Thankfully, after getting demolished last week by Georgia Tech, the Hoos can rest easy this week. Their opponent this week plays in the Mountain West Conference, hardly a hotbed of football powerhouses. What's that you say? TCU left the Mountain West for the Big East? No big deal, the Big East sucks too. What's that you say? TCU left the Big East also? Without ever playing a single game in the Big East? And now they are in the Big 12? Damn, we're in trouble.
All joking aside, TCU has been one of the best and most consistent teams in the country for the past 7 years, winning at least 11 games 6 times. Their defense is annually one of the best in the nation and their offense has been scary with QBs like Andy Dalton (now on the Cincinnatti Bengals) and current QB Casey Pachall. Over the past 5 years, their defense has been ranked #1 in the nation 3 times and their offense has been in the top top 20 twice.
This year, TCU is 2-0, with wins over Grambling and Kansas. They've outscored those two opponents by a combined score of 76-6 and they've averaged over 500 yards of offense and given up just 225 yards per game.
All of that is just several different ways of saying that TCU is very good, and we've got our hands full this week. The line in this game is TCU by 17.5. Let's take a look at the matchup.
Virginia on Offense
The Hoos have struggled thus far offensively, largely because of problems on the OL. The rushing game is ranked 107th in the nation, with just over 100 yards per game. The passing offense, however, is ranked 33rd in the nation, at nearly 275 yards per game. Total offense ranks 79th. Across the line, the Hoos will be facing the #7 defense in the country. TCU's defense is ranked #10 against the run and #17 against the pass. Their schedule hasn't been very difficult, facing a I-AA team and then a Kansas team which has won 5 games over the past 2 seasons. Regardless, they are good. Last year's Horned Frog's defense ranked 32nd nationally. Suffice it to say that it seems unlikely that the Hoos' offensive struggles will end this week. (All ranks are courtesy of ncaa.org.)
The Horned Frogs play a 4-2-5 defense that includes an extra safety who will move up and back depending on the situation. This defense is similar to what Richmond played, although obviously more talented. The star of the defense is junior DE Stansly Maponga. Maponga, last year, had 9 sacks, 13.5 TFLs and 5 forced fumbles. Maponga is 6'2" and 265, with outstanding quickness off the edge. He plays mostly on the left side of the defense, so Morgan Moses is going to have to get his act together. We will likely see a TE on the right side of the OL giving Moses some help on most plays.
The DE opposite Maponga is true freshman Devonte Fields. Fields is in because expected starter Ross Forrest is out for the season with a knee injury. Fields is very talented and leads the team with 3.5 TFLs and 1.5 sacks thus far. That said, he hasn't had to face a LT like Oday Aboushi yet. I think Aboushi can handle Fields.
The DTs for the Horned Frogs defense are sophomore David Johnson and redshirt freshman Davion Pierson. Johnson played in every game last year as a redshirt freshman, starting 7, and contributed 3 sacks and 7 TFLs. Pierson has 2 TFLs and .5 sacks this far this year. We will also see sophomore Chucky Hunter get snaps at DT. Johnson and Pierson can play, but TCU really does miss D.J. Yendrey in the middle of the defense. (Yendrey, along with S Devin Johnson, LB Tanner Brock and OL Ty Horn, were kicked off the team after being charged with dealing drugs to undercover police officers.)
Senior strong-side LB Kenny Cain led the Horned Frogs in tackles last year, despite missing 2 games. Cain is only 6'2" and 225 pounds but he flies around the field and is a sure tackler. TCU lost 2 time MWC defensive player of the year MLB Tank Carder to graduation (he is now on the Bills), and have replaced him with sophomore Joel Hasley. Hasley leads the team with 17 tackles thus far (12 of those tackles came last week against Kansas), but he isn't yet the force that Carder was. By playing in a full-time nickel defense, TCU doesn't have a 3rd LB.
