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Previewing Texas vs TCU: Longhorns must slow down Max Duggan and Zach Evans

Plus, key players returning for the Horned Frogs in the nick of time?

NCAA Football: California at Texas Christian Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

By now you’ve heard or read the “Texas is 2-9 against TCU since joining the Big 12” stat probably a hundred different times. But it’s just another example of a team with lesser talent, better coaching taking advantage of Texas.

This time, Gary Patterson will have to pull out one of his better coaching performances against a Longhorn team that is starting to roll.

TCU (2-1) is coming off a 42-34 loss to SMU that caused headlines not because the Horned Frogs got smacked, but because Patterson claimed the Mustangs staged a post-game flag planting at midfield along with an attack on a TCU staff member that didn’t happen.

But despite all the raucous, TCU will feature another powerful offensive attack on Saturday.

Can Steve Sarkisian put a stop to TCU’s success against the Longhorns?

Over the last two match-ups against Texas, sophomore quarterback Max Duggan has seemingly played to perfection. Obviously, that’s not the case but there is the truth to it.

Duggan’s stats against Texas compared to his season stats are, in fact, better.

Duggan Deeper

Max Duggan Passing YPG Rushing YPG Yards Per Comp.
Max Duggan Passing YPG Rushing YPG Yards Per Comp.
Career 183.6 47.6 7
Vs Texas 252 75.5 12.9
YPG: Yards Per Game

It’s not the sole reason why Texas has lost the last two games against TCU (an argument can be made the Longhorns lost the games, rather than the Horne Frogs winning them), but Duggan’s performances sure have helped.

While he’s been solid in the passing game, it’s his legs that have really hurt Texas.

Pretty jarring to watch Duggan break three tackles, right? But not all of it has been missed tackles. TCU has used a lot of pre-snap motion and misdirection to get Duggan into open space.

Duggan has three rushing touchdowns compared to two passing touchdowns against Texas while rushing for 151 yards. In both 2019 and 2020, Duggan led TCU in rushing in their wins against the Horns.

He’s only rushed for 110 yards this year with sacks bringing his numbers down but expect offensive coordinator Doug Meachem to get Duggan involved in this game considering his past success.

Outside of K.J. Jefferson’s 73 yard rushing performance, Pete Kwiatkowski has done a good job of containing the quarterbacks this season. Duggan will test that on Saturday.

His passing numbers are also up this season compared to years prior. He’s averaging a career-best 239 yards per game along with another career-best quarterback rating of 162.0 (Duggan’s quarterback rating in 2019 was 113.6 and 134.1 in 2020).

He’s also looked more comfortable throwing farther downfield, averaging 9.2 yards per completion, which is two yards more than last season.

I’m not saying to throw Duggan’s name in the Heisman race, but TCU’S defense has overshadowed how well Duggan has played this season. He’s an excellent game manager and that will need to continue on Saturday against Texas.

TCU is averaging 206 rushing yards per game, a number that is top 30 in the country and can be attributed to Zach Evan’s hot start.

It looks like the former No. 1 ranked prospect in high school has turned the corner, eclipsing the 100 yards rushing mark in his last two games.

Evans averages a criminal 7.9 yards per carry and rushed for 190 yards against Cal. He’s fast, shifty, and if he can get downhill, he’ll make you look silly.

The key for the TCU offense is unlocking Evans. If the former North Shore product is averaging eight yards per carry on Saturday, it will be a loooong day for the Texas defense.

TCU’s ability to convert on third down and in the red zone has helped keep the Horned Frogs alive in games. Their .537 third-down conversion rate is 12th best in the country and just like Texas, they have been perfect inside opponents’ 20-yard line, going 13-for-13 this season.

Another key for the Texas defense this week? Not letting TCU extend their drives on third down.

The wideout to watch this weekend is former Texas commit Quentin Johnston.

Johnston leads TCU in receptions, yards, and touchdowns this season, and as exhibited above, is Mr. YAC. He led the Big 12 in YAC last season and is on pace to do it again this year. With Josh Thompson reportedly out for Saturday’s game and D’Shawn Jamison’s struggles against Tech, it doesn’t take a nuclear scientist to figure out that TCU might try and get the ball to Johnston as much as possible.

Statistically, this is the worst Gary Patterson defense since 2016.

If you watched any of the SMU-TCU game, you know the Mustangs were able to move the ball at will. If not for Tanner Mordecai’s three interceptions, the outcome would’ve been worse for the Horned Frogs.

From the outside, their passing defense doesn't look awful (shoutout Duquesne). On average, they give up only 210 yards per game but when you did deeper you learn the truth and it’s not pretty.

Per completion, the TCU secondary is giving up 17.50 yards. Not only is that the worst in the Big 12, it’s the WORST in the country.

Cal’s Chae Garbers tossed for 309 yards (11.4 yards per completion) while SMU’s Mordecai threw for 245 yards on just 17 completions (8.8 YPC).

Neither team has thrown more than 27 attempts due to TCU’s inept ability to stop the run.

So far this season they're giving up 181 yards on the ground (9th in the Big 12/101st in the nation) and just over five yards per carry.

SMU had two different running backs rush for over 100 yards, Ulysses Bentley IV gaining 153 yards on the ground. Four different rushers averaged over six yards per carry, including Tanner Mordecai.

This bodes well for a Texas rushing attack that absolutely shredded Texas Tech last week. Now time for the but. But, TCU is expected to get four defensive linemen back this week.

“Hopefully Corey (Bethley) may be back this week, George (Ellis) I think’s got a chance to be back this week. Soni Misi is back this week. So there’s three more defensive tackles that we did not have last week. I think (Kahri) Coleman will be back this week,” Gary Patterson said in his weekly press conference.

This will tremendously help a TCU defensive front that has struggled to generate big plays. Patterson’s defense only has generated three sacks and 12 tackles for loss. For comparison, only Kansas has less in the Big 12 this season.

Gary Patterson has always been able to win more with less, creating defensive schemes based upon the talent on his defense. Has he lost his magic? Or have injuries to his defensive line been the root of TCU’s defensive problems?

As we get deeper into conference play, we’ll hear a lot of “in the past *insert coach* has always been able to get the better of Texas.” It seems that the coaching gap between opponents and Texas has finally shrunken under Sarkisian and his staff.

We’ll get a better stance on that following this week’s game against TCU.