With the Spartans taking on TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Saturday, it's time to get to know the Horned Frogs. Nick Preese from Frogs O' War was kind enough to answer some questions about off-the-field issues, the Big 12, and that tough defense.
1. There was a lot of off-the-field drama with this team before and during the early part of the season. Can you give us a brief summarization of what happened and what effect that had on the personnel?
We were planning on heading into the Big 12 with the potential to have the best offense in school history matched with a young, but talented defense that was marked with senior experience at four key positions- Cornerback Devin Johnson, DT D.J. Yendrey, linebacker Kenny Cain and All-American/All-Mountain West Linebacker Tanner Brock.
Then signing day came in and a recruit that TCU had been leading for told Patterson that he was choosing another team because of the drug culture at TCU. Patterson immediately called for drug tests for the entire football team, but it turned out in a police investigation that Johnson, Yendrey and Brock, as well as starting OT Tyler Horn were dealing drugs. All were promptly dismissed from the program and suddenly TCU's vaunted defense was left with Kenny Cain, three juniors and a collection of freshmen and sophomores.
Panic set in, but we consoled ourselves that with excellent QB Casey Pachall throwing to one of the best WR groups in the nation and a running game that boasted two members of the Doak Walker watchlist we'd be all right. Then one RB, the phenomenal Waymon James went down for the season in week 2, followed shortly after by his fellow 700+ yard rusher Matthew Tucker to a nasty twisted ankle that seemed to take forever to heal- all before TCU played its second conference game.
Then Casey Pachall had a night out to forget, drove drunk on the way home and instead of facing the teeth of the Big 12 schedule (basically everyone but Kansas, who we played in week 2) with an offense that could keep up with anyone, we were left with even more freshmen to attempt to fill the holes.
2. What has been the story with TCU this season? There are some close losses and some not-close ones, but having one of the top defenses in an offense-happy league the Big 12 is surely impressive.
After the injuries and Mr. Pachall's wild ride, the story of the season became "Man this defense is good, let's hope the offense and special teams don't blow it". Somehow all those freshmen, sophomores and juniors put together several fantastic performances, only to see the offense taking aim repeatedly at their foot and pulling the trigger. After a dreadful (yet forgivable) performance from redshirt freshman QB Trevone Boykin in his debut against Iowa State (for those of you questioning "How does a great defense give up 37 to Iowa State?" the answer is five turnovers, including a pick 6.) things picked up in a big way against Baylor.
Against the Bears, Boykin, who had been practicing at running back the week of the Iowa State game due to the injuries there, was great- he was virtually unstoppable on third down and we were convinced we had our quarterback of the future. Then another three turnovers against Tech while the Raiders committed none led to a triple overtime loss in the defenses only bad game of the year. Such was the Boykin season for the Frogs- TCU doesn't turn the ball over much, TCU wins. Sadly the fear of turnovers seems to have manifested itself in the playcalling, as TCU's fantastic wideouts have gone greatly underutilized since the Texas Tech game.
3. You finally got into the Big 12, how would you grade the debut season?
I suppose it's kind of a cheat to say "Incomplete"? People have asked just about every week about whether or not the grind of the Big 12 had taken its toll on TCU over the year, but with the drugs, drunk quarterback and injured running backs it hasn't been a season where we could really compare the performance this year with the teams that dominated the Mountain West for three years straight.
Still, with a team this young getting to a bowl and being able to take those extra practices make this season a success, because with ten starters on defense returning and Casey Pachall and Waymon James returning to the team in the spring TCU should be one of the favorites for the Big 12 title next year. Picking up road wins over Baylor and SMU (Our two most hated rivals, though who is more hated will change depending on the Frog you ask) is always nice, but the absolute strangling of UT on Thanksgiving with the whole nation watching moved this up from a barely passing grade to a more solid B.
4. Who are the key players to watch on offense and defense in this game?
On offense, for better or worse, it all starts with QB Trevone Boykin. He's fast and has gotten much better about picking up when to run when the coverage is too tight, and with the time off between OU and the bowl we're hoping he'll have an opportunity to get more familiar with the offense and let our OCs open the playbook up a bit more.
Matthew Tucker is a punishing runner on the ground and he should finally be healthy and able to carry the load on offense, which should do a great deal to open up the play action passing game. Your number one corner (Dennard?) will have his hands full with Josh Boyce, who is likely the best receiver in TCU history and does just about everything well.
On defense TCU's biggest strength is on the ends, as Stansly Maponga and All-Everything Freshman Devonte Fields are an absolute nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. Their consistent pressure is a big reason why the TCU secondary has been so excellent, but 1st team all-american cornerback Jason Verrett leading the Big 12 in interceptions was about his own fantastic ability as much as anything else.
5. What are three keys to victory for the Horned Frogs?
Don't turn the ball over is number one in all cases, but for TCU the difference when they're turning the ball over and not is even more pronounced. Boykin's decision making has improved, but Skye Dawson has had at least one punt a game that he has been unable to field cleanly in each of the last five games- anytime you're holding your breath to see if your returner catches the punt it turns even a three and out into a matter of concern.
The second is open the offense up a bit- the playcalling has been very conservative since Casey Pachall checked into rehab and that's not going to get it done against a really solid defense like MSU's. Coming out aggressive and attacking deep early will make MSU have to back off some and give Tucker and Boykin some running room.
The final key is, of course, to shut down Le'veon Bell. The 4-2-5 that TCU runs has been fantastic at shutting down the run over the years, but Bell is an absolute load the likes of which we haven't faced since the Rose Bowl. If MSU has to throw to beat TCU the Frogs will have a huge advantage, but to make you guys throw Bell has to be stopped early and often.
6. Give me a score prediction and why.
I think that TCU and MSU will both open up the playbooks early, and we'll see a couple of easy scores in the first half before the defenses settle in. In the end I like TCU's defense more than I like MSU's, and I think the Frogs will win the turnover battle, force MSU to throw to catch up and end up winning the game 27-17.
Thanks again to Nick for answering some questions. Make sure you check out Frogs O' War for all things TCU.