The Bears and Horn Frogs battle on the field this Saturday, looking to break a ridiculous 50-50-7 tie in their all-time record. Think about that for a second. These teams have met 107 times, and yet have the same # of wins in their all-time series, which dates back to 1899. This is the THIRD century these teams have played. Again, ridiculous.
So, what parts of the game will dictate who gets the edge in all-time record again between these two long-time rivals, and what does your humble commentator think will happen? Find out below as we get you ready for the game this Saturday, in the final part of our preview series.
KEYS TO THE GAME
· Get ahead quick, and keep it coming – The Baylor offense at times, has seemed to lose focus at times, especially in the first halves of games this year. Against SMU, the Bears scored on their first two possessions to get ahead 14-0. However, they would not score any points on their next three possessions allowing the Mustangs to maintain a glimmer of hope. Baylor can't do that against a better TCU team. Art Briles likes to get the ball first, so it is imperative that the Bears go down the field and get a touchdown to start the game. Score quick, score often, and just keep the pressure on a possibly reeling TCU squad.
· Contain Devonte Fields – There is one standout player on the defensive side of the ball for both teams that should garner as much credit and praise as anyone on the offensive side of the ball, and that is true freshman Devonte Fields for TCU. The kid has been absolutely special so far this year, and will be a big challenge for the Baylor tackles.
With Fields lining up primarily as the right defensive end, Spencer Drango will get the bulk of the responsibility for containing Fields. The redshirt freshman has gotten off to a fabulous start as well, manning one of the toughest positions in football, but this will be a completely different test for him. Fields is more like a linebacker in terms of speed and agility, but has good enough size at 6-4 and 240 pounds. Will the Bears be able to block Fields with just Drango or will they have to keep a tight end or running back in to help stop the star player?
· Hold them up and strip the ball – TCU has had issues putting the ball on the field all season, fumbling the ball 2.8 times per game through their first 5 games. The worst part about it though is the incredible misfortune they have had so far, in that they have lost 10 of those 14 fumbles this year, a ridiculously high rate. Even worse than that though is that the fumbles have usually been in the opponent's red-zone, costing the Horned Frogs points.
Against Kansas, a close win that should have been much easier, the Horned Frogs had 3 fumbles lost in Kansas territory (KU 35, KU 1, KU 7). Those last two cost the Horned Frogs at least a field goal attempt, but more than likely they cost them a touchdown. Against SMU, they had 3 more fumbles with two more coming in SMU territory on possible scoring drives, but one coming deep near their own end zone that allowed SMU to get the ball first and goal at the 1 yard line. The TCU defense would stop the Mustangs and not allow any points, but the mistake gave the Mustangs an excellent chance at turning that game into a 1-possession game. Down 24-10, an easy one-yard touchdown early in the 4th quarter changes the entire complexion of the contest.
Baylor has to keep the TCU ball carriers up and try and strip the ball. TCU will put it on the field; Baylor just has to hope that the Horned Frogs' bad luck continues for at least one more game.
· Make Boykin uncomfortable – Boykin is just a redshirt-freshman with one career start under his belt as he comes to Waco for his first appearance in a big-time road game. While Baylor has never been known for a great atmosphere on game-day, it will still be more than anything he has seen in his young career, especially with all of the pressure on him to perform and win a big rivalry game for his squad. That pressure can sometimes makes heroes, but more often than not, it can break you, especially when you are younger.
Baylor has struggled all season to get any kind of a consistent pass rush, but the TCU offensive line is not as good as the one we saw in West Virginia 2 weeks ago. They have shuffled players in and out and are still trying to find a unit that meshes well together. Baylor has to be more imaginative with their blitzes, and possible their personnel. Look for some quicker blitzes from Phil Bennett and his defensive staff, as they try and confuse the young starter with different looks.
· Make them work for their scores – In the game last year; one area that might have been forgotten is the terrible special teams play from the Bears. Last year, led by departed senior Greg McCoy, the Horned Frogs tore through the Bears kickoff coverage unit, averaging over 32 yards per return. On the first kickoff of the game for Baylor, right after they went up 7-0, McCoy ran the ball back 72 yards and put TCU in excellent position to answer.
After the Bears scored again to go up 14-13, McCoy ran the ball back 68 yards to the Baylor 22 yard line. Early in the fourth quarter, Skye Dawson returned a Spencer Roth punt for 30 yards to get the ball to the Baylor 27 yard. Baylor cannot allow big returns to the very dangerous Dawson, who has taken over as the main kick returner this year for McCoy. Dawson has 6 returns so far this year, and is averaging over 30 yards per chance. Baylor has to make sure they kick it deep or away from Dawson, or he will make them pay.
· Beat their Man-to-Man coverage – Because it is a rivalry game, I will give you an extra key, how about that? Gary Patterson is a great defensive mind, but one thing that he has not proven to be is flexible. He loves putting his corners on an island and giving very little safety help over the top. He trusts his corners and asks them to beat their man, giving him more blitzing options, and better run defense with his safeties more focused on the run.
This works great, if you are not playing a team with multiple wide receivers that can beat their man. Fortunately for the Bears, Baylor has several receivers that are excellent against man coverage and their eyes light up when they see no safety help.
Patterson also sticks to his base defense quite a bit, and sometimes that leads to a safety or even linebacker on an inside receiver. If that receiver is Tevin Reese, one of the faster Bears with pads on, that is a win for Baylor, even if a safety is over the top. Reese, Terrance Williams, and Lanear Sampson all have the speed to easily beat a safety on a deep route. If TCU comes out in the defense that Patterson loves to run, Baylor should be able to stretch the field and make them pay.
Prediction – Bears win 45-35
Last year, Baylor went up big against TCU, leading 47-23 going into the fourth quarter. Baylor's offense challenged the man coverage principles that Gary Patterson swears by for long touchdowns over the top of their defense. Nick Florence does not have the deep ball abilities that Robert Griffin III showed last year, but he has still been very good at attacking defenses vertically. Baylor has scored more than 40 points in 8 straight games.
I do not think that the TCU defense will stop that streak, and Baylor will get some big turnovers to extend the game late, as Boykin presses to make a big play in the 3rd or 4th quarter. Baylor will go up 24 points, but TCU will mount another comeback to get it within 7 again, though this time, the Bears will kick a field goal to extend the lead to two possessions, rather than to win the game like last year.