Every coach and assistant spend countless hours going through cutups (isolated segments of game film related to a specific key for you greenhorns) trying to find tendencies and weaknesses in opponents that they can take advantage of. BYU's coaching staff now has access to three games to rip apart and examine with a fine tooth comb.
Having no access to their film database, I have to rely on uncut game film, stats and even a radiocast. It may not be as cerebral, but there are some rather obvious tendencies and weaknesses that, for the observant fan, reveal a major key to beating TCU.
For BYU, beating TCU means ramming the football up the gut. Powers and dives between the tackles and guards should be the motor that runs the offense. I am not saying abandon the pass or off tackle plays. What I am saying is that by establishing the power running game, all other options begin to expose themselves.
In the first quarter of Thursday night's game, Utah was able to score on their second possession through the liberal use of runs up the middle. Quinton Ganther, Brent Casteel and Brian Johnson all got into the act. As TCU began to cheat forward, Johnson was able to unload a 45-yard pass to Hernandez which set up another run down the middle by Ganther for five yards and a score. The problem is they Utah did not stick with it. Their third drive included six passes and two rushing plays and ended up with a turnover on an errant pass by Johnson.
Most coaches I have worked with are advocates of doing what works. If you score using a certain mix of plays, you keep that mix rolling until the defense stops you. Unfortunately, too many coaches try and get cute by abandoning what works to test other things. After three years with Gary Crowton BYU fans understand what I am talking about.
The Utes were again able to start the second half with a solid drive and a score through more runs up the middle. The passes were open, but it was the power runs that set everything up including the second TD.
What did not work was trying to set up a vertical passing game by running around the ends. As Ganther became fatigued, and the run selection began to move more and more away from the middle, TCU was able to shut them down and dare Johnson to pass.
Oklahoma had problems trying to control the field with subpar Quarterbacks. Neither Thompson or Bomar were accurate and they both struggled directing their team on the field. This was a one man game, and Adrian Peterson had better success running the ball up the middle to set up other plays than when he tried to go outside. Peterson however is not a powerback, but a finesse runner who would rather beat you on the corner than bowl his way down the middle. Given the poor QB performance, TCU was able to take away the run without fear of getting burned.
Enter SMU. SMU rushed for 180 yards. 164 of those yards were up the middle. Both of the Mustangs offensive touchdowns were generated on the power running game. Their first score was set up like this:
1st-10, SMU23 rush up the middle for 1 yard gain
2nd-9, SMU24 rush up the middle for 8 yard gain
3rd-1, SMU32 rush up the middle for 4 yard gain
1st-10, SMU36 rush up the middle for 12 yard gain
1st-10, SMU48 rush up the middle for 1 yard gain
2nd-9, SMU49 rush to the right for 4 yard gain
3rd-5, TCU47 pass to the left for 11 yard gain
1st-10, TCU36 rush up the middle for 1 yard gain
2nd-9, TCU35 rush up the middle for 13 yard gain
1st-10, TCU22 rush up the middle for no gain
2nd-10, TCU22 pass to the right for 22 yard touchdown.
The interesting thing is that in their first five series they tried using the pass to set up the run. Only when they reversed to a power running game did they start having success at running and throwing it.
SMU's second offensive touchdown looked liked this:
1st-10, SMU20 rush up the middle for 2 yard gain
2nd-8, SMU22 incomplete pass to the left
3rd-8, SMU22 8 pass to the right for 9 yard gain
1st-10, SMU31 rush up the middle for 1 yard gain
2nd-9, SMU32 incomplete pass down the middle
3rd-9, SMU32 incomplete pass down the middle
4th-9, SMU32 TCU committed 15 yard penalty
1st-10, SMU47 rush up the middle for 9 yard gain
2nd-1, TCU44 rush up the middle for 11 yard gain
1st-10, TCU33 pass to the right for 19 yard gain
1st-10, TCU14 rush up the middle for 5 yard gain
2nd-5, TCU9 rush up the middle for 9 yard touchdown.
On the surface it looks pretty simple to see where BYU needs to establish their attack. Stats however can be tricky since each team brings with them their own quirks and idiosyncrasies that can make opponents soar or struggle.
Taking an even closer look at TCU there are issues at DT and NT that are not at first glance that obvious. Ranoris Ray is the Horned Frogs best D-line player without a doubt. A Lombardi Award candidate, the senior has the most experience. Shoring up the NT position is Dartmouth transfer Jared Kesler. TCU starts two sophomores at the ends who have beaten out incumbent juniors and seniors. Behind this starting line exposes a big gap in talent and experience.
If you are in a commanding lead I can understand putting in your scrubs for valuable experience, but when freshmen D-line players like Jones and Vess are in to give the starters and backups a rest in the first half when the outcome is undecided, you know that you have issues with both conditioning and depth.
If that were the only issue, ways are available to shore up the lack of depth by utilizing the linebacking corp. The problem with that is that TCU's starting linebackers consist of two sophomores and a red-shirt freshman. At the strong side spot the backup is also a red-shirt freshman. Even the strong and weak side safeties are sophomores. The only area of the secondary that has solid experience and backups is at cornerback and free safety. Given the results of holding their opponents to an average of 113 yards per game passing it is clear that using the run to set up the pass is key.
BYU has the talent and experience to run on the Horned Frogs. Oklahoma was limited to Peterson, and Utah with Ganther. BYU sports two veteran backs both capable of having 100 yard days.
If the BYU coaches are thinking the same way, look for Beck to have a respectable outing with over 200 yards passing while Brown and Tahi wear the TCU defense out grinding it up the middle. BYU's O-line is outstanding, and will open up the holes. Watkins will find himself at times all alone which will provide Beck several deep strike opportunities during the game.
Hey, I might be way off here, and of course the coaches have access to parsed data in a way that shows a heck of a lot more than I have access to, but call it a gut feeling. Brown and Tahi are going to have huge days this Saturday in Provo.