Texas Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. TCU
Football and Thanksgiving are a part of a combined celebration in the United States, and while there will be plenty of spectacles to take in at the professional level, the No. 16 Texas Longhorns (8-2, 5-2) will have one of their own when they take on the TCU Horned Frogs (6-4, 3-4) on Thursday night in Austin.
The Horns have been playing on Thanksgiving for some time now, primarily against Texas A&M, but with the Aggies' recent move to the SEC, Texas has looked elsewhere to uphold a hearty tradition.
Texas was able to sit back over the weekend as the college football landscape changed drastically. And with the former No. 1 Kansas State dropping its first game of the season to Baylor in tremendous fashion, the Longhorns are in a position to finish their season with a bang.
But before the Horns look ahead to their Dec. 1 matchup with the Wildcats, they will have to power past a struggling, but competitive Horned Frogs team.
Here are five keys to the game against TCU.
Put TCU's Run Defense to the Test
Texas' running game is as healthy as it's been since the beginning of the season, but the Longhorns will face the FBS' seventh-ranked run defense in TCU, which gives up 98 yards per game.
Johnathan Gray has been the anchor to a running game that likely would have struggled without the freshman. With a team-leading 607 rushing yards, Gray is the kind of player that can take the ground game to another level.
And with Malcolm Brown finally looking healthy again after missing five games with an ankle injury, the pieces are in place for the running game to take off.
The Longhorns have rushed for 385 yards in their last two games, but those numbers have come against the 59th- and 69th-ranked run defenses in Iowa State and Texas Tech, respectively.
Texas has always been comfortable in relying on its running game, but if it can open up those lanes early on, it will only set the stage for bigger production on offense.
Win the Turnover Battle
Although the Horned Frogs own a plus-one turnover margin, they have given away 25 of them this season, 11 of which have come in their last four games against Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Kansas State.
Over that stretch, TCU has managed just one win, a double-overtime thriller against the Mountaineers.
Freshman quarterback Trevone Boykin, who has filled in for Casey Pachall, has thrown at least one interception per game over that same span and holds a 53 percent completion rate.
The numbers alone showcase Boykin's tendency to be a little bit careless with the ball, and with 35.5 pass attempts per game since being named the starter against Iowa State, there will be plenty of opportunity for the Longhorns to challenge for turnovers.
Find Davis and Shipley
On the other side of the offensive scheme is a passing game that is finally looking like a potent product.
During Texas' four-game winning streak, Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley have started coming on to complement the running game.
Davis has amassed 516 yards and four touchdowns on 21 catches while Shipley has posted 248 yards and a score on 18 catches.
Shipley had his best performance of the season against Iowa State a week ago, picking up 137 yards on eight receptions.
With Davis opening the top of opposing defenses, and Shipley operating underneath, the Longhorns really have something going in the passing game.
Continue to Be Physical
A huge portion of Texas' recipe for success during its four-game winning streak has been its ability to get physical.
In playing their best football of the season, the Longhorns have turned things up physically on both sides of the ball, establishing a powerful ground game and delivering pressure defensively.
It helps that sophomore linebacker Steve Edmond has really come on of late, creating a much better presence and comfort in the middle of the defense.
With the sustaining pieces finally shaping up, Texas is performing at a much different level physically, and it comes with a sustained confidence.
Texas comes into the match with 4.9 flags per game, whereas TCU comes in as the 102nd-most penalized team in FBS with 7.2 flags per game.
The Longhorns have been very disciplined at not giving away free yards that extend drives and allow more scoring opportunities, and although they have scuffled at some points in the season, they have done very well in that aspect of the game.
Playing clean with proper execution and discipline has really helped the Longhorns sustain their four-game winning streak, and extending that successful stretch will be helped along without much laundry on the field Thursday.