Last Saturday against the Oregon State Beavers, TCU probably played its best game since Andy Dalton took the helm three years ago. This opinion is not just the result of it being the most recent game or the fact that it was against a top 25 opponent picked to finish 3rd in the PAC-10.
Since Dalton has been quarterback, TCU has generally had two types of games: big blowouts against FCS opponents and the likes of SDSU, New Mexico and UNLV, and a baker’s dozen or so of close games. A common thread in the close games that TCU has been involved in is that the offense underperformed. In particular, the quarterback play of Andy Dalton has not been good when TCU played in close games and especially, big games on a national stage.
However, against the Beavers, the offense was consistent and productive throughout the game. Although the contest was close and OSU had a chance until their late safety, one always felt that TCU was going to win. TCU’s running game was particularly effective and Oregon State showed no signs of being able to stop it.
I was happy to see that TCU did not do as much “running by committee” as in the recent past. Great running backs always say that they get better as the game goes on and the more carries they get the better their feel for the game.
TCU has, in my opinion, been handing the ball to too many running backs and wide receivers in the recent past. On Saturday they stayed with their two best, Wesley and Tucker. Between these two sophomores and Andy Dalton that was really all the running the Frogs needed.
Two years ago the Horned Frogs had only one “go to” wide receiver that knew how to get open and could catch the ball. That was Jimmy Young. Since the middle of last year both Antoine Hicks and Jeremy Kerley began to break out. On Saturday, Skye Dawson caught four passes and Bart Johnson, as the slot man, was his usual reliable self. In addition, redshirt freshman Josh Boyce is supposedly the most talented of all. He caught one pass on the day. So now, when TCU sends out a 4 or 5 men wide, they are all actually capable and dangerous.
I looked at this game as a Harbinger of how Andy Dalton would perform in Salt Lake City against the Utes in November. I was not reassured. Dalton threw two interceptions and missed several open receivers. A couple of guys had to make great catches including one, by Jeremy Kerley, that appeared to just be an attempted throw away by Dalton.
In his first three years Dalton has had the advantage of having the overall 2nd stingiest defense, after Ohio State, in terms of points allowed in all of college football. With such great support over his career he should be able to post a good winning record. He is now the winningest quarterback in TCU history, but if he wants to leave a true legacy he is going to have to come up with some all around great performances on a big stage in big games. Time is running out for him to do this.
On defense the frogs played well. I never had any fear that the Frogs would have a hard time replacing Jerry Hughes. Defensive end is the position Gary Patterson seems most focused on and one in which TCU is extremely deep. In fact, it would appear some players, who were supposedly very promising and in line for starting positions or at least a lot of playing time are in danger of being knocked down the depth chart by some young upstarts.
TCU is so bent on stopping the run that it is a hard place to play in the secondary. TCU will always be most vulnerable to the deep pass. Jason Teague, in particular, got burned a couple of times, but overall, I think it is TCU’s most talented secondary in decades. Opponents know that they have to pass the ball on TCU to have success. The secondary will always get picked on but that is just the way TCU plays.
Gary Patterson is no doubt a great coach. However, his game day sideline performance has always been suspect in my eyes. Before OSU faked their punt the TCU radio broadcast team suspected a fake might be coming.
Knowing Chris Peterson and Boise State, the frogs should also have suspected a fake might be coming in the Fiesta Bowl. The coaches on the sidelines, particularly a hands-on emotional guy like Gary Patterson , are busy watching the game and thinking about what they need to say to their players coming off the field. I wonder if anyone is in charge of or thinking about opponents’ potential strategy.
Even knowing a fake might be coming is no guarantee of stopping it. However, a big mistake Patterson made in both the Fiesta Bowl and against OSU was in not calling a time out after the successful fake. His defense was stunned and reeling and he needed to help them collect themselves and relax. In either case, both BSU and OSU scored off a frog defense back on their heels within the next two plays.
I think part of the problem is Patterson is very stingy with time outs and does not like to use them to discuss strategy. The best coaches need to know when to take a time out, not just to stop the clock to get the ball back at the end of a losing game, but to try to control momentum, among other things.
Apparently, Gary Patterson, greatly dislikes trick or fake plays. I could be wrong, but I have never known him to run a single fake punt, field goal, or extra point in his ten years at TCU. He also never employs a surprise offside kick. (With the kick-off now coming from the 30 yard line though this is less and less likely for any team) He does like to use a quick kick but that is a “safe” option and not a gamble.
About five times or so in the past three years he has employed a wide receiver pass. The ball was lateralled back to Jeremy Kerley who then passed it downfield. This worked the first couple of times but since it is apparently the only trick play in the Frog playbook, it is pretty easy for opponents to prepare for and recognize.
I don’t criticize Coach Patterson for not using more trick plays. But perhaps his natural aversion to them makes it difficult for him to predict when opponents might try one.
Patterson and his offensive coordinators need to figure out a way to help Andy Dalton get in passing rhythm in big games.
Notes on the Polls:
With the polls out there are several interesting points of note.
It is possibly the first time (maybe ever) that neither a 1-0 Notre Dame nor a 1-0 Michigan team was not in the top 25.
TCU very quietly passed up Texas in the AP poll. Although the Frogs are not likely to stay ahead of Texas if the Horns win out in the Big 12 this is a real watershed. I can not think of a single instance when a non-AQ team (or even a mid-tier AQ team) passed one of the most elite powerhouses in college football which was coming off a win. Especially one that played in the national championship game the year before.
Perhaps with all of the talk of Boise State and whether they are deserving of their rank or not has got the pollsters to be a bit more careful. The Longhorns had an unimpressive victory against Rice. TCU also passed up Florida but this is more of a case of the Gators “falling down” past TCU than TCU passing them up.
Boise State fans should be aware that unless ‘Bama loses and Boise State can snatch up some of their #1 votes, then Boise State is likely to be usurped by an undefeated Iowa, TCU or Utah in the final computer standings, should any of them have a perfect record.
Though pulling for the Horned Frogs I am intrigued by Utah. What would happen if the Crimson Tide, Boise State and Utah all went undefeated? Alabama would of course get a ticket to the big game but how would voters decide between the Utes and Broncos? After all, the last team to defeat the Crimson Tide would be the Utes. Even if the pollsters put BSU ahead of the Utes it would seem the computers would favor Utah. Utah would have victories over Pitt, Notre Dame, TCU and BYU.
Look for the SMU Mustangs to give TCU a boost on the Strength of Schedule Rankings. The Mustangs could finish 8-4 or even 9-3 this year.