HawkeyedFrog from Frogs O' War (TCU's SB Nation blog) contacted me earlier this week about answering some questions for their blog which should be posted tomorrow. Being the negotiator that I am, I demanded he do the same for us.
1) I noticed that through five weeks TCU (0-2) is listed below Kansas (0-1) in the conference standings at ESPN. You guys have played a challenging schedule so far but that still has to be a bit of a shock for your fans. How has everyone handled it?
By maturely and calmly reasoning that TCU has played three of the top 25 teams in the nation, none of them at home, and has just come up a bit short each time, once with Tech getting a bit of help from the referees... Okay, that's a lie. We're panicked and calling for our playcaller's head over at Frogs O' War as the offense has stagnated terribly this season opposite a defense that I believe is by far the best in the conference. Scoring ten points on a Tech defense that gave up 23 to SMU, 13 to a FCS school and 16 to you guys will do that to a fanbase that's used to seeing defensive excellence paired with offensive efficiency.
2) TCU has trailed at halftime in four of your five games. The one game you were ahead, it was by a score of 17-14 against SE Louisiana. You guys went on to win that game by a score of 21 points. TCU outscored OU 17-7 in the second half and rolled SMU 41-7 in the second half. Any ideas on why the first half has been such a struggle this year? Has this been an issue in the past?
The issues have been very consistent and frustrating so far, as TCU lost starting quarterback Casey Pachall during the SE Louisiana game and the offense has not adjusted at all for his loss. Trevone Boykin has his critics, to be sure, but to me OC Jarrett Anderson is not putting Boykin in a position to succeed, as he stubbornly insists on trying to throw the out routes and downfield strikes that Casey performs so well (and Boykin performs so inconsistently with) while neglecting the dimensions of the offense that a dual threat like Boykin can open. TCU also has two excellent running backs in Waymon James (who only you guys saw last year, as James tore his ACL late in the fourth) and B.J. Catalon, though you wouldn't know it by TCU's rushing totals. The majority of running plays have been Boykin quarterback isos, leaving the bruising James and speedy Catalon to block or split out as receivers, when they should be splitting upwards of thirty rushes a game between the two of them. In the second halves TCU has run the ball more, which has not only produced good results on the ground but also opened up a dangerous play-action game, which just makes the incompetence of the first halves more frustrating.
3) The defense has been one of the "bright" spots for Kansas football this year, how do expect TCU to attack our defense?
Honestly? I expect TCU to throw the ball deep and run quarterback isos in the first half. This has been the modus operandi for TCU every week so far despite the poor results, and I sadly don't believe that things will change against Kansas. That said, I expect later in the game that TCU will run the ball very effectively up the middle with James, work the speed option to the outside with Catalon and do a variety of wide receiver screens and quick slants and hitches to get the ball into the hands of our talented wideouts quickly and let them create plays. It's said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results- as I am not insane, I expect that TCU will do the same thing to start the game that they always have. As for Jarrett Anderson's sanity, I think the conclusion is clear.
4) Gary Patterson and TCU are known for their defense. This year doesn't seem to be much different as the defense is ranked (through 9/28) 17th in Football Outsiders S&P ratings. What makes the defense special? Superstar players? Discipline?
The answer to both of your latter questions is "Yes". TCU runs the 4-2-5 which has evolved into a very effective spread stopping formation as the years have gone by, but it originated as a way to get additional speed on the field to deal with the old triple option offenses. As a result, Pattersons 4-2-5 has excelled against the run over the years, holding such luminaries and Adrian Peterson, C.J. Spiller and Garrett Wolfe to miserable rushing totals. Discipline is the first key as you'd expect from a defense that was built to stop the option, as a combination of staying at home and swarming on ball carriers helps slow offenses down on the ground, while in the secondary TCU will generally play a bit loose early in the game to feel out what sort of routes and timing the quarterback and receivers have, then exploit that knowledge to force interceptions and fumbles later in the game(TCU leads the Big 12 in turnovers forced). The scheme is good, but this year the players are better, as TCU has (in my opinion the nation's top corner in) Jason Verrett who can simply erase an offense's top weapon (Leading Tech Wide Receiver Eric Ward had zero catches against TCU). Though the TCU secondary is fantastic, the Frogs have had good success with the D-line this year as well, with All-Big 12 DT Chucky Hunter and Davieon Pierson combining to stuff the run and collapse the pocket on opposing quarterbacks, leading to some of the poor decisions that end up in the arms of the secondary. TCU also has the reigning defensive player of the year Devonte Fields working his way back from a foot injury, though his impact has been limited so far this season he has the body, athleticism and history to indicate that when he gets up to full speed he'll be a nightmare off the edge once again. Yes, I'm speaking very highly of the defense despite us being 2-3, which just casts further shadows on the offensive performance so far.
5) For the last question, I'm going to need you to look ahead for me. I'm guessing you are counting on a win for this weekend, that will put the team at 3-3. Looking ahead at the schedule, how many more wins on it? Does Patterson start feeling any heat about the direction of the program? Not necessarily concern for his job but I have to think fans are getting concerned about the offense. Thoughts?
Happily TCU's schedule softens considerably from here on until the season ending visit from Baylor, and I think TCU will win against Kansas, Texas, Kansas State, Iowa State and West Virginia without too many issues, with games against the Cowboys and Bears being more coin flip type games (yes, despite Baylor's offensive explosion this year I'm confident that TCU can slow them down considerably much like last year). I think 8 wins is a reasonable expectation, 7 would be acceptable while 6 or less would certainly help the program jettison Jarrett Anderson if he is indeed the issue on offense. Patterson himself is feeling no heat from the fanbase- we remember what we were before him too well, and it's a hell of a thing for a program to hire its all-time winningest coach. The fans are definitely upset about the offense since coordinator Justin Fuente left the program to become the head coach at Memphis, but though Patterson has shown great loyalty to his assistants over the years I think he hates losing even more, to the point where I would be very surprised if Anderson is calling plays next year without a dramatic improvement. There are also, sadly, the caveats of losing Casey Pachall again and starting LT Tayo Fabuluje quitting the team in fall practice that could enable Anderson to stick out another year of mediocre performance, but I'm hoping for decisive change soon.