Monday, December 22, 2008

Poinsettia Bowl Preview: Special Teams

Every day this week I will preview a different aspect of both teams and then give my prediction on who has the edge. Today I will be looking at the Special Teams for both squads.

Well, it’s finally over. No more of my inane ramblings until at least tomorrow, and no more of my aimless previews. Fortunately for you guys, this one promises to be the best one yet because very few of us, including myself, care a whole lot about special teams. Unfortunately for us, a lot of times you live and die by your special teams (see: Utes, Utah) so they really are a necessary evil and they must be looked at.

TCU – Ross Evans, Drew Combs, Anson Kelton, Jeremy Kerley and Aaron Brown.

Kerley makes tackles get broked

Kicking – Oh Ross Evans. OH Ross Evans. The kid has a lot of upside, yes, and he will certainly make a few big kicks in his career, but… oh man. It’s one thing to miss a few extra points when your team is up by multiple touchdowns… it’s another to blow two chip shot field goals that would have sent your team to the Sugar Bowl. However, that is neither here nor there, so let’s look at what he managed to do for the rest of the season.

On field goals, Evans was 15-19, with a long of 50, which was his first career kick, and which made us all very excited after our years with LoChoco and ManFred. However, he botched two within 30 yards at Utah, then missed another that was under 40 and another which was under 50. Still, pretty good numbers for a freshman, and it’s not like he had too many opportunities since we were in the end zone so often. These will pick up, but he must learn to kick in pressure situations.

On PATs, things get bad. Really bad. Like, 47-53 bad. I can only recall one being blocked as well. A PAT is, what, 20 yards straight down the pipe? I feel like I could make 47-53 of those and I have no experience whatsoever. I am not sure what it was, and I do not understand the dynamics of kicking, but it’s like he locks up on short range kicks. Maybe you have to change your form? I don’t know. This could’ve cost us in the Colorado State game if their receivers had been able to catch and did cost us about 16 million dollars. This MUST improve.

Kick Offs – Never a strong point all year, Senior Drew Combs kicked 78 times for an average of 61 yards of which only 8 went for touchbacks. Our officlal stats list him as having had 4 go out of bounds, but there’s no way that’s accurate because it happened with relative frequency throughout the season. Still, our special teams defense was great all year and never allowed a kickoff return, although I do recall a little punt coverage mishap against Stanford.

Punting – Another freshman on special teams, All MWC Honorable Mention punter Anson Kelton actually did a fantastic job by any standard. He punted 50 times for an average of 42 yards, 27 of which were downed inside the 20, and had 3 fair catches. He also had a long of 58 yards and six of his punts went for over 50 yards. He didn’t have to be used all that often, but he helped our defense out quite a few times by pinning the opposition deep. On the negative side, he did have a punt blocked against Stanford for a TD.

Punt Returns – Freshman Jeremy Kerley never broke the big one and missed some opportunities to do so after being out at the end of the season with an injury, but he still managed a 14.5 yards average with a 53 yard long. These numbers were good enough to earn him first team all MWC honors. In his absence, Nick Sanders and Aaron Brown filled in putting up respective 9.6 and 5.0 yard averages.

Kick Returns – I am really just going to mention Aaron Brown in this because Hodge was back as a blocker and Christian only returned kicks when Brown was out. Brown returned 15 kicks (so few because, well, our defense didn’t let many folks score) for an average of 31.9 yards and the big touchdown run against Wyoming. He also returned a big one against OU and should’ve had another against BYU. He ended up being named an honorable mention MWC kick return man. TCU was second in the nation in overall kick return average with 27.0

Special Teams Coverage – Against the punt, TCU only allowed 7.7 yards per return; against the kick, 19.0. The Frogs allowed one TD on a punt block return.

Boise State – Kyle Brotzman, Jeremy Avery, Doug Martin, Kyle Wilson

That's a horse kicking a field goal because that's what I imagine it to be.

Kicking – All WAC second teamer Kyle Brotzman is the do-it-all special teamsman for the Broncos, taking care of punts, kickoffs and place kicking duties. Perhaps we should find ourselves one of those and free up two scholarships? In all reality though, maybe they should’ve looked elsewhere for a place kicker, as Brotzman was only 16-22 on the season, with all of his misses falling between 30-50 yards. Fortunately for Boise, this did not cost them any games, but in a game like tomorrow, it really may come down to Brotzman or Evans sealing the deal. Unlike Evans, however, Brotzman understands how to put easy points on the board and went 49-49 on his PATs. He also had a long FG of 51 yards and had one blocked.

Kickoffs – Brotzman had 84 kickoffs for a 64.1 yards average with 13 touchbacks and only two going out of bounds. Watch and learn, Combs.

Punting – Again, Brotzman took care of the punting duties, ending up with a 45.5 yard average, including a booming long of 75, four touchbacks, one fair catch and 13 inside the 20.

