After watching the film I still believe that New Mexico was a great game to have prior to the TCU game. The defenses are similar, and our offense will have realized they need to prepare better for blitzes and man to man pressure.
The TCU defense plays a manipulated 4-3, but instead of using a true defensive end, they use a smaller and faster player who can get a quick speed rush off the edge. They also use their strong safeties as both a strategic outside linebacker and a “rover” safety. Their rover is physical like a linebacker but can also match up with wide receivers and tight ends in pass coverages.
The TCU defense has speed at every position. Their most disruptive players are their linebackers. No. 41 Daryl Washington and No. 39 Jason Phillips make a lot of plays behind or at the line of scrimmage and are constantly in the backfield during running plays.
Their safeties, No. 3 Tejay Johnson and No. 29 Stephan Hodge, also make a lot of plays and are heavily involved in stopping the run. Because they devote so many players to stopping the run, their corners are put in a lot of man to man situations with little or no help.
This is a risky scheme, but with their speed they feel as if they can recover from concentration errors.
The defensive line is not their strength. In recent years the Horned Frogs have had Tommy Blake and Ortiz speed rushing at the defensive end positions. This year those players have been replaced by solid linemen, but nothing close to Blake and Ortiz’s caliber.
The reason their defensive line has had success to this point in the season is because of their ability to get penetration.
Their tackles are very quick off the ball, and because of this speed, they are able to get underneath the offensive linemen and push them back into the play. They also do a great job of hitting gaps with enough force to create disruption in the backfield.
When tackles and ends are quick off the ball and get penetration, it can cause pileups in the backfield. For instance, if a tackle shoots a gap and hits a pulling guard and knocks him to the ground, it frees up a linebacker on the other end of the play.
Disrupting the pulling guards and blocking fullbacks is what these guys do the best and is why they are so solid against the run.
TCU’s linebackers are their strength. They only have two true linebackers. I haven’t seen a pair play as physical and emotional as these two.
No. 39 Phillips plays smarter of the two and is good at slipping blockers in open space and still being able to make a play on the ball. He also does a good job in his zone drops, finding the receivers near him and making a play on the ball.
While both players play downhill, No. 41 Washington is like a heat-seeking missile against the run. He is constantly in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage.
Because these two play downhill so quickly, they are often susceptible to over-pursuing the ball, leaving cutback lanes or even missing tackles. They are extremely aggressive against the run, which leaves them vulnerable to screens and play action. With the amount of plays these two make, it is crucial that we account for them on every play.
I like that these two players are emotionally invested in the game. The Frog defensive unit thrives on their energy and playmaking ability. I also like their unexpected trigger rushes to the quarterback. A trigger rush is when they are either fooled by play action or they wait until the offensive linemen have declared who they are blocking and then rush late.
I saw it work a couple of times in previous games, and I think it could be effective against our offense because our running backs often leak out into pass routes.
TCU plays two regular safety body types and a “rover” safety, who plays an active role in stopping the run. From what I can tell the free safety is No. 4 Steven Coleman, and the strong safety is No. 3 Johnson. The rover is No. 29 Hodges, and he is the most physical out of the bunch.
Their safeties are often very close to the box, which makes it tough to run the ball. They also have enough athletic talent to recognize passes and recover into their zone or man coverage responsibilities.
This group, while not as talented as last year's group, is very good at what they do. They have good enough cover skills to match up well against a tight end. They also have the strength to step up against a pulling tackle or guard.
Last year Dennis Pitta and Andrew George both had good games, and I think this year our offense needs to work this matchup throughout the game. While the safeties are good, they don’t match up well enough against our tight ends.
I am saying it first: Dennis and Andrew will both have big games and will be used in a variety of different ways—split out, bubble screen, and goal line situations.
Their corners are probably the most experienced corners our receivers will face all year. Both corners have started since they were freshmen, and they are both very confident in their abilities.
Because of the aggressive nature of the defensive scheme, these corners are often put in tough situations. Both No. 20 Nick Sanders and No. 10 Rafael Priest have great recovery speed and can be physical enough to disrupt timing.
Where they don’t excel is in their pad level. They often get caught playing too high, which causes them to struggle when coming out of their breaks. Both corners have always relied on their natural speed to close out the space created by a good route, so naturally their footwork has suffered.
They also take a lot of chances in coverage. They’ll break underneath routes or play flat-footed in hopes of guessing right and creating a big play opportunity. While taking chances is exciting, it leaves your whole team exposed to big plays.
I would expect our offense to keep these two corners honest with double moves. We need to play with confidence and hopefully bust a big play early.
Keys to the game
1. Like always, start fast. I have a feeling TCU is going to run the ball a lot. That’s why it will be so important to get a score up early and then keep the pedal to the metal for the entire game.
2. Pick up the blitz. Our line is a couple of plays away from playing perfectly. This isn’t the game to relax or let down your guard. They will be blitzing from everywhere: corner, safety, linebacker, outhouse, and sideline. Our line has to communicate with the quarterback and the running backs to ensure that all players are accounted for.
If for some reason they aren’t, hopefully Max will recognize it and get the ball away quick. If we are able to consistently pick up the blitz, we will win the matchups. Add Max’s throwing accuracy to the equation, and there will be numerous opportunities for explosive plays.
3. Be patient with the running game. I don’t think we will have success early, but that doesn’t mean we should simply abandon it. We need to use some screens and quick-hitting runs to catch their defense off balance.
In last year's game we were one missed tackle or one block away from busting a few long runs. If we just let it develop, it will work. Our line is ready for the challenge, and I think we will surprise a few folks with our running game on Thursday.
4. Max can’t take sacks—more specifically, he can’t get caught trying to run backwards to escape the rush. The Frogs are too quick, and they always know where the ball is.
If the pocket is closing, tuck it and run for a couple or throw it into the second row of the bleachers. We can’t afford to be in long yardage situations, especially against a blitz-crazy team.
5. Third down conversion percentage will play a vital role in the outcome of the game. They will be bringing everything they have, and we will need to make a few plays to extend drives. Our offense needs to understand the situations of the game and be able to recognize what needs to be done.
Long story made short: We need to get back to 70 percent or better on third down. Enough said!
6. Last but not least, someone will have to make a special play. Johnny Harline made one when we were down there last time, and Austin and Harvey made a couple special plays last year at home. This year we need someone, at a pivotal time, to step up and take responsibility for the offense's production and make a play.
It could be a BIG night for the Cougars. I wish I could be on the field. These are the games that everyone remembers and where names are made. Buckle the straps on your helmet a little tighter, get a fresh new pair of cleats and gloves, and take the field knowing you will make the difference.
Winning will require one more play than TCU. Who is going to make it?