Respected BYU Religious Figure, Tom Cruise.
The first thing that came to my mind when thinking about this week's game against BYU was: Didn't this team used to be a MAJOR thorn in our sides? I guess it was because, at the time, we hadn't reached the heights we have now, so we knew our season would always come down to the games against BYU and Utah, but remember how much we used to dread playing BYU? Remember in 2008 when we played them at home on a Thursday night, just how LONG that day was and the absolute frenzy of rage and fear you whipped yourself into over the course of the working day? I can still VIVIDLY remember drinking Provo dry - not as big of a feat as it sounds - two years ago to calm my nerves, although the fact that Gameday chose that as their weekly destination seems a DISTANT memory considering what followed. It's funny what three years and a 101-17 discrepancy in points will do to a supposed "rivalry."
Yes, TCU and BYU have taken two fairly different trajectories ever since "The Quest" was extinguished in October of 2008. While the Frogs went on that year to post an 11-1 record that- the 1 will not be mentioned - BYU would finish 9-3 after dropping back to backs to finish the year, including a loss to Arizona in their bowl. Over the next two seasons, the Cougars would post a 17-9 record, see their biggest rival Utah get a golden ticket into the Pac 12 while they never got a sniff, and then baby their way out of the MWC by declaring their independence, being forever doomed to ESPN Friday night obscurity. Meanwhile, TCU would go on to 2 consecutive undefeated regular seasons, complete with BCS bowl berths and become one of the hottest commodities in college football resulting in not one but TWO invites to BCS Conferences. BYU may have their own network, fan numbers and magic on their side, but I think it's pretty clear who the overall winner in this "rivalry" is. At least they won the war for abstinence, I guess.
It's possible this will be the last time the two teams meet for some time and, wouldn't you know it, the series is tied at 5 wins a piece. Losing Friday night isn't the end of the world, but it sure would be nice to hold those bragging rights as we head to the higher ground of the Big 12.
As for the game itself, well, let's have a looksie:
When BYU has the Ball. Just to clear the air here, the BYU we saw the first month of the season is ENTIRELY different than the one we'll see this evening, and that's for one main reason: QB Riley Nelson has obliterated those stars Rivals gave Jake Heaps coming out of high school. After taking the reins from Heaps in week 5 against Utah State, Nelson has racked up 795 yards, 11 TDs vs. 3 INTs and a 4-0 record. Not one to be one dimensional, Nelson also has rushed an average of 10 times a game for over 60 yards. You might find it surprising, but in just 4 games of serious action, Nelson is the team's second leading rusher. Remember the days of Max Hall sitting in the backfield just waiting to take his punishment from Jerry Hughes and Wayne Daniels? Yeah, it's safe to say those days are gone. Not that BYU is all of a sudden the Oregon Ducks, but it's obvious that Nelson gives the Cougars a two dimensional threat under center that they've lacked ever since... well... forever. A fun stat? Ever since BYU has handed control over to Nelson, the team has had ZERO three and outs and only 2 punts. Yikes. If you look at the overall numbers, the Cougars are decidedly middle of the pack on offense, but things have improved dramatically since Nelson took over. It's safe to say BYU will put up more than 3 points and 147 yards as they did last season with Heaps taking snaps.
So when we think of BYU, we typically think of a big, bruising Samoan running back with breaking tackles in his eye and getting kicked out of school for giving into the most basic of human instincts in his heart. Well, like the QB situation, this has changed as well, although you'll remember the diminutive JJ Di Luigi from years past. The Senior hasn't touched his numbers from last year, only gaining 346 yards from scrimmage with 3 TDs. However, with the emergence of Nelson and a more balanced attack as opposed to their typical air raid style, he hasn't had to.
Speaking of that air raid - it still works when necessary, led by Sophomore Cody Hoffman and Freshman Ross Apo. Both guys have 4 TD grabs a piece and have combined for nearly 800 reception yards. Overall seven BYU receivers have a reception of 20 yards or more. Other players to watch out for are Running Backs Josh Quezada and Michael Alissa as well as receiver McKay Jacobson.
Much like the Cougars offense, the TCU Defense has been a tale of two seasons as well. After being mostly pitiful in games 1-5, the D has really stepped up these past two weeks culminating in last week's shut out against the VASTLY UNDERRATED New Mexico Lobos - right guys? The team has managed to drop their points against ranking to 34th in the nation at 21 points per contest and despite opposing teams averaging 223 yards per game through the air, have only given up 227 in the past 2 weeks combined. Some suggest its the insertion of Devin Johnson into the lineup and, while I'm not naive enough to think it was really that easy all along, he certainly has added a bit of a spark. It also helps that Jason Verrett has become the most consistent member of our secondary since week one, Tank Carder has a pulse and we've found a better consistency across the defensive line. Against a beefy BYU offensive line, same as it ever was, Maponga, Forrest, Burns, Yendrey and co. are going to be uber important in keeping this one under control. Broughton will have to continue performing off the bench as well.
This is a hard matchup to pick because, if I'm giving the Cougars the benefit of the doubt and only focusing on their offense under Nelson, I should do the same and ignore everything the TCU defense did before the SDSU game. This seems pretty fair because we've both played relatively weak schedules in the timeline selected. Riley Nelson is no Robert Griffin, and he might not even be a JJ McDermott, but he's been very, very solid, although this will certainly be his biggest test as a starter this season. He possesses speed our defense have not been used to seeing out of BYU, but the past couple of games our defense has really been swarming to the ball and I wouldn't expect him to get loose too often. Given, Griffin was burning us through the air so much he didn't need to risk running, but when he did the results weren't positive - 10 rushes for 38 yards - and he almost cost his team the game with that fumble. I don't see Nelson getting near his average and I think we do a decent job of keeping him in the pocket.
