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Texas-TCU: Q&A with Frogs O War

To prepare for the Thanksgiving tilt against the Horned Frogs, HawkeyedFrog from SB Nation's TCU site Frogs O War joined us to discuss the match up.

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Wescott: How shocking is this season after the struggles of going 4-8 last season? It seems easy to pin all of this on the new offense that has helped out the always steady defense, but was some of this just adjusting to a tougher schedule in the Big 12 Conference and getting an associated bump in some transfers like Josh Doctson and Aaron Green and a slight uptick in recruiting?

HawkeyedFrog: I'm probably not the best person to ask this question, as I tend to trend towards almost irrational optimism the closer football season gets every year. A big improvement this year wasn't too hard to rationalize though, as the Frogs returned eight starters on defense, all but one on the offensive line, a Doak Walker watch lister at running back and an underrated receiving corps.

Factor in how close TCU was to being pretty decent last year even with the world's most incompetent offensive coordinators (a controversial statement, I know, but have you ever seen any other offense get a delay of game penalty in their hurry up offense -- when the clock was running?), with six losses of ten points or less.

Doctson and Green have had huge impacts this year, of course, but I think in general the recruiting benefits of joining the Big 12 conference are only just beginning -- this year has shown emphatically that TCU can compete with the best teams in the Big 12 and win, which I think will go a long way for helping TCU's recruiting in the years to come.

In the end, the improvement comes from a little bit of everything, but the biggest change is that the offense has a cohesive plan and identity, something we've lacked since former OC Justin Fuente became the head coach at Memphis.

Wescott: In breaking down the offense, how much of the change in the way Trevone Boykin has been playing is about the scheme and how much is about the coaching that he's receiving from co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach?

HawkeyedFrog: Boykin has always had all of the tools needed to be a great quarterback, but his development was repeatedly stifled both by the scheme and by personnel issues that saw him spend practice time at running back his freshman year and then wide receiver his sophomore year.

This offseason was Trevone's first full year of dedicated practice at the quarterback position, and his dedication to his craft seemed to inspire both new quarterbacks coach/Co-OC Sonny Cumbie and graduate transfer QB (and former Aggie) Matt Joeckel to work as much as they could with Boykin to make sure he knew the offense.

With Boykin's speed and good decision making in the running game, it's always been a matter of if he could pass well enough down the field to make teams play honestly -- this year he's been great throwing the ball, so he's gotten a lot more opportunity to show off how developed the rest of his game is.

Wescott: What makes Doctson so effective and what has he brought to the wide receiver corps that it hadn't had in a couple of years? Where did Kolby Listenbee and Deante' Gray come from this season? Are they just products of the new offense or have they taken major steps in maturation?

Hawkeyed FrogJosh Doctson is simply as complete a wide receiver as I've seen play at TCU, and we've had some pretty good ones over the years. He has fantastic hands, runs excellent routes and has nice top speed, but the most impressive thing about Doctson to me is his elevation and flexibility of his giant frame.

Doc can simply do things in the air that you can't defend against, no matter how good your position is:

That ability creates lots of opportunities for the TCU OCs to get creative with him.

Kolby Listenbee and Deante Gray are both incredible sprinters, with Listenbee possibly being the fastest football player in the Big 12, and Deante Gray being barely a step behind that, but while Listenbee's previous role was simply "Go deep", he's developed a more thorough understanding of the route tree this year, which puts him in a lot of good positions.

As I mentioned before, Deante Gray is likely a step slower in straight line speed than Listenbee, but where he's shined is his ability to change direction, shed the initial tackle attempt, and then rapidly accelerate to top speed. That bit of Gray's game was there last year, but the difference is that he's now had two years of running at wide receiver (he started at cornerback) and his ability to catch the ball has improved dramatically -- which makes it a lot easier to get the ball into his hands and wait for something fun to happen.
Wescott: Where does the offensive line fit into this and do you see them being able to create seams against a Texas front that has been playing at a high level the last several weeks?

HawkeyedFrog: The offensive line play has been a revelation this year, which is probably the biggest surprise of all for TCU this year. Last year TCU's offensive line was dreadful to the point where I honestly thought that Boykin wouldn't be able to play quarterback again from the hits he was taking on almost every play. This year, however, the line has gelled, maintained a fairly consistent lineup, and most importantly, learned to use their massive size (all but one starter is over 300 pounds) to impose their will on the game.

