Between the Big 12 invite, UT losing and the Frogs Defense of yore showing up,
I'd say we're all Milhouse.
Well that was certainly something new and different. Defensive backs breaking up passes? CHECK. Linebackers having an impact? CHECK. Defense creating turnovers and making stops? CHECK and CHECK. Just an all around impressive performance from the defense after 5 incredibly inconsistent performances. And it's a good thing, too, because the offense and special teams tried their damndest to give this thing away.
A few thoughts on the game. As always, if you want the more traditional, position by position breakdown, Jeremy Clark applies things like, "research" and "insight" over at Purple Menace, so I suggest you head there if that's your kind of thing.
- I said it before, but it's worth mentioning again: This was easily the most complete performance from our defense this season and hopefully a harbinger of things to come. I'm not betting on it, but we can have our dreams, right? But still, bravo. The Frogs held an offense that averages 415 yards per game to 296. They held an offense that scores 30.3 points per game to 14. They held Ronnie Hillman, a back who averaged 152 yards per game coming in, to 55 and no scores; he had 8 rushing TDs coming in. Just really, really impressive. And, if we're being fair, this was mostly a result of the back 7 stepping up as the defensive line was less than dominant all evening, with only DJ Yendrey contributing a sack and a tackle for loss.
- To give credit where credit is due, Johnny Fobbs and ESPECIALLY Jason Verrett earned their starting positions Saturday. Fobbs only registered three tackles on the evening, but he was arguably the strongest of our safeties and had a huge pick to swing momentum early in the game following a crushing Pachall INT in the red zone. The Frogs would subsequently drive for what would be the winning score. I'm not sure what this means for his season going forward, but you can't deny the guy needed a major confidence boost going into the bye week. But you know who I am sure about? Verrett, because he has been sharp since week 1. I had no idea that he actually quit the team following the Baylor game due to frustration, but I am glad to have him back. His late INT - the third on the night for the supposedly NFL Bound Ryan Lindley - was undoubtedly the play of the game as the Aztecs were driving into TCU territory and had unquestioned momentum. Fortunately Verrett stepped in and grabbed the errant pass, which led to a 9 play, all runs, clock mangling drive for the final score of the night for TCU. Case. CLOSED. I think we all had a pretty sour taste in our mouths after watching Robert Griffin the 4th-1th play pass skeleton against McCoy and Verrett in week one. This should officially wash that out, at least were Verrett is concerned. To be fair, Griffin has torched seemingly every defensive back lined up against him this season, so it wasn't an aberration by any means.
- Big props to Kris Gardner, too, stepping in at the last minute for the injured Kenny Cain. I'm not entirely sure what Cain's status is going forward as this is the second time his injured ankle has sidelined him, but it looks like Gardner may be able to carry the load. His INT was a play that a lot of receivers wouldn't make, leaping into the air and plucking it from the heavens - although Lindley certainly telegraphed it right to him - and he almost had a second one later in the game. But lest you think I'm too caught up with his errant pass catching skills, he was third on the team in tackles with 6, contributed on one for a loss and even had a pass breakup. Cain is the more talented of the two, but at least for one night Gardner earned his minutes.
- Of course, it wasn't all pretty on defense. For one, Tekkerin Cuba got BURNED early in the second quarter on a pass play that should've set up the score to cut the game to 10-7. But as Cuba takes away, Cuba also gives and on the VERY NEXT PLAY he smashed Ronnie Hillman, knocking the ball loose which Elisha Olabode recovered. Did anyone else's heart stop when it looked like Olabode was about to try and take the ball out, only to have his brain stop farting JUST IN TIME to lay down in the end zone? Yeesh. Also, as mentioned earlier, the defensive line didn't have a HUGE day in the stat column, but you can't talk about the absolute domination of the Aztecs running attack without giving credit to the big guys. Hillman had pretty much no holes to run through and was getting so dominated that Coach Rocky Long pulled him late in the game in favor of backup Walter Kazee. When you dominate an NFL caliber back to the point that his coach stops trusting him in a tight game, you've done something right. I take it back, pretty great night for the D Line.
- I think one of the more interesting things this season has been our performance on the road vs. at home, Baylor notwithstanding, of course. But isn't it kind of odd how our defense has played so well at Air Force and SDSU and so terrible at home? Maybe it's just the sign of a young team being influenced by all of the distractions playing in front of the home crowd. It's kind of the antithesis of what you'd expect, but it certainly appears that the lack of all non-football related distractions on the road is the cure for what ails these guys. However, seeing as how our home crowd this year has basically made it seem like we're on the road, I'm not entirely sure what to make of it. We're not going to beat Boise, but I feel a lot better about it given the location that they won't treat us like they just treated Fresno State. Perhaps Patterson needs to take the team to Oklahoma the night before home games?