However, as great as that sounds, do we really trust our secondary to come up with big plays when it matters? The Cougars are only averaging 232 passing yards per game - and its actually less than that with Nelson - which is right about our average. However, he's accurate to the tune of 64% and doesn't get silly with the ball as evidenced by only having 3 picks. Our defense has stepped up, but have they stepped up enough? I guess we'll find out Friday, but until then, the jury is still out.
Edge - BYU, but only slightly.
When the Frogs have the Ball. Now for more positive chatter - the TCU offense was absolutely on FIRE last week and has been for the most part all season. It looks like we've found a perfect balance between Wesley, Waymon and Tucker and the Matt Brown/Casey Pachall switch off has worked nicely as well. I don't care who it is against - when you score a school record 69 points and your stud receiver has 1 catch for 24 yards that wasn't a TD, you're loaded. In fact, do I really even need to regurgitate stats for you without framing them in the context of this game?
As a whole, BYU possesses the 31st ranked scoring defense in the country at 21.5 points for game, slightly better than TCU at 21.9. The Cougars are stacked right underneath the Frogs in rushing defense, giving up a mirror image 123 yards per game and aren't much better against the pass at 217. In other words, we're sort of facing ourselves here. The main differences are BYU's 11 interceptions against TCU's paltry 5 and the way opposing teams score TD against them. Clearly we're more susceptible to giving them up through the air, which the numbers reflect - 3 ground, 15 air - while BYU trends opposite, having given up 11 scores on the ground and only 5 through the air. I guess you could say that plays to the strengths of our 18th ranked rushing unit. With our offensive line jelling, as well as the addition of James Dunbar, we're catching the Cougars at a favorable time.
I really see no reason why running the ball shouldn't be the gameplan here. The Cougars secondary is very opportunistic against the pass - only 9 teams have more picks in the NCAA - and while Pachall has protected the ball well, this might not be a very good time to test his mettle. Running the ball plays to our strengths, plays against theirs and has the added bonus of keeping the dangerous Nelson off the field. Then again, going back thru past box scores, with the exception of last year our approach has been pretty much the opposite with out receivers running wild in the Cougars Big Ten speed secondary. So what the heck do I know? Honestly though, if we can get the ground game going just enough, we'll be set up nicely for a win.
Edge - Frogs.
Special Teams. It's a lot more even than you would think. BYU averages 9.4 yards per punt return; TCU 9.5. BYU has returned one kick for a score; TCU has returned 2. TCU is 9/12 on FGs; BYU is 10/14. BYU wins the PAT battle. TCU wins the special teams coverage battles, both in kicks and punts. However, a big difference is TCU's average kick return numbers of 27.8 versus BYUs 22. It's a hard one to call, but the return tandem of McCoy and Waymon, plus our superior coverage team makes me lean towards the good guys.
Edge - Frogs, but only slightly.
Conclusions. Well, the Rangers certainly didn't do our attendance figures any favors. I personally blame Michael Young and Neftali. For those of you on the fence about your attendance, I would personally suggest giving reality a hard look in the face about what transpired last night: The Rangers were one strike away from winning the World Series. TWICE. Josh Hamilton hit his only post season home run. The Cardinals had three of the most inexplicable errors I've ever witnessed in a game of that magnitude. Albert Pujols was mostly quiet, even when he was pitched to. Beltre and Cruz hit back to back bombs that were insane nut punches. Ron survived the decision to allow Colby Lewis to bat with the bases loaded and 2 outs. AND THEY STILL LOST. Between that, the Cruz injury, the fact that Young will be a nightmare headcase after his night in the field and the way Ron pretty much threw in the towel in the 11th by bringing in Mark Lowe, making it pretty clear he was playing for Game 7. Well, let's just say all of those things likely trump the whole, "haven't lost back to back games in months" mojo. I'm not guaranteeing a Rangers loss; I'm just saying, you're likely not going to regret the decision to skip watching the game in lieu of going to Jerry World.
Sorry for the detour - tonight's game. I'll be honest, I really have no idea what to expect other than I think it will be closer than the experts predict. BYU is much better than in years past, but they haven't really been tested this year. Do wins against San Jose State, Idaho State, Oregon State and Utah State really tell us what we need to know about Riley Nelson? Our defense may not be up to the usual standard, but they've improved and I don't think BYU is speedy enough to truly exploit our deficiencies. As for the J World factor, The Frogs looked a little rusty last year against Oregon State but pulled out a win. The Cougars had one of the marquee victories in the history of their program when they ended Sam Bradford's OU career and National title hopes. Seriously, I think there are still shards from Bradford's shoulder buried in the turf. However, I think this one looks a lot more like our game than theirs. I think BYU loads the box to make Pachall beat them with his arm. He will.
The Pick: TCU 30, BYU 21.
As you can see, I think it looks a LOT like last year's game.
Discussion Question: BYU was founded by a man, Brigham Young, who was a very visible polygamist, notching wives to his belt by the dozen. Men like Warren Jeffs have publicly founded baby raping convents in the name of Mormonism for years and years. But BYU kicks a player off of their football team and another off their basketball team in back to back years for having monogamous, consensual sex with another human being? Ironic, or hypocritical?