That said, I think that Texas is the best defensive front that we'll see this year, so I'm very interested in seeing how the OL responds to that increased pressure. I think that the athleticism of Boykin will force the ends to do more to maintain contain, however, and that will help the offensive line a good deal in opening holes -- so I think they'll be okay.

Wescott: Defensively, TCU has had some issues with giving up explosive plays this season. What's going on with that and where are the Horned Frogs most vulnerable?

HawkeyedFrog: The issue for the Frogs this year has been very consistent every week -- we have trouble defending speed receivers out of the slot. On the outside, cornerback Kevin White is a good matchup against anyone (as seen in his amazing game against West Virginia's Kevin White), and opposite him Ranthony Texada has grown a great deal this year -- but safety Chris Hackett has been very feast or famine in coverage on slot receivers.

On the one hand, he does lead the team in interceptions, but he's also the one responsible for the vast majority of the long scoring passes that the Frogs have given up this year. Against a Texas team that loves to run, there will definitely be deep shots for Swoopes to take in the middle of the field, and his success in those throws will go a long way to determining what kind of game this ends up being.

Wescott: Were the struggles against Kansas last week the result of playing on the road in cold weather against an opponent that was perhaps overlooked a bit or was there anything that was exposed against Gary Patterson's defense?

Hawkeyed Frog: There were a lot of factors that led to TCU's ugly performance against Kansas: Luck (some of the tipped passes and bounced balls that KU came up with were astounding), Kansas being very fired up from their first Big 12 win of the year, TCU looking past the Jayhawks, but to me the biggest reason for the large drop-off against Kansas was simply that the Frogs were mentally exhausted.

Heading into Lawrence, the Frogs had played seven straight games, each one against either a rival, a top-20 team, or both. No. 4 Oklahoma leading straight into a road trip at No. 5 Baylor, rebounding with then-No. 15 Oklahoma State and much loathed Texas Tech (who has had our number in the Big 12), before heading straight into Morgantown to take on No. 20 West Virginia and finally ending with the only other team that TCU hadn't beaten as a member of the Big 12 conference, No. 7 Kansas State. Getting up for each of those games is tough, and with lowly Kansas as the final game in that gauntlet, it's hardly surprising we struggled so badly -- I'm just glad that as bad as it looked, it still ended with a win for the Frogs.

Wescott: Is this defensive front for the Horned Frogs good enough to change the game against a Longhorns offensive line that has been improving every week? And how does Paul Dawson manage so many tackles for loss from his linebacker position?

HawkeyedFrog: This defensive front is possibly the best front four that Patterson has had at TCU, even if there is likely no first round draft pick on the line. DTs Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson have been great this year, with Hunter continuing his All-Big 12 level play from last year, while Pierson seems to have grown leaps and bounds in the offseason, and his athleticism in chasing down plays moving away from him is amazing to watch. TCU has rotated in several defensive ends to keep fresh rushers on the field, but Terrell Lathan and Mike Tuaua are quick and disruptive.

As for Paul Dawson, the simple answer to that is that, with all due respect to Malcom Brown, I think he's the best defensive player in the conference. He does simply everything well, he times his blitzes expertly, fills holes in the line with gusto, and in coverage he can do this:

He's simply a freak.

Wescott: How do you see this one playing out? DKR isn't known as a raucous place, but the crowd for the West Virginia game was solid, so are there any concerns about having to go into a hostile environment against a hot team with so much on the line?

HawkeyedFrog: Honestly, I really like TCU in this one. As much as I know Texas has improved every week under Charlie Strong this year, I think that TCU has been spending the past ten days listening to people in the national media talk about how poorly they played against Kansas and the inevitability that we get passed over for a playoff spot, and with the long awaited return of offensive x-factor Deante Gray, I think TCU will be fired up to try and send a message in this one.

Factor in that I think the TCU defense matches up very well against Texas' running game and I see a game where Tyrone Swoopes has to continually make plays through the air against a very ball-hawkish secondary. I'll take TCU to leave Austin with the win and a lot more playoff momentum than they came in with, and since I may never get the opportunity to realistically predict it against you guys again, I think they do it in a blowout.

TCU's highest ever margin of victory in Austin was back in 1935, when the Frogs won by 28 -- I think we'll have a new record when the game is over.  TCU 50, Texas 17