I have as much love and appreciation for BYU football as I do for TCU football or even USC football. With personal connections to all three schools, I have followed them in good times and bad, but BYU football really stands out.
This season, I have enjoyed and celebrated the Cougars victory over Oklahoma. I was saddened by the disaster against Florida State.
I approach this year’s edition of the BYU-TCU rivalry with the same divided loyalties that I have experienced every year.
For me, this is a no-lose and no-win situation. One of my teams will lose and one must win, so I just hope that it is good game and that the best team wins.
Unfortunately for BYU, the best team this year is really TCU. With the help of Mark Welling, b/r Featured Columnist for BYU football, we have entered into a little Creature vs. Creature Point/Counter-Point preview of the upcoming game. Find his companion article here.
Last Year’s Game Showed That BYU Is Really Over-Matched by TCU
Last year, BYU came to Fort Worth with a Top 10 ranking and looking for its third consecutive win against TCU.
Instead, BYU was completely dominated in a game that was basically over by the end of the first quarter.
BYU QB Max Hall looked frightened and jittery as TCU DE Jerry Hughes sacked him four times and forced two fumbles.
TCU held BYU’s high-powered offense to under 300 yards in total offense. TCU forced four turnovers and sacked Hall a total of six times.
On offense, TCU hit close to its season average, reaching over 400 yards in total offense.
While the final score read 32-7, the game was nowhere near that close, as TCU Coach Gary Patterson called off the dogs in the second half.
Some may say “that was last year.” To them, I respond, the two teams are largely the same, but BYU is without its experienced offensive line or its playmaker Austin Collie, now starring on Sundays with Peyton Manning.
TCU this year is better on offense than last year and the defense, while not as experienced, is more talented and athletic.
Historically BYU struggles against extremely athletic teams; however, BYU’s struggle last season against TCU was compounded by their overconfidence.
BYU was untested last season going into the TCU game, and had a false sense of confidence. As a result the Cougar players admitted they looked past TCU (which still seems like an extremely irrational thing to do).
This season BYU has already suffered an embarrassing loss at home to Florida State, which served as a wake-up call. Plus, the memory of last year’s loss to TCU will serve as motivation to help the players prepare for the Horned Frogs.
In addition to being better prepared, BYU is also a better defensive unit than last year. There were serious holes in BYU’s defense last season, and Gary Paterson put together a great game plan to exploit those holes. This year BYU has a more balanced defense which is better able to play against the spread offense of TCU.
Not having Austin Collie might be the best thing to happen to BYU. Max Hall forced too many passes last season to Collie, leading to costly turnovers. Hall has more targets this season in the offense, and more support on the ground from Harvey Unga and Manase Tonga.
As proven in the Oklahoma game BYU has the talent to play with athletic teams and win.
TCU Defense Remains One of the Best in College Football
TCU, while replacing a large number of starters of defense, many of whom are where drafted into the NFL, replaced these stalwarts with experienced backups, some with much more raw talent than the veterans they replaced.
TCU is currently No. 4 in Total Defense, allowing just 238 yards per game, No. 8 in Rushing Defense allowing just over 81 yards per game (though this number is inflated by playing at Air Force two weeks ago as Air Force is responsible for about one half of all of TCU’s opponents’ rushing yards), No. 9 in Pass Defense, allowing just over 150 yards per game, and No. 10 in Scoring Defense, allowing just over thirteen points per game.
TCU has remained atop the national defensive charts and looks to fight to regain the title of “Best Defense in College Football”.
TCU’s defense is very good.
Yet, BYU has proven they can play and move the ball against good defenses. Oklahoma’s defense is ranked eighth in total defense, fifth in rushing defense (higher than TCU), first in red zone defense (higher than TCU), third in scoring defense (higher than TCU), and fourth in sacks (higher than TCU).
BYU was able to put up over 300 yards passing against the Sooners and win the game.
While BYU has seen a top defense already this season; TCU has not seen a dominate offense. Air Force as you mentioned inflated TCU’s average for rushing yards allowed, but Air Force did put up 229 yards rushing against TCU! Navy, for example, only gave up 183 yards on the ground to Air Force.
Harvey Unga, Manase Tonga, Bryan Kariya, and J.J Di Luigi should all be chomping at the bit to test the defensive front of TCU.
TCU’s Balanced Offense Can Move the Ball in the Air or on the Ground
TCU is ranked No. 22 in Total Offense, even though TCU has faced three top 25 defenses in its first six games. Averaging over 200 yards per game both rushing and passing, opposing defenses must be ready on every play for TCU to switch things up.
Junior QB Andy Dalton leads the Frogs on offense as a third-year starter at offense. He is a true dual-threat QB, able to win a game with his running ability if necessary. Dalton averages forty yards per game rushing. Against Clemson, Dalton rushed 19 times for 86 yards, as well as passing for 226 yards and two touchdowns.
This year, the TCU running back corps is deeper than ever, led by Senior Joseph Turner. Turner is assisted by two freshmen, Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker. Together, the three are averaging 150 yards per game and ten touchdowns.
