Can Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech Shock College Football World vs. TCU?

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterSeptember 23, 2015

Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury congratulates offensive lineman Baylen Brown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Arkansas, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Fayetteville, Ark. Texas Tech beat Arkansas 35-24. (AP Photo/Samantha Baker)
Samantha Baker/Associated Press

College football's Week 4 slate of games, much like Week 2's, leaves a lot to be desired. So, naturally, chaos is going to break out because that's how this sport works.

One of the teams that should very much be on upset alert is No. 3 TCU, which heads to Lubbock short-handed on defense to play Texas Tech. For Red Raiders head coach Kliff Kingsbury, this is an opportunity to get a signature win that's been lacking on his resume.

If nothing else, TCU-Tech is already gaining speed as the upset special of the weekend among national pundits like Dan Wolken of USA Today:

Dan Wolken @DanWolken

Just recorded a podcast in which I picked Texas to beat Oklahoma State and Texas Tech to beat TCU. Genius or Icarus after my Ole Miss pick?

It would certainly provide a much-needed end to a notable dry spell for Kingsbury. The last ranked opponent Tech beat was Arizona State in the 2013 Holiday Bowl in Kingsbury's inaugural year. Since then, there's been more frustration than gratification. The Red Raiders went 4-8 in 2014 and Kingsbury lacks an impressive Big 12 victory.

Can Kingsbury and Tech shock the college football world and pull off the upset at home? Absolutely. Here's how.

A Necessary Turnaround

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The 2014 season was ultimately marred by two things: poor defense and insurmountable mental errors, with the latter being completely inexcusable. The Red Raiders were 119th in turnover margin (minus-13) and dead last in the country in penalty yards per game (89.2).

The scope of this season is still small, but Tech has shown considerable improvement in both of those categories. Kingsbury's team actually leads the Big 12 with the fewest penalty yards per game (46) and is tied for second in the conference with a turnover margin of plus-five.

TCU, for what it's worth, ranks seventh and fifth in the Big 12 in those respective categories.

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes
Quarterback Patrick MahomesSamantha Baker/Associated Press

Kingsbury and defensive coordinator David Gibbs deserve all the credit in the world for that turnaround, as those two areas had to change for the better.

When asked about turnovers at Big 12 media days in July, Kingsbury said, "When you look at our turnover margin last year, it was very close to the bottom in the entire country. If you're doing that, you're not going to win many games, especially in the Big 12 with these offenses."

To Kingsbury's point: Baylor was every bit as bad as Texas Tech in the penalties category last year. However, the Bears were excellent in turnover margin (plus-13) and had more explosive plays (10-plus yards) on offense than any other Big 12 team.

That can negate some of the mistakes made. 

What does this mean for the TCU game? The Horned Frogs may be breaking in several new defensive starters, but let's not forget about the man on the visitor's sideline: head coach Gary Patterson. Patterson is as bright of a defensive mind as you're going to find in college football. If anyone can set Texas Tech back in the turnovers department, it's him.

For Tech, maintaining success on limiting penalties, turnovers and negative plays in general is key. They're drive-killers, and if Tech has a lead, they will allow TCU to hang around.

Winning the Quarterback Duel

TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin entered the season as one of the national favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. Don't look now, but through three games, Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II has more passing yards than Boykin (1,029 to 985), a better completion percentage (66.4 to 65.7) and is nearly going toe-to-toe with Boykin in yards per attempt and touchdown passes.

Both players are obviously extremely mobile and can make plays with their feet as well. Boykin and Mahomes have a combined six rushing touchdowns.

The total offense each quarterback accounts for is nearly identical, too. Mahomes is third in the Big 12 with 386 yards per game while Boykin is fourth with 377.7 yards per game.

In other words, Saturday could be among the quarterback duels of the year in the Big 12.

Chuck Carlton @ChuckCarltonDMN

Four Big 12 QBs are among top six in the FBS in total offense. 2. Baker Mayfield. 3. Seth Russell. 4 Patrick Mahomes. 6. Trevone Boykin.

It's a duel Mahomes may have to win if offenses are the story of the game. For all the hype Boykin received prior to the start of the season, Mahomes can have a season-defining, breakthrough performance if he outplays the reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year.

“He plays with a certain spirit, where (the players) never know what’s going to happen, where they think everything is possible, and we’ve got a chance in every game,” Kingsbury said, via ESPN.com's Jake Trotter. “You can see they’re inspired by some of the plays he makes."

With Pick Six Previews indicating that TCU is down not one, not two, but seven defensive starters, now is as good a time as any for Mahomes to have the game of his young career:

Pick Six Previews @PickSixPreviews

TCU has now lost SEVEN defensive starters this season, and just ONE 2014 starter is still in the rotation

Boykin is the household name, but Mahomes can establish himself as one, too.

The David Gibbs Effect

The most recent memory many people have of TCU's offense is the one that struggled to break loose in a 23-17 season-opening win at Minnesota. Since then, the Frogs have taken care of business against Stephen F. Austin and SMU.

On the year, this is still an offense averaging nearly 50 points per game. To give you an idea of how potent Big 12 offenses have been this year, Baylor is averaging 61 points per game and Tech is averaging 54.3 points per game.

Something says TCU-Texas Tech isn't going to be the 20-10 defensive struggle it was in 2013. Just a hunch.

But Gibbs doesn't have to shut TCU's offense down to be successful. He just needs to win in a few key areas.

As mentioned previously, Tech is doing much better in turnover margin. Specifically, the Red Raiders are tied for first place in the Big 12 with Oklahoma State with eight takeaways. When you're giving up big yards—Tech is eighth in the Big 12 with 491.7 yards per game allowed—you have to find different ways to win with defense.

Sharon Ellman/Associated Press

Texas Tech has also been an excellent second-half team on defense, allowing just 20 total points in third and fourth quarters this year. In second halves against UTEP and Arkansas, Tech gave up just a field goal to each team.

That's what you call halftime adjustments. Gibbs deserves a lot of credit for fielding a shutdown defense when he absolutely has to. The Red Raiders boast a continuity and confidence on defense that they haven't had before under Kingsbury.

There are plenty of categories in which TCU has an offensive advantage. For instance: No Big 12 team has more red-zone touchdowns than the Frogs. Limiting TCU to field goals instead of touchdownsor getting a red-zone takeawaycould prove to be the most valuable defensive stat of the game.

"Bend but don't break" isn't always the best defensive philosophy, but it's worked for Tech thus far and may have to work again on Saturday.


If Texas Tech can do the aforementioned things, Kingsbury could get his much-needed statement win. By this point, Kingsbury has to be more than a coach who will win all the games he's supposed to win and lose all the ones he's supposed to lose.

Through the first few weeks of the 2015 season, Kingsbury has made good on his promises to fix the mental errors and bring more continuity on defense.

Now we'll see if he can continue that in one of the biggest games of the Red Raiders' season.

With a win, Texas Tech could establish itself as a trendy up-and-comer in the Big 12.

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

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