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No. 17 TCU’s team speed presents a new challenge for Texas

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TCU is still figuring a few things out, but the Horned Frogs are loaded at the skill positions and might be the fastest team in college football.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Texas Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday afternoon’s showdown with the No. 17 TCU Horned Frogs (2-1) will present the Texas Longhorns (2-1) with an opportunity to accomplish a feat the program hasn’t enjoyed since 2008 — the chance to piece together back-to-back wins over ranked foes.

Although 34 unanswered points paved the way for a potential momentum-mounting win over No. 22 USC last Saturday, what happened then matters no more, regardless of how impressive Texas often looked throughout the final three quarters. TCU presents an entirely separate set of challenges, and as Texas is well aware, the Horned Frogs have had the Horns number as of late, convincingly winning the previous four contests by a combined margin of 153-33.

Every season is different, yet TCU, it appears, remains a pillar of consistency under Gary Patterson. Despite seeing a small army of starters hang their pads and purple jerseys up, the Horned Frogs boast an embarrassment of riches at the skill positions, per usual, and Patterson’s program once again looks the part of a team capable of stringing together 10 wins when it’s all said and done, which would mark TCU’s fourth 10-win campaign in five years if that standard continues in 2018.

However, the Horns could be catching the Horned Frogs at an opportune time. TCU is just days removed from a physically and emotionally taxing loss to No. 4 Ohio State, while Texas is riding the momentum of an equally as emotional — if not more so — win over USC.

Topping the Trojans doesn’t mean Texas is back, folks, but beating TCU just might.

Even with what’s expected to be another packed house at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Texas’ conference-opening matchup with TCU likely won’t feature quite as much energy and enthusiasm as it did last weekend with a record crowd on hand, but what happens this Saturday may be much more meaningful and telling of where the program is currently at under Tom Herman.


“He’s fast. He’s really, really fast. I mean, he’s so fast he makes fast people look not fast.”

Inmate Unger’s praise of Earl Megget from The Longest Yard has likely been echoed in Longhorns meeting rooms this week. It’s a sentiment Herman spoke of when previewing what Patterson’s Horned Frogs will bring to Austin on Saturday afternoon, making note of TCU’s skill positions and a defense in which Herman said is as fast as any in recent memory.

“TCU has speed everywhere. Their skilled guys on offense are fast in terms of wide receivers and running backs, a running back with a 93-yard [touchdown run]… against Ohio State, who has a lot of speed on defense themselves,” Herman said during his Monday afternoon press conference. “And obviously on defense, even their front is fast and athletic. They played well. They came up a bit short, but it’s as fast of a defense as I’ve seen in a long time.”

Herman went on to note that Texas has plenty of speed on its roster, but the reality remains that the Longhorns likely won’t win many foot races on either side of the ball on Saturday.

Offensively, this begins with the man behind center, sophomore gunslinger Shawn Robinson. A dual-threat talent, Robinson has just four career starts under his belt, but he’s finding his footing nicely in an offense that’s been about as balanced as a young quarterback could wish for. Aside from Robinson’s 18 carries, which have netted 119 yards and three scores, TCU’s 101 pass attempts on the season — 93 of which are from Robinson — is identical to its 101 rush attempts.

Robinson is developing along the way, no doubt, as he totaled a career-best 308 yards through the air in a 40-28 loss to Ohio State, but as is often the case with a young field general, he’s still working through early issues with accuracy and decision-making.

Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando will likely look to overwhelm Robinson with as much pressure as possible, but he’ll have to do so strategically and prevent Robinson from getting outside of the pocket and beating Texas with his speed.

If Robinson is provided with plenty of time to pass, he’ll often look to target a pair of tremendously talented pass catchers in Jalen Reagor, whom NFL.com ranked as one of the 10 fastest players in college football, and KaVontae Turpin, who is a speedster in his own right, which Texas learned first-hand in 2015 when Turpin hauled in six receptions for 138 yards and four touchdowns. Not to mention, he’s an elite threat as a kick and punt returner, so Texas punter Ryan Bujcevski keeping the ball out of his hands could prove to have an impact on the final outcome.

Through three games, Reagor and Turpin have totaled 321 yards and two touchdowns on 27 receptions. Now set to see a talented Texas secondary, Robinson will likely rely upon his top two options more heavily on Saturday.

A potential key could be, can a third receiver emerge as a reliable target?

Omar Manning was expected to fill those shoes coming out of his redshirt season, but the former four-star prospect left the program in mid-July, leaving TCU to look elsewhere. TreVontae Hights may ultimately be the one to fill that void. Thus far, the junior has taken two of his three touches to the house and amassed 114 yards, but he may need to be a bit more than just a big-play threat if an experienced Longhorns secondary is able to limit Reagor and Turpin from taking off.

As evident during throughout the first three weeks, though, a Texas secondary that currently ranks 90th in passing yards allowed (250 per game) shouldn’t be expected to slow the big plays in the passing game until it proves capable of doing so

But back to that balance noted above.