Losing Carder hurt, but at least they returned their leading tackler in Kenny Cain. The secondary was not as lucky, as they lost 4 of their 5 starters from a year ago. One of those was the aforementioned S Devin Johnson. The other two safeties, Tekerrein Cuba and Johnny Fobb graduated. CB Greg McCoy was drafted by the Chicago Bears, but was released before the season. The sole returning starter in the secondary is junior CB Jason Verrett. Verrett can play though, as he finished 5th on the team with 58 tackles and had 4 passes broken up a year ago. Opposite Verrett is sophomore Kevin White, who started 3 games last year and had 18 tackles. There isn't much behind the two of them at CB, but true freshman Deante' Gray has appeared in both games this year and will play if needed. Vernett and White are both small, 5'10" and about 175 pounds, so our WRs have decent matchups.
TCU starts 3 safeties, a SS (Strong safety), a FS (free safety) and a WS (weak safety). While the WS is the new position, it is really the SS who is the extra guy. Obviously, the offensive formation and tendencies play a big role in how the TCU defense lines up, but generally speaking the WS lines up on the weak side (I know, shocking) and the FS lines up on the strong side. The SS is the guy who will step into the box to help against the rush and will often line up in the middle of the field on passing downs.
The 3 players who will start for TCU are sophomore SS Sam Carter, junior FS Elisha Olabode and sophomore WS Jonathan Anderson. Carter came to TCU as a QB, but moved to defense last year. He played in 11 games as a freshman, starting 1 and finished with 8 tackles and a one pass broken up. He is 6'1" and 220 pounds and has outstanding speed for that size. He already has 7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT and 2 passes broken up this year. He is Michael Rocco's (or Phillips Sims') primary read on most plays.
Olabode (5'10", 182) came in as a CB but moved to safety as a freshman. He played in all 13 games last season and recorded 15 tackles, broke up two passes and recovered one fumble. As a redshirt freshman, Anderson accrued 49 tackles, including 17 in one game. He also had a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, an interception and 2 passes defended. Anderson is 2nd on the team in tackles so far this season, while Olabode has 6 tackles, two passes broken up and an interception so far.
According to head coach Gary Patterson himself, TCU's defense is pretty complex. They have basically 3 different schemes running on any given play. First, the front 6/7 will be running one scheme. Then, the secondary is broken into the two different sides of the field. So, on a given play, the DL might be lined up with a weak side lean, while the LBs are sliding over to the strong side. Meanwhile the strong side DBs might be a cover-2 defense, while the weak side is in man coverage. That is just one example of dozens of possibilities. This is one reason their defense is so good, it is very difficult for the offense to read. They use pre-snap shifts and differing schemes to help combat the 4-2-5 defense's inherent weakness against the ground game.
This year, due to personnel losses, TCU is weakest in the middle of the field. Unfortunately, this doesn't bode well for us, since the middle of our OL has been awful thus far. If they can get it together, and we can get some consistent push in the middle, we may be able to move the ball on the ground, between the tackles. That probably means Kevin Parks, who is a better inside runner than Perry Jones. (This also assumes that Clifton Richardson is not going to play.) If we can do that, and make TCU's LBs and SS worry about the interior runs, we'll have more success on the outside. That is assuming that the OL can keep our QBs upright against Maponga and the TCU pass rush.
Virginia on Defense
TCU has mostly been known for its stifling defenses. Three consecutive #1 rankings will do that. Their offense has gone overlooked for a while, but that is unfortunate. Former QB Andy Dalton is now starting for the Bengals and led them to the NFL playoffs as a rookie last year. Current QB Casey Pachall was the #12 rated passer in the nation last year. TCU also had 2 RBs among the top 100 rushers in the nation last year. That helps explain their 28th ranked offense last year.
This year, Pachell leads the nation in passing efficiency, at 242.37. For comparison purposes, last year's leader was at 191, and Pachell was at 158. Pachell has completed nearly 85% of his passes for 536 yards and 5 TD with no INTs. He is basically on fire and our young secondary is going to be tested early and often. Pachall will be throwing to a very talented WR corps, led by junior Biletnikoff Award nominee Josh Boyce. Boyce (6'0" 203) had 61 receptions last year for 998 yards and 9 TDs. This year, he has 9 receptions for 168 yards and 2 TDs.