Kick Returns – It looks like Jeremy Avery and Doug Martin were pretty evenly split on taking kick returns. Avery led the team with 7 returns for an average of 28.4 yards and Martin had 10 returns for 21.2. Ian Johnson handled duties three different times for a 24.7 yard average. None of their return men had a touchdown. Like the Frogs, though, their defense kept opposing offenses out of the end zone so they had few opportunities.

Punt Returns – Kyle Wilson really shined in the punt return position, fielding 32 punts for an average of 14.7 yards and three TDs.

Special Teams Coverage - Against the punt, Boise only allowed 5.5 yards per return; against the kick, 19.4. They gave up no touchdowns on special teams.

Overall – As I mentioned, I am no special teams guru by any means, so I am going to just match all of the units up side by side and make a mostly unbiased pick.

Kicking – FGs are a push, but Boise wins the PAT comparison. Therefore, Boise

Kickoffs – I don’t even need to look at the stats, Boise.

Punting – Brotzman had the bigger leg, but Kelton was more accurate in pinning opponents deep. I’m calling a push.

Kick Returns – Hard to call. Boise has more weapons, but none were able to take it to the house. Hodge isn’t going to scare anyone with his returns, but AB is better than anyone on Boise at returning kicks. I’ll go with the Frogs

Punt Returns – Kerley may be first team all conference, but he’s still young and has a ways to improve. Wilson is a threat every single time he touches the ball. Boise.

Tally – TCU 1.5, Boise 3.5

Edge – Boise.

Poinsettia Bowl Preview: Defensive Backs

Every day this week I will preview a different aspect of both teams and then give my prediction on who has the edge. Today I will be looking at the Defensive Backs for both squads

I am now realizing that A) I’m not good with names of opposing players I am unfamiliar with and B) I’m one day short on getting in all of the previews, so there will either be a special teams preview this afternoon or tomorrow morning, immediately followed by an overall. This is also code for “These last two will probably be even more half assed than the ones preceding them.” Regardless, I’ve mentally checked myself out of this entire week for the game and Christmas, so I don’t plan on work interfering.

Today we’ll take a look at the defensive backs for both teams, an area that is strong on both sides and actually might be the most talented group of players on the Boise defense. Is it enough to put them over the top of the Frogs? Let’s get to it.

TCU – Nick Sanders, Steven Coleman, T.J. Johnson, Stephen Hodge and Raphael Priest.

Stephen Hodge: Pre-Body Slam

With two three year starting juniors at corner and two of the three safeties being seniors, this is the most experienced secondary TCU has had in many years. Un-coincidentally, it is also one of the best, good for 9th in the country in total passing yards allowed with 166.4. All told, these guys had 7 interceptions, one of which was good for a TD, 221 tackles, 4 sacks, broke up 43 passes and deflected 50 others. They also forced one fumble. Other than the first half of the OU game and one drive against Utah, these guys were unstoppable.

Senior Strong Safety Stephen (alliteration much?) Hodge, he of the all MWC first team, was third on the team in tackles with 70, and also had 2 sacks, 7 tackles for loss and 2 forced fumbles. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Hodge, watch him for an entire series, or at least on special team. That guy flies down the field like a bullet and is arguably the most aggressive tackler that I have ever seen. He doesn’t just knock you to the ground – he picks you up and body slams you to the ground, crushing your soul and will to get back out on the field in the process. His name hasn’t been mentioned very often this year, overshadowed by the likes of Jason Phillips and Jerry Hughes, but this guy has come up huge in every single game that we’ve played this year. Look for him to have a strong impact against the Broncos.

Fellow safeties senior Steven Coleman, All MWC second team, and sophomore TJ Johnson have also done their part to make this defense so special. Coleman was 7th on the team with 42 tackles, and also had 3 interceptions, including the HUGE one against Stanford, and one for a TD. All of these came in the first three games, but don’t take this to mean his productivity dropped off. Take it to mean that teams are smart enough to realize that when a guy is going to pick off every off target ball that comes his way, they stop throwing at him. He also recovered a fumble and had a tackle for loss. Coleman also placed second on the team with 13 passes defensed. For his part, Johnson was eighth on the team with 41 tackles, four for a loss and a sack, and forced a fumble. He was second on the team with 10 pass breakups. Getting this guy back for the next two seasons is going to be huge. Look for him to be a serious mentor for the two outstanding D backs we have signed on for next year.

At the corners are Nick Sanders and Rafael Priest, two guys who have played huge roles for the Frogs ever since their freshman year and who will both be back in the fold next year. These guys have struggled at times but have really grown into their roles as their careers have progressed and will be one of the better combinations in the country next season. Sanders, an honorable mention all MWC selection, finished the season as the sixth leading tackler on the team with 44, as well as the team leader in both pass breakups and deflections with 11 and 13, respectively. Sanders also recorded a sack, two tackles for loss, forced a fumble and had two interceptions. Even more, Sanders filled in at the punt return slot with Kerley out for the latter part of the season and did a very fine job. Rafael Priest, who was an all MWC second team pick, while not imposing physically, is a gifted back with great instincts and isn’t afraid to go up against any receiver in the country. He had 11 pass break ups and 10 deflections to go along with an interception. TCU only gave up 8 TDs passing, but seeing as how we were currently nursing multiple touchdown leads at the end of the games with our backups, few can be attributed to beating Sanders or Priest.

