Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Dear Jonathan Anderson. Do THAT.
Buckle your seatbelts kids because it's the final gameday of the 2011 football season. No reason to rehash the winding avenue we took to get to this point; the bottom line is we made our bed in September and now we're finally getting to take a nice, hearty nap in it. Or, hopefully not a nap because we're talking about a game and if we took a nap in the middle of a game then we'd have a pretty hard time winning, now wouldn't we? But, that still begs the question: What team is going to show up? Is it going to be the squad that strolled into Boise, Idaho and stole a victory despite the odds being completely stacked against them? The squad without their backs against the BCS wall that played carefree football? The squad with little on the line - at that particular moment in time - with nothing to lose and everything to gain? Or it will be the over-confident, lackadaisical bunch that was taken to the woodshed by a supremely mediocre SMU team that absolutely collapsed from that moment on?
What attitude will they take? Will it be the one of, "I'm kind of ready for it to be over with," espoused by Senior leaders Tank Carder and Jeff Olson? Or will it be the one of the younger crew that has to live with the result, best expressed by Stansly Maponga on twitter this week when he said he's "ready to smash some heads in?" That's the reality of this game that might be lost on the older players. It's not so much how we finish this season, more how we begin the next one that rides on the outcome. Next year will begin the biggest, most anticipated TCU football season, I would argue, in the entire history of the program. A win tonight likely guarantees a Top 15 ranking, and I think that's a cautious estimate. The win not only gives TCU some leeway next season where the win/loss column and how it affects rankings is concerned, but gives a growing team confidence to work with as they head into the Big 12.
The 2011 Poinsettia Bowl isn't going to make anyone's Top 10, or maybe even 20, TCU games of all time, but it could go a long way in shaping how we look at some of our games next season. It's VERY important we come out fired up and ready to play after a lengthy lay off- unlike another program not to be named from our school that recently played a game in SOuthern California - because a poor outing will effect far more than our final ranking this year. It could set back the 2012 season before it even starts. I don't say this for doom and gloom, TCU is going to lose effect; I say it because it's true.
But enough of that - what about the ACTUAL game being played? If you missed our postings on the topic last week, you can check them out HERE, HERE and HERE because, for the most part, I'll be doing a lot of pilfering from those.
To begin, a frame of reference we can all relate to is TCU being a 10 point favorite in the game, down from 10.5. To the homer in us all, I think we can look at this and think, "TEN POINTS? TO A WAC TEAM? THANKS FOR THE FREE MONEY, BILL BELLAGIO!" However, at this juncture I'd like for you all to reflect back on all of those gambling related sure things that burned a hole in your pocketbook - PACKERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! - recently and begrudingly agree that 10 points is probably a pretty fair assesment when you take all things into account. On the surface, all things being equal and TCU/LT play their best game without any outside influences, TCU should win by 3 TDs. But, factoring in LT's far more advanced appreciation of the bowl destination, plus TCU potentially writing off the Bulldogs should make even the most aggressive of homers think twice before calling this a pregame blowout.
On the one hand, TCU comes into the game with a few distractions - the Antoine Hicks suspension (shouldn't matter on the field TOO much, and David Porter sounds ready to play, but he's, at the very least, a big body that takes some pressure off of Boyce), Ross Evans (apparently GP himself said Evans WILL be kicking tonight, but can we trust that headcase if the game somehow comes down to kicks?) as well as a severe lack of O Line depth with the injuries suffered late in the season.
And on the other hand? Lousiana Tech is better than we would ever want to give them credit for. Again, re-read the three posts linked above because I have no desire to completely regurgitate the facts. Just know that the Bulldogs have a very capable QB in Colby Cameron, a receiver who could start for a handful of AQ teams in Quinton Patton and... a really good punter? Ok, so I really do want to give this an honest shot before pouring on the homer juice, so just stick with me for a paragraph or two before the good stuff.
So where was I? Yes... Colby Cameron and Quinton Patton. Colby Cameron started the year on the second string but was forced into action midway through the season when starter Nick Isham was injured. The Bulldogs haven't lost a game since. Cameron offers a slighty more mobile dimension to this Bulldogs offense, which has come in real handy when you consider their mostly porous offensive line that has given up 24 sacks. We'll talk more about them in the already described "Homer juice" section.
