling or Texas loses the turnover battle, that the Horned Frogs could leave with a win. Still, I think TCU may find it a little too difficult to run on the Longhorns, and I'm not sure that Marcus Jackson can do this on his own. Texas should be favored here, but taking TCU lightly would be a grave mistake. Patience, protecting the ball, and wearing down the Horned Frogs needs to be the plan for the evening.