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Texas Values: Field position may become the difference against TCU

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As the top defenses in the conference meet, the punters could be a difference-maker.

NCAA Football: Texas at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As the Texas Longhorns head to Fort Worth, they face yet-another Top 10 team, but one cut from a different cloth than the other three teams Texas has faced this season. While USC, Oklahoma and Oklahoma are all led by their offense, the Horned Frogs lean heavily upon the defense.

While Texas seems to be outmatched by the Horned Frogs, a few key battles can put the Longhorns in position to pull off the upset and knock of its first ranked opponent of the season.

Third-Down Conversions

TCU has been money on third downs so far this season, managing to string together long drives for scores. On the year, the Horned Frogs have converted 52.9 percent of their third downs, which is good enough for No. 2 in the county. A week ago, Iowa State managed to put them in long third-down situations and held the Horned Frogs to just 28.5 percent on third-down attempts. In that same vein, one of the strengths of the Texas defense has been their ability to get off of the field and put the ball in the offense’s hands. Through eight games, they have held opponents to a 26.1 percent conversion rate, and have held four of their Big 12 opponents to five or fewer third down conversions.

Punting and Punt Returns

When two defensive teams meet, the team that comes out on-top is often whomever wins the field position battle. TCU, however, has struggled punting the ball this season, in-spite of their success in other areas of special teams. Sophomore Adam Nunez ranks No. 100 nationally, averaging just 38.6 yards per punt, 10 yards shy of Texas’s Michael Dickson, who sits No. 3 in the country with 48.4 yards per punt. Conversely, TCU sits atop the conference in returning punts, led by junior KaVontae Turpin who is averaging 16.3 yards per return and took one back for a score against Kansas. Texas had some inconsistencies in the return game early and made the switch from Armanti Foreman to Reggie Hemphill-Mapps, which turned out to be a good thing. Hemphill-Mapps is averaging 13.67 yards on his nine returns, and returned one for a touchdown against the Maryland Terrapins to cut their lead to three.

Turnovers

Throughout the season, it seemed like TCU quarterback Kenny Hill had kicked the interception problems that cropped up in key games early in his career. However, Iowa State managed to force one of the most-efficient passers in the country into two second-half interceptions, stalling the Horned Frogs’ comeback attempt. By now, fans are aware of Texas’s ability to take the ball away from opponents, with 10 interceptions on the season, led by Holton Hill and Deshon Elliott, who combine for eight interceptions and five defensive touchdowns.

It will be an uphill battle, but throughout the year Texas has shown its readiness and ability to battle back against adversity. If the Longhorns hope to escape Fort Worth with a win, they will need both attributes on Saturday.