Can the football team have a Bryan Holaday moment?
This whole playing on a Thursday/Thanksgiving night is really throwing a wrench in my typical Spitblood routine, but I figured y'all would rather have a preview to read on Wednesday than the normal Big 12 weekend preview. That can wait, if I even get to it at all. It really depends on my mood Friday. Besides, does anyone really even care what happens this weekend after our Thanksgiving game? So for now, let's just focus on Thursday and the Longhorns.
A few weeks back, it sure looked as if we were going to catch a Texas team that was on the ropes. They lost 2 in a row, one a nailbiter to West Virginia that now looks like a horrible loss. I'm pretty sure that's WVU's last win this season. The other was to OU in blowout fashion and there were rumblings about Mack Brown's job security and whether or not his team had quit on him already. A 6 point win at home against Baylor didn't do anything to calm the masses in Austin, and a last minute TD drive to beat conference-winless Kansas only stoked the fire further. It was really starting to appear as if the wheels were coming off down in Austin and the Mack Brown era might be coming to an end, but something has inspired a change in them.
I don't know if that come from behind dramatic win over lowly Kansas behind the noodle arm of Case McCoy inspired this team, but since that drive they've played their best football of the season without a doubt. They carried that momentum into Lubbock where they were underdogs for the first time in ages, and they came out winners. Not only did they win, but their defense looked better than it had all year, holding a high powered Tech team to just 22 points. The following week they returned home to completely bludgeon an outmatched Iowa State team 33-7. Texas, to say the least, is firing on all cylinders at this point.
So what happened in Austin that has made them play so much better? Are they playing for their coach who they don't want to see ride off into the sunset (I thought he would for a while, now I think he stays)? That could be part of it. The main factors though have been the emergence of the defense who was supposed to be among the conference's best, and now they are finally playing up to par. Perhaps former ESPN production assistant turned defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has decided that life in Austin is a little better than being in a video room in Bristol, CT and he doesn't want to go back there, or Starkville, MS where his previous stint was. Another factor that has given the Horns a huge boost is that their young players seem to be progressing greatly as the year has gone on. They are almost as youthful as us, and it's clearly starting to click for some of their young talent. For example, look no further than blue chip RB Johnathan Gray. He has emerged as the focal point in the UT backfield and has been hot of late. Sophomore QB David Ash is playing much better as well, amassing over 2300 yards passing with 17 TD',s and seems to have quite good chemistry with the previously enigmatic Junior WR Mike Davis. Davis seems to finally be putting it all together which is a scary thing for opposing defenses. Jason Verrett- lock him down please.
Now that I'm done slurping them for how well they've played of late, might I remind you that they are still Texas- a team that has struggled each of the past 2 years in Big 12 play and really doesn't have any skins on the wall this year that jump out at me. Yes, winning at Oklahoma State is impressive, but what's more impressive is how the replay official neglected to call the Joe Bergeron fumble on the goal line that would've cost them the win. Tech doesn't seem to be the same team they were earlier in the year, and perhaps they are a bit gassed after that 3 OT battle in Fort Worth, so that win in Lubbock is nice but not intimidating. So I guess what I'm saying is don't let the record and the recent hot streak fool you- Texas is VERY beatable.
Not surprisingly, the keys to winning this game offensively for TCU are the same as they have been since Boykin took the helm. Don't turn it over, run a balanced offense, and protect the QB. When we fail to do those three things, we fail to win football games. I could keep going down this road about how we need to keep Boykin off his back and get the ball to our playmakers in space, but I'm tired of beating that dead horse. This is probably the best defensive line we've faced this season, so it really is imperative that we keep Boykin upright in order to keep him intact. Tomorrow wouldn't be a bad time to reintroduce the screen pass into our offensive repertoire. Texas can be run on fairly easily. In their last 6 games they've given up well over 100 yards rushing in all of them, including 343 by OU, 255 by pass happy Baylor, and 234 from lowly Kansas. If Matthew Tucker and Trevone Boykin are healthy enough to run, the zone read should wear them out like it did Baylor. Keep it between the tackles, though, because we won't beat Texas going sideline to sideline in footraces.
