The Texas Longhorns are set for another tough early-season test, as they hit the road to face the TCU Horned Frogs. Texas is just 2-7 against TCU since the Horned Frogs joined the Big 12, and haven’t won in Fort Worth since 2013.
The BON staff got together to discuss Texas’ strengths and weaknesses, how they can get over their TCU terrors, Robinson vs. Evans, and more.
The quarterback position seems to be solidified and the offensive line is showing signs of improvement, but what other concerns does Texas need to address heading into a defining stretch of the season?
Daniel Seahorn — On the other side of the ball I have been concerned about the lack of an effective pass rush from the front four and limiting the big play on the back end. As they head into the teeth of the conference schedule you can bet those things will be highlighted by opposing coordinators.
Gerald Goodridge — I think continuing the progress along the offensive line and shoring up the back end of the defense are the top two priorities for the Longhorns moving forward. You already saw the changes on the back end of the defense on the depth chart with the coaches switching Jerrin Thompson and Brenden Schooler on the depth chart.
Cody Daniel — The defensive line has shown some improvement, but I’d like to see that front unit really start getting to the quarterback and overwhelming the line of scrimmage. And, of course, the secondary remains a question mark after being exposed last week, but Sark emphasized his displeasure in that performance enough that I think we’ll see notable improvement there.
Kyle Carpenter — While promising — let’s see a sustained performance from the line over a few more weeks (and some better defenses) before completely erasing that question mark. I think a dominant defensive performance against TCU, specifically from the DBs and the defensive line, would instill a lot of confidence heading into what are currently three consecutive ranked games.
Texas has had a Horned Frog problem since TCU joined the Big 12, going 2-7, and several current players have experienced some of those losses. Will that history loom and impact their performance this weekend, or will the staff have them more mentally prepared than in recent years?
Seahorn — That’s why the game is played on the field. There is honestly no way of knowing that until the ball is teed up and kicked off tomorrow, but like everyone else, I’m anxious to see how this staff prepares the team for an opponent that’s had their number.
Gerald — It’s impossible for that to not loom over it as a storyline. I say this as cautiously as I can, but it seems like a lot of the mentalities that plagued Texas over the last 10 years are being challenged — if not outright reversed — by the new coaching staff. That being said, TCU is always tuned up for this game and we cannot overlook that this is one of the games they circle on their calendar.
Cody — I liked Sark’s comment about other teams don’t respect Texas and they need to earn that. So, I think we’ll see a Texas team that’s mentally prepared and isn’t overconfident after two wins against underwhelming opponents. Not necessarily meaning a blowout, but I think we’ll see the same focused Texas team we’ve seen the last two weeks.
Kyle — I think the sunshine-pumping answer here is “of course it won’t loom, this regime is different,” but you have to acknowledge that only two things in life matter to Gary Patterson: the sanctity of copyright laws for country and western music and beating Texas. Charlie lost his first trip to Amon Carter (badly), Herman lost his ... can Sark break the curse? I think this Texas team is superior on paper, but they have been in about 85% of the past 9 meetings. This will also tell us what to expect as the Horns leave the friendly confines of DKR for the first time since going into an actual war zone in Fayetteville — expect Fort Worth, Waco, Ames, and Morgantown to all be viper pits desperately waiting to reel off an ironic, inferiority-cleansing “S-E-C” chant.
Maybe the most intriguing comparison on Saturday will be the performances of Bijan Robinson and Zach Evans, the No. 1 and No. 2 running backs in the 2020 class, respectively. Who will have the better performance, and what’s their stat line?
Seahorn — This is a tough one, but I’m going to lean towards Robinson because of his ability to be an effective receiver out of the backfield and also due to the fact that the Texas offensive line seems to be coming together as unit in the run game. After what we saw SMU do to TCU in the run game, it would be disappointing to see anything less than 100+ yards on the ground and I would also expect a few catches for 50 or so yards. With the way Sark schemes him into the game I’m expecting 175-200 yards from scrimmage and that might be conservative considering what we have seen from him to date.
Gerald — It’s crazy to see two generational running backs in one game, so let’s all take a second and enjoy that...with that out of the way, I think there are two things that factor into it. First, I give a slight edge to Bijan because I like the matchup of the Texas defensive line against the TCU offensive line. Second, against SMU, TCU went away from their identity offensively and it forced them to go away from their team’s most talented player. This is a game that’s going to be decided on the ground and in the trenches and I like that matchup for Texas.
Cody — This is going to be close, and it almost entirely depends on each team’s offensive line. Bijan Robinson’s going to get his touches in the passing game too, but if the Texas OL continues to improve, he’ll break free a few times and stuff the stat sheet. On the other hand, Zach Evans is proving to be a special talent, and he’ll be the workhorse in that backfield and almost certainly get more touches. That all said, I trust the Texas OL a bit more than TCU’s, so Robinson has another 180-plus yards from scrimmage.