If TCU’s passing game is unable to find its stride on Saturday, the Horned Frogs can rely upon a formidable backfield duo of Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua.

Last season, despite sharing the load with Kyle Hicks, Anderson and Olonilua totaled 1,098 yards, and they’re well on their way towards surpassing that total in 2018. Three games in, the two have combined for 400 yards, with Anderson’s 8.9 yards per carry currently ranked as the fifth-best effort in college football.

Last week, the Longhorns were able to limit USC’s talented backfield to -5 rushing yards, but the same result shouldn’t be expected against a TCU offense averaging 225.7 rushing yards per game. The Longhorns likely won’t force TCU to leave Austin with a negative rushing total, but how well Orlando’s unit can limit the one-two punch that is Anderson and Olonilua could go a long way towards making a still-developing offensive fairly one dimensional, and ultimately, increase Texas’ odds to improve to 3-1.


Not only could Texas be catching TCU at an opportune time with the Horned Frogs fresh off of a loss to Ohio State, but Patterson’s defense is still figuring things out a bit at the front end of the season. By the end of the 2018 slate, we may be talking about a top 10-15 unit in Fort Worth, but that’s not currently the case just yet.

Through three games, TCU’s rush defense ranks 52nd nationally (132.2 per game) and the pass prevention is only a bit better, allowing 185.3 yards per game through the air, which ranks 44th nationally.

The talent is on hand with names such as Big 12 preseason Defensive Player of the Year Ben Banogu, and linebackers Ty Summers and Garret Wallow anchoring the front six, and Innis Gaines, Ridwan Issahaku, and Jeff Gladney headlining a deep secondary. And the elite speed is there in abundance, of course.

Patterson’s multiple, yet simple 4-2-5 scheme may be the most complex obstacle to navigate when matched up with TCU, though, which garnered Herman’s praise on Monday.

“His defenses do a really good job of mixing zone with man, mixing fronts, mixing blitz in kind of at the right time,” Herman said. “He’s going to scout you, you know, until his eyeballs come out. He’s going to know when the back is 6 centimeters shaded to the left, you’re 92% likely to get this run or this pass or whatever it is. You’ve got to be cognizant of all of your tendencies. You can’t overthink it either because if you’ve got a tendency and that tendency is working, there’s some merit to it as well.”

The past four seasons should perfectly exemplify Herman’s comments. Texas is averaging just 8.25 points per game against TCU dating back to 2014, with the Longhorns scoring high being just 10 points in 2014.

Texas’ handfuls of former four- and five-star talents have hardly mattered, as Patterson has simply been able to out-scheme Texas to a T as of late.

Although still inconsistent, the Horns offense has appeared to find its footing a bit this season, with explosive plays becoming more frequent and quarterback Sam Ehlinger seemingly learning from previous mistakes. Freshman running back Keaontay Ingram will return to the rotation on Saturday as well, so for a TCU defense that has been prone to allowing explosive plays and missing tackles, there’s reason to believe the Texas offense will produce more points than it has in each of the previous four meetings.

But will it be enough for Texas to topple TCU, even of Orlando’s defense holds the Horned Frogs offensive below their scoring average, as Texas has done with every opponent not named Maryland since the start of the Herman era?


Keys to the game

  • Win the turnover battle: Texas is yet to win a game under Tom Herman when losing the turnover battle, and just 2-2 when the turnover margin is even. The good news to that end is overwhelming Robinson could cause some turnovers, as his three interceptions are currently tied with Oklahoma State’s Taylor Cornelius for the worst effort in the Big 12. Against a TCU team that’s had Texas’ number entirely for nearly half a decade, forcing some mistakes and avoiding some of their own would go a long way towards notching a third consecutive win and second straight win over a ranked foe.
  • Limit TCU to field goal attempts: Cole Brunce hasn’t exactly been automatic this season. Thus far, he’s just 2-4 on field goal attempts, with his two connections coming from 30 yards and 26 yards. On his two attempts beyond that — 31 yards and 48 yards — he’s 0-2. If Texas can force TCU into attempting longer field goal attempts, it could keep crucial points off the board.
  • Prevent the big plays: From Turpin to Anderson to Reagor to Robinson to Hights and more, TCU has a bevy of weapons who can beat Texas with a big play. USC was able to find plenty of success last week attacking Texas down the field, and look for TCU to try to replicate that success and deliver knockout blows to a Longhorns team that should have its hands full consistently producing points against Patterson’s 4-2-5 defense.

ESPN’s FPI projects a Texas win, and it’s not entirely far-fetched for one to talk themselves into believing Saturday will be the day the Horns finally get over the hump against the Horned Frogs.

Seeing is believing, though, and after seeing TCU outscore Texas by 120 points throughout the past four seasons, it’s difficult to pick Texas to beat TCU until it actually proves it can do so.

Prediction: TCU - 31, Texas - 27


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