Also, I cannot stress enough how the vanilla play calling that we've fallen into since the 2nd half of the Tech game will get us beat this week. I'm not asking for reverse passes and flea flickers (although I wouldn't mind), but if you get stuffed on the run and it's 2nd and 9, please don't empty the backfield and make it obvious to the world that we will be passing. That's how we've had so many 3rd and 16's, because the defenses pin their ears back and tee off on Boykin and the young O-Line. You have to keep the defense honest, and the empty sets will not do that. Anderson and Burns need to be reminded about every drive that our best weapons are at WR, but that doesn't mean you can send 5 of them out on every play and play into the Texas defenses strengths which are pass rushing and secondary. Run the ball, chip away at them, and then throw over their heads when they're thinking run. Creativity here is key. Also, I'll repeat, it wouldn't kill us to throw some screens to Boyce and Carter. Those are our best offensive playmakers and getting them the ball in space could be the difference in this game. The screen can be used pretty much as a running play anyways, so why not get it in the hands of the biggest difference makers we have?
I don't worry much about us on the defensive side of the ball because we've proven week after week this year that our defense can keep us in games, and Texas's offense is nowhere near the level of many we've seen so far this year. Also, Brian Harsin, the Texas offensive coordinator, has faced TCU twice before in his career while he ran the Boise State offense with Kellen Moore under center. Once was the 17-16 loss in the Poinsettia Bowl and the other was Boise's 17-10 victory in the Fiesta Bowl. Two games, 33 points. Granted there is probably more talent around Ash and the Texas offense and I'm not expecting them to be held to 17, but I don't think we will be unfamiliar with the gadget plays and offensive scheme that he brings to the table. Also, Moore>>>>>Ash.
Texas can run the ball better than most teams we've faced, but we haven't been run on at all this season. Even Collin Klein and the Wildcats struggled to do so against our defense, and I don't foresee it being a problem here. Our defensive tackles have arguably been our most underrated unit all year long, and it's tough to run up the gut on them. They will try to get wide on our defense with fly sweeps to players like track star Marquise Goodwin and former TCU commit/back stabbing punk Daje Johnson, but again, I think our defense is fast enough to not get beat to the edges. If we are able to stuff the run on first down like we should, that plays right into our strength, allowing Fields, Maponga and Co. to focus on rushing David Ash and making him uncomfortable in the pocket. The last time Ash saw a front as potent as TCU's it was at the Cotton Bowl against OU, and I'm pretty sure Texas had 2 points at halftime and it was far and away Ash's worst game of the season. Put them in obvious passing situations and players like Fields, Verrett, or Olabode will create turnovers and we can win this game.
This is where I think the key matchup of the entire game lies. Both teams have some things working in their favor here. Texas is still playing for an outside shot at splitting the Big 12 title and a BCS game. TCU plays much, much better on the road and is trying to assure another winning season under GP. Are the folks in Austin really that into a Thanksgiving matchup against not-Aggy though? It sure doesn't seem like it. There's been more talk this week about how this should be Aggy here this weekend, why are they doing a Hex Rally for TCU, making sure they get a home game every Thanksgiving, etc, etc, etc. Texas may come into this game thinking it's just another Big 12 game and it is, but if they come out flat they could be in a world of trouble. We are not the Aggies, but we're clearly no slouch either. If they play defensively like they did in Austin against Baylor or West Virginia, they will not win this game.
The last matchup I'll mention, which is the most critical one, is the coaches. Mack Brown is a fine coach. He gets great talent to come play for him and tries to surround himself with competent coordinators, and that has been his key to success since day one in Austin. Look at how many DCs he's run through, and it's not because they are getting fired. They get head coaching jobs. However, Manny Diaz doesn't seem to fit the mold and if I were a betting man, I'd say he's out of a job after their bowl game. They have a keeper in Brian Harsin at OC. He's gotten more out of David Ash than most expected this year, and has proven since his days at Boise that he's a force to be reckoned with. He'll probably be a head coach somewhere soon one day as well. TCU right now is pretty much the opposite of Texas in the coordinator department. They've got 2 offensive coaches who are struggling to find an identity, and they can be blamed on them or the fact that they're on QB2 and RB4 with a young OL. Defensively, it's still The Bumpstache and Chad Glasgow, along with new addition and certified bad ass Randy Shannon. This is probably the best coached defensive unit in the Big 12, and arguably the entire nation. So what it really comes down to here is the head coach. We all know GP is a brilliant motivator, a gutsy gameday decision maker, and a flat out winner. Mack Brown is delegator, sideline clapper, and butt slapper. I wouldn't trust him to make in game adjustments, as that most likely falls into the arms of his coordinators. Bob Stoops has out-coached Mack Brown for about 12 years straight in the Cotton Bowl every October, and I don't see why GMFP can't do the same for years to come. Having the better coach doesn't guarantee anyone a victory, but it'll keep you in every ball game and makes you feel a lot better about things than maybe you should.
The Pick: TCU 31 - Texas 23. Vegas had the 8 points right, they just had it the wrong direction. Sorry for the long-windedness of this post. I got a little excited. Go Frogs!