We've had four days to wring our knuckles about the lackluster season opener, but that door is now officially closed. I think we all agree that it wasn't a strong effort from Texas, that if it's indicative of future performance, we're all in trouble, and that TCU provides a much, much stiffer test.
With that said, we can't just throw out the baby with the bathwater here. Texas didn't play well last week, but there were and are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about this team's chances of winning the Big 12.
Long story short? Let's hold off on trying to label this team for the rest of the season until we've seen some more football.
And so we shall, starting this Saturday.
TCU LAST WEEK
The Horned Frogs easily beat the Baylor Bears last Saturday, but let's take a closer look at how they did it.
Baylor's switched to a spread pass attack under Guy Morris, and though they were making some progress last season under senior Shawn Bell, their season collapsed when he went down to injury. Against TCU, Baylor turned to Blake Szymanski for most of the game, but he was disastrous, completing just 23 of his 47 attempts, including 3 INTs. It was a pitiful performance, and without any credible running threat (25 attempts for 51 yards), TCU was practically guaranteed to win.
Gary Patterson's philosophy is a simple one, and much like that of former Steelers coach Bill Cowher: control the run game, limit mistakes, play great defense, be the more physical team.
TCU did just that last Saturday, rushing the ball 45 times for 181 yards (4.0 per attempt). They knew they could wear down Baylor, and they did.
That's a safe strategy and, when you've got the right defense, a very successful one.
It's only limitation is its simplicity. What makes it so effective most of the time is also what limits it when it faces a dynamic offense. TCU is especially vulnerable this season because they're breaking in a new quarterback. If they get into a contest when they're forced to pass to score, the game's up. They're built to grind, and you can guarantee that they'll be trying for just that on Saturday.
THE EARLY LOOK
The most interesting question heading into this game is how Patterson intends to force Texas' hand. Arkansas State had a lot of success by bringing a variety of run blitzes at the 'Horns, trying to get someone - anyone - in the backfield, and hoping Colt didn't hurt them downfield. It worked last week, but Colt has proven he can make a team pay for leaving too little coverage in the secondary.
One thing Greg Davis would be wise to do is work hard on using Charles more like Texas Tech uses Shannon Woods. The shotgun running game has looked positively broken, but Texas can still use Charles as a "rusher" with a bevy of safe, underneath, extremely short passes. Not only do they get Charles going at or beyond the line of scrimmage, but they give him a chance to get in the open field. Simple draws, counters, and sweeps play right into what TCU expects us to do. Davis would be wise to let TCU's ends come up the field and move Charles into the open space.
Defensively, Texas needs to make TCU quarterback Andy Dalton win this game. He's got a good enough arm, but he's not the guy the Horned Frogs want having to make most of the plays. (Honestly? If Dalton struggles or TCU falls behind quickly, don't be surprised to see Marcus Jackson on the field. He's not nearly as good a passer as Dalton, but he's got the quickness of feet and playmaking ability that Corey Leonard hurt Texas with last week. I'm sure TCU noticed.)
The early look here is the same that it was this summer. Texas has enough advantages in this game that winning is more likely than not. We just can't escape the fact, though, that if Texas' coaches don't take advantage of Texas' strengths, TCU will make this a grind-it-out slugfest that they're built to win.