Kyle — There are two components at play here: Evans will get a larger share of his team’s rushing attempts (in the two games where Evans was not suspended, TCU’s other RBs have 12 carries for 52 yards) and Bijan is a bit more natural in the passing game. That said, I could see both of these backs rushing for over 100 even with the defenses keying them. I give the slight edge to Bijan in total yards: 160 - 140.
TCU’s defense has allowed more than 1,000 yards the last two weeks, while the Texas offense has produced more than 1,250 and 128 points. Will Texas continue to roll offensively, or will Gary Patterson’s defense once again cause issues for the Horns?
Seahorn — You can write it in ink that Patterson will have his defense up and ready to play better than they have the past couple of weeks. TCU is expected to get several defenders back from injury this week, so that alone will be a shot in the arm for them. I think Texas will still do fine offensively as long as they continue to carry over momentum from the last two games, but I don’t expect TCU to give up 300+ on the ground like they did last week.
Gerald — The TCU defense might add a few key pieces on the defensive side of the ball that have been injured, so I think that unit takes a step forward. I would be shocked to see Texas put up that level of offensive performance again this week. The Longhorns have shown great progress improving the offensive line, aided by the adjustments in the gameplan, so if those two trends hold I feel cautiously confident in Texas.
Cody — Between getting some key defensive talents back and Gary Patterson living for the Texas game, we’ll absolutely see a better effort on that side of the ball from TCU. I think we’re in for a chess match between Sark’s scheme and Patterson’s defensive play calling, and when it’s all said and done, TCU’s defense will allow more yards and points than Patterson would like, but not as many as Sark would like to produce.
Kyle — I understand that their mascot is the Horned Frog, but I think you could make a clear case that Patterson’s preferred spirit animal is the opossum. Besides the obvious striking resemblance, (which one looks more ridiculous wearing a visor?) Opatterson has gone 0-6 in the week immediately preceding UT since 2016. Like an opossum, I refuse to believe this TCU defense is actually dead, and I am waiting to see if the Texas offense can truly average 50+ every week. This one will be closer than the stats would lead you to believe, but the Texas offense should certainly have some success.
The Horned Frogs are still figuring out a few of their own problems, and some of those were on full display last week in the loss to SMU. Given Texas’ strengths and TCU’s current weaknesses, what advantages does Sark’s team need to exploit to win?
Seahorn — Continue to plug away in the run game and wear on them over the course of the game and let your fearsome foursome in the backfield go to work. If they get the run game clicking early that will open up the play action for shots down the field and let Thompson get into a groove early.
Gerald — Pound outside zone. Put your skill players in space and let them be the better athletes. Make the defense tighten up to stop the run and then hit one over the top. It’s really a simple gameplan, so hopefully Texas can execute.
Cody — Feed Bijan, then feed him some more. Utilize the outside zone to get your best offensive weapon into space, and let the passing game develop as a result of that success. If Texas can find the right balance, those deep shots will open and allow the offense to be explosive. TCU is going to score some points, so the Texas offense needs to do the same and maintain possession to keep the Horned Frogs’ offense sidelined.
Kyle — Texas needs to continue to maximize the strengths of the offensive line and run the ball like they have the past two weeks. Casey Thompson has looked most dangerous as a decisive medium-range passer and Texas should utilize the play-action to get Worthy, Whittington, and the RBs the ball with room to make plays. Also, can this be either a Wiley or WildHorn week? The big athletic TE and the RB-who-can-throw are wrinkles to an offense that is already humming.
Prediction time: Does Texas pass this mental and physical challenge and beat TCU?
Seahorn — This will be a tight game despite what the Horns have done since rebounding from Arkansas. This will be a true battle on the headsets between a bright offensive mind and a battle-tested defensive guru, so it holds a lot of intrigue for me. A lot is at stake for Texas both on and off the field and I think they know that. Texas 34 - TCU 28.
Gerald — I think this is going to be tighter than we think. Maybe that’s just a bit of Stockholm Syndrome with TCU, but I think Texas comes away with a 31-28 win.
Cody — Preseason, I had this as a loss, but Texas has looked really impressive in three games, and the other was without Casey Thompson at QB, where he’s been hyper-productive. It won’t be another blowout, but give me Texas, 34-27.
Kyle — Since coming back to the college ranks from the Falcons, Sark has won 27 of 30 games, and his offenses still put up 500 yards in two of those three losses (Joe Burrow’s LSU, a crazy Iron Bowl, and...Arkansas. Guess which one is the deviation?) If the weather, the execution, the OL, and some crazy Patterson scheme don’t stand in the way, Sark’s offense should give Texas enough room to breathe 38 - 28.