- Skye Dawson, you are SO fired. Geez. Skye has been BEGGING for what happened Saturday night to go down the entire season, or at least it has appeared that way with the muffed punts all year. But man, they say when it rains it pours and it was a monsoon Saturday night. After getting creamed all night by foolishly not calling for fair catches, it finally caught up to him in the third quarter when he fumbled a punt deep in TCU territory, which was punched out and recovered by SDSU to set up their first score. This happened despite Patterson verbally assaulting him on the field right before the team went in for halftime. Skye has so much game breaking potential that I understand why the staff has put up with his gaffes to this point, but I don't see how they can justify it going forward. SDSU didn't punt the rest of the game after the fumble, but I'd be absolutely stunned if Brandon Carter isn't on that duty when UNM comes to town.
- Speaking of the whole road game thing, Antoine Hicks certainly seems to love it, having his best games against Air Force and SDSU. Did you realize he had 7 catches for 103 yards and a TD? Me either, although I'll put it down to couch fatigue after watching 13 straight hours of CFB Saturday. Just a very, very solid performance. I'll never figure out what has happened to him these past couple of seasons overall, but he looked every bit the sure handed possession guy we imagined him to be. Of course, he owes a little bit to this guy...
- Casey Pachall. No matter the up and down, Tony Romo inspired performance - 14/22 for 2 TDs but also 2 back breaking picks - you can't deny the dude's toughness. Because he was getting absolutely SMASHED most of the evening. I'm not sure you can necessarily blame the line play for all of it; A lot of the times Rocky Long was doing his best Patterson by sending rushers from the secondary or WAY off the edges, blitzes that were kind of unblockable. But MAN, I bet he spent a lot of time in the ice bath Sunday afternoon. However, even when he was getting his ribs cracked, he made two of the finest TD throws he'll ever make in his career. The second one was gutty - he stood in the pocket, got crunched and lofted a perfect pass to Josh Boyce, who was one step ahead of the secondary. But the first toss was one that even NFL QBs have a tough time making. Antoine Hicks was streaking on a seam route towards the end zone and perfectly split the safeties. However, Pachall waited just long enough for them to recover and close in on Hicks, which created about the tightest window possible to fit the ball into. I honestly thought it was broken up, the way the safeties converged on Hicks right as the ball arrived... only to watch as Hicks waltzed untouched into the end zone for a 39 yard score. In case you missed the game due to the timing or rain induced satellite issues, I HIGHLY recommend finding it on the youtubes or somewhere thereabouts. Just an absolutely perfect play. Ryan Lindley may have been the NFL caliber QB touted in this matchup, but it sure looked the other way Saturday night. Seriously, if I'm Lindley's agent I'm frantically putting in phone calls the Vince McMahon because a resurrection of the XFL may be his best shot at the next level based on Saturday, although his receivers ARE terrible. Like I said though, it didn't all go smoothly and clearly Casey needs to go back and watch the tape of his two picks because they were situations where he trusted his arm a bit TOO much. After starting hot, the offense went a little dormant in the second half almost allowing SDSU to take a lead. Fortunately the defense stepped in, but I think everyone needs to figure out what second half adjustments were made to limit our opportunities. Regardless, all along I said Pachall needed to do just enough to keep the defense honest while the ground game got rolling, and that's exactly what happened. Which leads me to...
- Ed 'Kid N Play' Wesley. I said it last week, but I'll say it again - we were FOOLISH to underestimate his impact on this ground game. Two weeks back from injury, two weeks leading the team in rushing yards, this time a 24 carry, 146 yard performance. He has looked absolutely fantastic and I see no reason why he can't continue to have these kinds of days the next few weeks given the competition. He and Matthew Tucker - 16 rushes for 69 yards and a score - are rekindling the one-two punch we saw out of them in 2009 for fantastic results. I still get incredibly grumpy every time I see Tucker attempt to jump the line of scrimmage, only to give up about 3 yards he would've had otherwise, but when given the space he runs hard and has a serious impact. 234 yards on the ground for the evening between all backs. That'll do, pig. That'll do.
I'm sure there are other things to mention - the continuing resurgence of Ross Evans, the athleticism of Josh Boyce, the lack of impact at right defensive end between two guys, FOUR turnovers... but I'll cut it off here and let us move on. It wasn't an eye opening explosion offensively, but it was exactly the kind of performance we needed on the road heading into the bye week. It's the shamiest of shames that we aren't 5-1, but 4-2 is fine and I'd say we're a lock for second place in the Conference at worst. Pretty nice to set the MWC record for consecutive wins in our final year with 19, but we're not beating Boise, so it probably ends there. This weekend should be a nice breather to bisect the season and gear up for round 2. Let's hope the momentum continues. Go Frogs.