Against CSU last Saturday, TCU used 14 different rushes, combining for 275 yards. The leading rusher for the Frogs was another young man, Skye Dawson, who had 47 yards on two carries.
At wide receiver, TCU no longer relies so much on Jimmy Young, who had almost one thousand yards last season. Antoine Hicks, Bart Johnson, and Jeremy Kerley have all made valuable contributions receiving for the Frogs, thereby challenging opponents with a more wide ranging passing attack.
TCU has been reserving a number of new plays on offense for this game, just like the WildFrog was saved for last year’s game. Do not be surprised if yet another new wrinkle to the offense blasts through the Cougar defense.
TCU’s offense can move the ball, except when it counts. TCU is ranked 40th in red zone offense, and they convert just 44 percent of their third-down attempts.
Dalton is dangerous on the ground, but his arm at times lacks accuracy. TCU’s offense also has a problem with starting slow, and relying on their defense to provide field position for them.
There is no guarantee that TCU’s defense will be able to slow down BYU’s offense enough to provide short fields to work with.
TCU has a better offense this season; however, BYU’s defense is also improved. TCU will find it hard to move the ball in Provo like they did last season in Fort Worth.
Jeremy Kerley Is a Game Changer
Last year, TCU brought in Wide Receiver Jeremy Kerley in the “WildFrog” formation. Kerley proved extremely dangerous and had 77 yards rushing on nine attempts, including a touchdown.
The WildFrog was a surprise saved by Coach Patterson just for the BYU. This year TCU has new "secret" plays ready to unleash against the Cougars.
Kerley has made quite the name for himself over the last three weeks with two punts returned for touchdowns, the most recent of which was highlighted on SportsCenter .
Kerley is currently No. 6 in the country in punt returns, averaging over 17 yards per return.
With a wildcard like Kerley (and a few others) in the mix, TCU can use its athleticism to quickly change a game and demoralize opponents.
No argument Kerley is really good. He is a game changer, and BYU has struggled covering kickoffs this season. Kerley’s return against Colorado State is definitely worth watching!
The “WildFrog” will not be a surprise this season for BYU’s defense. Last year BYU’s defense had little to no answer when a team would run the Wildcat formation.
Yet, this season is different. Tulane, Florida State, UNLV, and San Diego State all ran the Wildcat formation against BYU. BYU’s defense is able to contain high-quality athletes who have run the Wildcat against them this season.
Speaking of game changers, statically the best returner in the Mountain West Conference will be lining up for BYU. O’Neill Chambers is ranked in the top ten in kickoff return yardage, which is above TCU’s Kerley. TCU might not be the only team to get a spark from their special teams on Saturday.
A Rivalry Already?
Outside of a two-game series with BYU in the late Eighties and three years together in the SuperWAC in the '90s, TCU had little history with BYU when the Frogs joined the MWC.
Both TCU and BYU entered the 2005 season coming off losing seasons in 2004. Even so, the 2005 TCU-BYU game quickly set the tone for this series and quickly began a serious rivalry.
TCU had upset Oklahoma in Norman to start the season, only to lose inexplicably at SMU the next week. TCU then ended Utah’s 18-game winning streak in a controversial overtime win.
In Provo, BYU jumped out to a 34-16 third quarter lead and knocked out TCU starting QB Tye Gunn. Under the leadership of Jeff Ballard, TCU came back and took its first lead at 44-41 with 1:25 left in the game. BYU tied up the game to force overtime with a final field goal.
In overtime, TCU scored a still controversial touchdown (at least in Utah), but one that withstood replay review and then BYU failed to convert its PAT after its overtime touchdown and lost 51-50. TCU went on to win dominate the Mountain West Conference and finish the season 11-1.
In 2006, TCU started the season with big wins over Texas Tech and Baylor looked to continue its domination of the Mountain West Conference. Instead, BYU came to Fort Worth and had a huge upset of TCU, winning 31-17, in a game that was not as close as the final score. TCU went on to lose to Utah the next week before righting the ship and finishing 11-2.
TCU claims that BYU intentionally over-watered the field in 2007 in an effort to slow TCU’s speedy players. The game was another close one in relatively down year for TCU, as BYU held on to win 27-22.
Last year, TCU planned the whole off-season for BYU. New plays were developed, the TCU tackling dummy donned a BYU helmet (which is still there today), and Gary Patterson and his staff prepared a massive trap for the then top ten Cougars.
BYU, in the middle of its “Quest for Perfection” and the subject of the BCS media circus, found itself smacked around. The Cougars were never in the game and Max Hall and the nation were introduced to Jerry Hughes. As noted above, TCU dominated the game and could have piled up the points to have a truly massive blowout, as BYU appeared incapable of doing anything against TCU.
For TCU, BYU is the Frogs’ chief rival in conference. Even though Utah has won three straight against TCU, TCU does not view with the same emotional significance. Only if Utah can pull yet another inexplicable win over TCU will Utah rise to BYU’s prominence in the minds of most Frogs.
Before the season I predicted this game at 31-24, giving BYU a chance here. I’ll stick with it today, though I would not be surprised if it became a low scoring defensive struggle. TCU likes those, having lost only one game ever under Patterson when their opponent scored less than seventeen points.