Cameron has benefitted from Patton's presence, what with his 1135 yards receiving and 10 TDs. He could make a lot of fair QB's look good, but with someone like Cameron with actual talent, he hasn't had to force himself into overdrive too often. The passing game is how LT would prefer to beat TCU, which is a pretty sound strategy when you consider the things Baylor, SMU and Boise did to those guys this season. However, those three teams also featured a legitimate running threat, which is not one of Louisiana Tech's specialities. Cameron is a very responsible QB, having only turned the ball over via an interception twice this season. Can a Horned Frogs secondary that hasn't feasted on their opponents miscues often, picking only 9 passes in 12 games, rise to the occasion and make the Bulldogs resort to their less than exciting ground attack? Let's hope so. I don't necessarily see Cameron picking us apart the way Robert Griffin did, mostly because he doesn't have the speedy receivers. But I'd rather pick him off early, rattle his confidence and take it out of the equation.
So what happens when the Frogs have the ball? Let's just say it won't exactly be smooth sailing if the Bulldogs play to their average. For the season they only give up 22 points and 122 yards on the ground per game. They recorded 32 sacks, including 8.5 from defensive end Christian Lacey and picked off a wildly impressive 20 passes, good for third in the nation. Of those 20, five were returned for scores. Thems are pretty good numbers. They'll give up some yards - nearly 375 per game and the 31 total TDs they've given up as a defense don't rank too high - by contrast, TCU has given up 27 - but don't let that fool you. The Bulldogs are opportunistic, aggressive, and you can bet they'll be fired up to demonstrate their skills in front of a national audience.
So that we have that out of the way, is it Homer Juice time? Yeah, it's totes Homer Juice Time. Master Ralph Parker had his award winning theme in a Christmas Story, so here's mine.
WHY TCU WILL BEAT LOUISIANA TECH.
There aren't as many reasons as I want there to be, and I don't anticipate a major runaway on TCUs part, but we should win and win by double digits. The problem with bowl games is that talent almost never plays a role until late in the contest. If it was as easy as Team A is more talented than Team B so Team A will win, bowl pools would cease to exist because everyone would win. It would be like a youth soccer game. This is the only thing that worries me about tonight's game. LT will unquestionably be more excited about this game. They haven't gone to a bowl in 3 years, they come in how, having won their Conference in exciting fashion by reeling off 7 straight league games and, coming from the WAC, they have a lot more to prove. TCU, on the other hand, comes in a bit deflated and likely feels above this game having played in consecutive BCS bowl games and being on the cusp of a third. Considering the Big 12 ticket has already been punched, a lot of these guys may feel like its mission accomplished and this season is more or less a placeholder anyway.
That being said...
I can't REALLY pick against us, can I? For one, it was recently announced that Louisiana Tech starting RB Lennon Creer is out for the game after being deemed too dumb to perform. True, he didn't play in their past two games, both victories, but he's a player they fully expected to perform all year and he will be missed. If the TCU secondary is able to keep Quinton Patton in their sights, he will be violently missed. Walk on Hunter Lee is going to be expected to fill the void left by Creer's absence as he has the past couple of weeks in which he's rushed for 178 yards and 3 TDs. However, the bulk of those yards came in the season ender against New Mexico State, a team that is circling the bowl in that statistic, giving up 218 ground yards per game. Against a more talented Nevada defense, he only rushed for 30 yards and no scores. TCU is infinitely more talented up front than either of those teams, so I wouldn't expect a big night from young Hunter.
No, I fully expect this one to come down to whether or not TCU can stop the LT passing game, most notably Quinton Patton. Patton is definitely a "field stretcher" as they say; In his most prolific games he has averaged well over 20 yards per catch and averages 15 in any given game. Those numbers should be a little unsettling considering Greg McCoy's habit of getting torched deep. But, the thing with Patton is, when he has a big game it's usually the result of being protected by the ground game, notably Lennon Creer who, as we said, will not be playing. In the 4 games that Patton had 100 yards receiving this season, three of them had LT rushers putting up over 250 yards on their own. The only game where they didn't - Hawaii, which held them to 63 - the Bulldogs lost by nearly 20 points. Think GP and Bump have watched that game film a time or ten? Besides that, as I said earlier, LT has given up 24 sacks this season, the exact same number that TCU has recorded. Cameron can't throw when he's running for his life or buried in the turf. Think the front six have had that drilled into their brains for the past few weeks? Think Tank Carder and Kenny Cain, not to mention Maponga, Jonathan Anderson and Yendrey, are a LITTLE bit excited knowing their performance will directly impact the outcome of this game? I like our chances from that angle.