Opposite Boyce is sophomore Brandon Carter. Carter is much smaller than Boyce (5'11" 161) and his skillset is similarly different. As a true freshman a year ago, Carter had 23 receptions for 352 yards and 3 TDs. Already this season, Carter has 9 receptions for 162 yards and 3 TDs. TCU actually lists 4 starting WR, along with a TE. (Why is it that we keep facing teams that list 12 starters on offense?) The other two WRs are senior Skye Dawson and redshirt freshman LaDarius Brown. Skye (5'9" 183) was 2nd on the team in receiving last year, with 45 catches for 500 yards and 5 TDs. Brown (6'4" 220) is currently 3rd on the team with 5 catches for 70 yards. Other WRs we will likely see include sophomore Cam White, and redshirt freshman David Bush. Bush has the only TD reception that wasn't caught by Boyce or Carter.
TCU's TE is senior Corey Fuller. Fuller had just 2 catches last year, and doesn't have a single reception thus far this year. Still, he is a solid receiving threat, and will need to be accounted for. He isn't highly involved in the passing game simply because of the talent TCU has at WR. True freshman Griffin Gilbert is also a talented TE who may see some reps.
Despite all that talent at WR, TCU is still largely a running team. Because of the blowouts, the comparison isn't great, but TCU has run the ball 78 times and thrown just 47 times. They have two RBs who have All-American potential in senior Matthew Tucker and junior Waymon James. Last year, the two split carries almost evenly (along with Ed Wesley, who left the team due to academic troubles). James finished with 875 yards and 6 TDs on 121 carries and Tucker had 702 yards and 12 TDs on 123 carries (Bradley had 726 yards and 6 TDs on 120 carries). James, the leading rusher this year, with 168 yards on just 17 carries (almost 10 yards per carry), hurt his knee last week and is out for the season. This obviously means more carries for Tucker, who lacks the big play ability of James. Tucker is mostly a short yardage guy, and has 27 career TDs. Replacing James in the lineup will be either true freshman B.J. Catalon, or senior Aundre Dean, a UCLA transfer. Catalon is closer to what James is, so I expect him to get a lot of carries. Pachall is also a threat to run when plays break down, although he isn't truly a running QB.
Blocking for all this skill position talent is a very big, thought somewhat inexperienced OL. The line returns two senior starters, RG Blaiz Foltz (6'4" 310) and C James Fry (6'3" 305). The LG is 6'3" 300 lb junior Eric Tausch, who started three game at C last year. The two OTs are completely new, 6'7" 315 lb sophomore Tayo Fabuluje and 6'6" 310 lb true freshman Aviante Collins. Fabuluje and Collins are both big boys, but both lack experience. Fabuluje is a transfer from BYU, where he played defense. If we're going to be able to put any pressure on Pachall, it is likely going to be off the edges. Guys like Ausar Walcott and Eli Harold will be key here.
The first key is going to be shutting down the ground game. The loss of James is a big one, as the two combined for 164 yards on 24 carries last week against Kansas. Tucker doesn't have the same ability that James does, and his backups are untested. The run game is going to be the focus of the LBs, because the safeties are going to have to stay back to guard against the big play. Our CBs will have their hands full with the Horned Frog's WRs, especially Boyce who has a size mismatch against all of our cover guys. This likely means we'll see a lot of zone, but if we have to use blitzes to pressure Pachall, there will have to be some man coverage. This could open us up for big plays if our guys get beat. I suspect we'll see Nicholson in some man coverage with the safeties shaded to the opposite side of the field.
This TCU team may not be quite as good as they were in 2010, when they finished 13-0. But they are probably just as good as they were in 2009, when they beat us 30-14 in Charlottesville. Regardless, they are more talented, pretty much across the board than the Hoos are. Plus, this game is in Fort Worth where TCU has lost once in the past 5 years.
As 17.5 underdogs, it would be a monumental upset for us to win this game. We are not as bad as we were last week, but this game and this opponent are too much for us to turn it around.
Prediction: Horned Frogs 42, Hoos 21