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Week 3 Opponent Preview: TCU

Gary Patterson and the Horned Frogs bring another upset-ready squad to Austin.

Iowa State v TCU Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

After escaping disaster in Lubbock last week, Tom Herman and the No. 9 Texas Longhorns have a matchup against the TCU Horned Frogs (0-1) in Austin on Saturday. Gary Patterson has proved to be a thorn in the side of the Texas program over the last decade — Tom Herman is 1-2 against TCU and before the Texas win in 2018, they hadn’t beaten the Horned Frogs since 2013.

The Horns could easily be 1-1 entering Saturday’s game, but instead the standings show an undefeated record. That will be challenged again by an underrated quarterback in Max Duggan and a strong secondary that intercepted Sam Ehlinger four times last year in TCU’s 37-27 victory.

What to expect from TCU’s offense

Sophomore Max Duggan nearly played a perfect game in the TCU loss to Iowa State last Saturday. After Matthew Downing started the first half, Duggan took over after halftime and brought the Horned Frogs within two points before a freak interception cost them the game.

Texas fans will remember a tale of two halves from Duggan in last year’s loss on the road. Starting as true freshman against Texas, Duggan threw two interceptions in the first half, but played poised football and hurt the Longhorns through the air and on the ground in the second half to lead the Horned Frogs to an upset.

I have bad news — Duggan has only gotten better.

This is a really underrated throw from Duggan into a tight window.

TCU likes to run a variety of formations including an empty set with Duggan.

This isn’t a new look as TCU ran this with Duggan in last years match-up against the Horns. You might want to close your eyes for this part...

Duggan does a great job of making this throw with Joseph Ossai right in his face. Not an easy thing to do. Duggan’s ability to stand in and deliver throws under pressure is one of his best attributes and killed Texas doing so last year. He also has an underrated arm and can use his legs. Defensive coordinator Chris Ash said Duggan is “the closest thing to Sam Ehlinger in this league who can do both as a dual-threat guy.”

TCU will use some designed plays for Duggan to run, but he also can improvise from the pocket.

Duggan had 11 rushes for 32 yards, stats that include the two sacks where he lost 22 yards — taking the sacks out, Duggan gained 54 yards on nine carries, six yards per carry. Also take notice of the formation used in the above video with Duggan in the shotgun along with a tailback and the tight end off set.

Patterson showed this look against the Horns last year and quite a bit in the loss to the Cyclones with both Downing and Duggan behind center. You might see the wide receivers in trips formation or spread out as shown below.

This gives them the option to a variety of different plays, including run-pass options. Patterson loves to throw a motion or two for a trick play, jet sweep, or to just to confuse the defense. Here the tailback will motion behind the quarterback for a jet sweep to the slot receiver who in these cases are Taye Barber and JD Spielman.

You might see Duggan fake the jet sweep handoff and just run with it or hand off to one of TCU’s numerous running backs.

Besides the traditional shotgun formation with a tailback, TCU might use two running backs alongside Duggan. Patterson ran a few run plays out of this formation before sucking the Cyclones in with a play-action throw over the middle for a touchdown.

Much like the Longhorns did against the Red Raiders last week, the Cyclones played off coverage allowing Duggan/Downing to make quick throws. That wasn’t exactly a recipe for success as Alan Bowman threw for 331 yards and five touchdowns.

Texas corners gave TCU receivers a lot of room and still were beat on deep throws. While Bowman committed three turnovers throwing the deep ball, the Horns may not get so fortunate with Duggan.

C.J. Vogel from TFB Texas noted that Max Duggan was 6-of-6 passing for 172 yards and three touchdowns on throws over 10 yards against Iowa State. Bowman went 7-of-15 passing for 119 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions against Texas last week.

Barber has no problem beating D’Shawn Jamison here even with Jamison playing 10 yards off the line.

Playmakers to watch

Speaking of Barber, the junior wideout emerged as Duggan’s go-to target in TCU’s victory over the Horns last year and I expect to see a whole of Barber again. Barber had five receptions for 94 yards against Texas last year (including setting up the game-winning touchdown with a back-shoulder catch on 3rd and 14) and led TCU last week with five receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown along with three rushes for 12 yards. Look for TCU to get him involved with jet sweeps as shown earlier and is dangerous in the open field. If Texas still can’t tackle, it’ll be a problem against Barber.

With both Sewo Olonilua and Darius Anderson off to the NFL, Gary Patterson went with a running back by committee approach against Iowa State. Four different tailbacks received carries with Emari Demercado getting the most touches (eight). Freshman Zach Evans is also expected to be available after missing the opener due to contact tracing from COVID-19.

“We’ll get to the QB, I promise you.”

Those were the words of defensive coordinator Chris Ash on Wednesday, and after Iowa State recorded seven sacks against the TCU offensive line, Texas better get to Duggan on Saturday. Iowa State rushed with just a three-man front and wrecked havoc on Downing and Duggan all game.

Downing barely has time to drop back before being sacked on this play.

Take away the purple jerseys and it looks like Texas last week.

The Longhorns also have recorded only two sacks so far this year, with both coming in the second half against UTEP in Week 1. A big key to this weeks game is if Texas can get to Duggan this week or else the Longhorns secondary might be in for another long game.

What to expect from TCU’s defense

Patterson’s defenses are normally extremely disciplined and fundamentally sound squad. They don’t make a lot of mistakes and Patterson loves to blitz, sometimes sending one extra rusher, two, or the whole house. TCU’s blitz schemes will surely test a Texas offensive line that struggled to contain Tech’s three-man rush.

Here Patterson sends a linebacker and a corner disguised in man coverage at Brock Purdy who, um, makes one of the worst decisions you’ll ever see.

The Horns O-line was not at it’s best last Saturday, with a mixture of penalties and sacks given up to a three-man front that should never happen. However, on the last three drives, Ehlinger wasn’t touched and the only run play went for a first down. Herb Hand will need a better performance out of the trenches to help out Ehlinger or else we might see more of this.

While the TCU secondary held Brock Purdy in check, the run defense failed the Horned Frogs and ultimately cost them the game. The Cyclones torched TCU for 212 yards on the ground and running back Breece Hall averaged 8.6 yards per attempt. Of his 161 yards, 75 came on this play:

TCU stacked the box and still gave up these long touchdowns run with poor angles/tackles.

There’s 10 guys in the box and Breece Hall is still able to find the end zone.

Tom Herman and Mike Yurchich tried to establish the run game against Texas Tech early in the second half but instead stalled out their offense. The Longhorns need to go with what they do best and that is let Ehlinger get the passing game going and then going to the running game.

If Yurchich tries to run the ball down TCU’s throats but with no success, Saturday might look a little bit like this for the Horns:

If Patterson smells blood in the water, he’ll attack Ehlinger and the Texas offensive line. Remember, this is the same defense that picked off Ehlinger four times last year in what was arguably the worst game of his career.

Iowa State did a good job of sniffing out the blitzes and making TCU pay for it with quick passes out to the flat or with screens.

Patterson has two future NFL safeties in Trevon Moehrig and Ar’Darius Washington, both of whom picked off Ehlinger last year. Matt Campbell and the Cyclones focused on exploiting the freshman cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, who had a rough day defending bigger receivers. Texas may choose to do the same.