Where I really like our chances, though, is from the Casey Pachall perspective, because he comes at it from the opposite side. Whereas LT clearly is a "run to set up the pass" type team, Pachall rises to the occasion when the run game falters. Look at Boise. Look at SMU. By yardage, those were his two best games of the year as he combined for 777 yards and 8 TDs with 1 pick. You remember that. What you may not remember is that he only got 183 yards combined from his backs in those two games. Baylor was a similar situation as well, as was BYU, although Pachall didn't have a superior performance statistically in that one. Of course, the major elephant here is that of the four games mentioned, we lost two of them, but I think it's fair to suggest that Baylor is pretty durn good, and our defense has improved dramatically since, and we gave away SMU. LT is a far superior team to SMU, so dropped gimme passes in OT, poor officiating and fumbling kickoffs into the end zone for scores will sink us just as fast, but that's the case against almost anyone. Besides that, I don't see it happening. Casey will have to be particularly careful against that opportunistic defense, but as long an offensive line that has only given up 13 sacks all year can keep him upright, I predict a bit of a coming out party for La Manga this evening against a secondary that gives up 252 yards week in, week out.
It's true that Louisiana Tech has a top 25 ranked run defense, led by All Conference LB Adrien Cole and AC DE Matt Broha. But it's also true that TCU has a top 20 ranked rushing offense with three backs that can carve you up in a variety of ways. So... guess we'd better go to the stats. The closest teams we've played from a run yards allowed standpoint are BYU, Boise and SMU. Unironically, those have been our three worst outputs of the year on the ground, as highlighted a few paragraphs ago. Apples to oranges, the best rushing team LT has faced this year was Nevada, and they gave up 253 yards. That's a chunk, but it's right at the Wolfpack's average. Surprisingly enough, they were able to keep Nevada to 60 yards below their season average passing, so to be honest I'm not quite sure what to think about that. Louisiana Tech has a solid defensive line that, while not the biggest, uses their speed to get into the backfield and disrupt runners. Sound familiar? I don't see a huge day from any of our backs, but I think they should be capable of doing just enough to make life easier for Pachall, even without Antoine Hicks.
Of course, maybe the biggest factor in this one is, presuming TCU gets some holds, how will they respond to the poor field position Ray Guy award winning punter Ryan Allen puts them in? That will likely be one of the biggest stories of the game and Pachall better be ready to work with a long field from time to time. He's fully capable of leading a long drive, and this offense is built to do just that.
Well this has certainly be meandering, repetitive and probably not all that informative, but by this point in the season I kind of run out of investigative steam. I think LT comes out fired up early and puts the first points on the board, probably via field goal. I think it's close at halftime, and low scoring. But after a patented Gary Patterson fire and brimstone halftime speech, the game is on. Pachall passes for 275 yards and 3 TDs - 2 to Boyce, and one to spot starter David Porter, improving on his 5:2 catch to TD ratio. The ground game doesn't have an explosive day, but everyone gets their touches and Tucker bangs home a short TD. I think Evans sits on the bench the entire game outside of PATs with DeNucci handling kickoffs and the offense only relying on TDs. The Bulldogs don't touch 100 yards rushing, but Colby Cameron has a solid evening, tossing 1 TD and rushing for another. And as the moon rises over the Pacific Ocean, the Frogs leave with a comfortable victory, an 11 win season and fuel for 2012. Go Frogs.
The Pick: TCU 28, LT 17.
The plan tonight is going to be a little different. Since I will be traveling the next couple of days, a complete recap is unlikely to come... so why not write the recap as the game goes on with a little help from the commenters? Yes, I'm planning to have a good old fashioned live blog, and you guys are welcome to join in in REAL TIME. This should be fun and exciting because I presume quite a few of you will be watching it at home, thus having regular access to Spitblood. I also plan on drinking heavily throughout, so by the time the second half rolls around things should get REALLY interesting. So, barring a last minute scheduling snafu, be here for pregame around 630 and we'll take it away.
Posted by Sir Wesley Willis at Wednesday, December 21, 2011