After falling 14-7 to Iowa State last weekend, TCU is still ranked No. 8 in the College Football Playoff rankings. The Horned Frogs, however, did show some vulnerabilities against the Cyclones that Texas may be able to capitalize on this weekend.
To get a better idea of the strengths and weaknesses of this TCU team, I talked with Melissa B. Triebwasser, managing editor of TCU SB Nation site Frogs O' War.
Our discussion is below — enjoy!
Burnt Orange Nation: TCU now sits at 7-1 and is still hanging in the College Football Playoff hunt despite the loss last week. How has this compared to your preseason expectations so far and what are your expectations for TCU going forward?
Frogs O' War: Most people thought TCU was an 8-ish win team with an outside chance to get to 9. I don't think any fans thought we would make it through September unscathed, let alone win the first seven games of the year. The Frogs had but a handful of seniors a season ago, which means this is basically the same team from 2016. To have already eclipsed their win total from that year is impressive enough, but to have legitimate conference championship aspirations makes things that much better. While all of this has been a wonderful surprise, you can't set the bar and then let it crash down. Frog fans have gotten greedy, and at this point, anything short of a Big 12 Title Game appearance would feel like a massive disappointment, and making a NY6 Bowl is probably the goal/expectation for most.
BON: What weaknesses did Iowa State expose and how can TCU fix those weaknesses?
FOW: Iowa State exposed a few things we already kind of knew - that TCU struggles against big wide receivers and that Kenny Hill will fall on back on bad habits when the pressure ramps up. The Frogs made a pretty good in-game adjustment to deal with the first - Jeff Gladney is a bigger corner and a little strong than Ranthony Texada, and was able tor really bother Allen Lazard in the second half, and picked off a pass to boot. Play-calling is the first thing that comes to mind in regards to the second; when your QB is struggling, don't ask him to throw the ball inside the ten on first down, and hand the ball off to your two stud running backs more than 24 combined times. The offensive line was struggling against ISU, but the backs were still at near a 5.0 ypc clip and can create their own yardage when needed. Sonny Cumbie has gotten a little too cute against two 3-3-5 defenses, and I hope he goes back to what's been working Saturday night.
BON: What do Kenny Hill and the TCU offense have to do to bounce back this weekend?
FOW: Just play their game. The Frogs are at their best when they get the ball to their playmakers in space, lean heavily on the run game, and don't ask Hill to do too much. For whatever reason, they veered from this last week. The recipe for success has been 18-25 passes, 35 runs, and a heavy dose of screens and slants. Texas has a great defense and an aggressive secondary - don't go for the home run pay against them, just make the right read, be accurate in the short to mid-range game, and ask Hicks and Anderson to lead you to the promised land.
BON: TCU has been without center Patrick Morris for the past month, but Morris could return for the Horned Frogs. How much impact could Morris' return have on the o-line?
FOW: It will be huge if it happens, but that doesn't look likely. Morris isn't the cleanest snapper of the football I have ever seen, but he's an above-average center, a really heady player, and tough as nails. In addition to his own skillset, the biggest thing he does is allow Austin Schlottman to move out to guard, where he is a weapon in the pull game. Schlottman is so athletic and so strong, that he can absolutely bulldoze people and get out in front as a blocker in the run and screen game. He has been so-so at center in Morris' absence, but he was killing folks at guard prior. When at full strength, this might be the best offensive line of the GP era. But without Morris, it's simply really good.
BON: KaVontae Turpin has been excellent and Gary Patterson has said he wants to get the playmaker more touches. What makes Turpin so special and how can he wreak havoc on the 'Horns?
FOW: Turp just has the extra switch that a very small portion of the population is born with. He's a freak athlete that can cut on a dime, is shockingly strong at his size, has a feel for where the hole is and how to get through it, and has a dazzling array of spins and jukes, as well as super-human speed. He's fearless, sometimes to a fault, but ultimately is the kind of player that can singlehandedly swing the momentum in a game. If he gets the ball with any green in front of him, he's a threat to house it. And if there isn't a clear lane, well, that doesn't matter - he will make his own. Turp needs about 15 touches a game between returns, targets as a passer, and runs. That will likely be the goal for Saturday.
BON: Who is a difference maker to look out for on the TCU defense, and how will he impact the game against Texas?
FOW: The name that won't be familiar to UT fans is Ben Banogu. A transfer from Louisiana Monroe, the North Texas native sat out last year as a redshirt sophomore, and has absolutely burst onto the scene now as a full-time starter. He reminds me a little of Jerry Hughes - he's so athletic and quick off the edge, has a real knack for finding the ball, and is athletic enough to bother even the most mobile of QBs. After getting some first round love from Mel Kiper, Banogu was very quiet against ISU. But with a banged up UT o line and a chip back on his shoulder, Ben's is a name you could hear a lot Saturday night.
BON: From what you know about the 'Horns quarterbacks, which Texas QB would be the more favorable match-up for the Horned Frogs defense? Could potentially facing two quarterbacks change the TCU game plan at all?
FOW: TCU has historically struggled some with mobile QBs, and had some issues containing Will Grier earlier this year, as he was just so hard to bring down. So for that reason, I would lean Buechele over Ehlinger - though a true freshman facing GP's 4-2-5 could certainly be advantage TCU. If Ehlinger does indeed get the call, the Frogs may spy Travin Howard some at linebacker, a really athletic, smaller guy who can probably contain the QB. If it's Buechele, taking away the deep ball will be key, as the Frogs' also tend to give up a big play or two over the top when they face QBs that can really sling it.
BON: And of course, what's your prediction for the game?
FOW: The Frogs' aren't an offensive juggernaut this year, but when they execute, they can put up some points. Against a really good Texas D, asking for 30 is probably too much, but I think a defensive or special teams touchdown helps give TCU some cushion. It's going to be a defensive slugfest, but give me the home team by a score of 24-13.
Thanks to Melissa for the insightful and informative info on the Horned Frogs. You can check out my Q&A with Frogs O' War here.