Boise State – Jeron Johnson, George Iloka, Ellis Powers (get it right this time?), Brandyn Thompson and Kyle Wilson.

While all of the hype has and will typically be focused on the Boise offense, GP would be the first to tell you that this year’s Boise defense is one of the best ever for the school, and the defensive backfield has been outstanding. While their overall numbers don’t compare to those of TCU (they are 37th in the country, allowing around 190 yards per game), they fell into the same trap as TCU where they were typically nursing multiple TD leads with backups late in games. Regardless, these guys have a great eye for the ball and totaled 15 interceptions between them and were 6th overall in the category team wise. They also broke up 27 passes, had 25.5 tackles for loss and forced a fumble. With only one senior starting, WAC offensive coordinators will be terrified of this unit in the next couple of years.

Starting at safety are sophomores Jeron Johnson and senior Ellis Powers, both all WAC selections with Powers getting a first team nod and Johnson getting a second. Johnson led the entire team in tackles with 84 total, including three for a loss, which is a testament to how often those WAC offenses fling the ball around. Johnson also had 2 interceptions and recovered three fumbles. Like Priest, Johnson isn’t a huge guy, but he knows how to use what he has and was second on the team with 6 pass break ups. Powers, who is listed as a linebacker on the all WAC team but it has been brought to my attention that he’s more in the mold of Stephen Hodge as a nickel back, looks to be a bruiser on the defense. He was second on the team in tackles with 71, which included an impressive 8 for losses and had 2.5 sacks and an interception. He also recovered 2 fumbles and forced another. The lone senior in the secondary, Powers will surely have a thing or two to say when TCU decides to run or pass to his side.

Also at safety is true freshman George Iloka, a Texas product who was actually lightly recruited by TCU before deciding on Boise. Think he might want to prove Patterson’s staff wrong for passing on him? He finished fourth on the team with 56 tackles and had an astounding four interceptions. A freshman All American, Iloka was so impressive that Boise actually changed their defensive scheme to accommodate him with 3 safety sets. At 6’3, 220, this guy has the potential to be playing on Sundays.

At the corners are sophomore Brandyn Thompson and junior Kyle Wilson. Thompson was sixth on the team with 53 tackles, including 5 for losses and also had 4 interceptions. Wilson, a first team all MWC selection, led the team with a whopping 5 interceptions and 10 pass break ups. There’s a lot more I could say about these two guys, but it’s close to lunch time, and I’m hungry.

Overall – TCU has a great pass rush, which takes a lot of the pressure off the secondary as far as making the big play. However, when called upon, they’ve been up to the task, only surrendering 8 passing TDs all season. Boise has given up more yards per game, but has also only allowed 8 passing TDs. Their 15 interceptions speak for themselves. The pundits are calling this Boise defense the best since the 2000 Horned Frogs, and there’s very little reason to believe that they aren’t. As a unit, the two teams are fairly evenly matched. Individually, though, I think Boise would take the prize. However, here are a few factors to consider:

  • Boise’s passing offense > TCU’s passing offense. Moore is a better QB than Dalton and, the more I look at it, the WR match is a push. Therefore, they will throw the ball Mo(o)re.
  • TCU’s run offense > Boise’s run defense. TCU will use this match up to attempt to ram the ball down Boise’s throat to start the game. This will set the tone for how we call plays the rest of the game. If we do well on the ground, Boise’s secondary will not be tested with frequency.
  • TCU’s run defense > Boise’s run offense. Based on this, and on the passing matchup, Boise will be throwing the ball far more than they will be running it, giving our secondary more opportunities to slip up.
  • Boise’s pass defense > TCU’s pass offense. Dalton will not be able to slice these guys up like he has the likes of Wyoming and SMU.
  • Boise’s chip on shoulder > TCU’s lack of chip on shoulder. This Boise defense has been overshadowed all year by their prolific offense while TCU’s defense has put up all year, like they do every year. These guys have something to prove.

Therefore, I give Boise the edge in the secondary match up.

Edge – Boise State.

Morning Dump

TCU linebacker out because of academics Star-Telegram

TCU's Hughes as emerged as one of college football's premier defensive linemen Idaho Statesman

Game day nears for Frog's in San Diego

Tomorrow's Opponent

Boise State defense being overlooked by pundits Idaho Statesman

Boise State's gamble on Iloke paying early dividends Idaho Statesman

Good gadget! Broncos at work San Diego Union-Tribune

Boise St.-TCU preview