BYU vs. TCU: The Breakdown

The Cougars take on one of their top conference foes Thursday night in Fort Worth, Texas. That of course is the home of the TCU Horned Frogs, who are aching for a chance to knock off the Cougars and reclaim the crown of the top dog in the Mountain West Conference. Here's how the game breaks down and what fans can expect come Thursday night.

Few, if any, are expecting nothing other than a very physical game, which should lead to a tight and highly competitive contest Thursday night. The Cougars have won their last two matchups against TCU, but the Horned Frogs are intent on stopping that streak and reclaiming the Mountain West Conference throne.

BYU running attack vs. TCU

TCU presents what could easily be considered to be the best rush defense the Cougars will have gone up against so far this season. To say that the Horned Frogs are very stingy against the run would be an understatement, as they've given up just 20.7 yards per game against the run all year, including a game against Big 12 powerhouse Oklahoma in which the Horned Frogs gave up just 25 yards on the ground. They lead the nation in run defense by almost a full 25 yards per game, in fact.

The Horned Frogs present a 4-2-5 defense that is very aggressive and very athletic. Making most of the tackles for TCU are a trio of seniors in linebackers Jason Phillips and Robert Henson and strong safety Stephen Hodge, who at 230 pounds plays more like a linebacker than a safety during most instances.

Up front the Horned Frogs have some good beef and athleticism at defensive tackle, while at the ends they have a couple of undersized but very athletic defensive ends in Jerry Hughes and Matt Panfil. Collectively this unit has shown to be extremely quick to the ball and hard to blow off the line, which has led to their top national ranking in defending the run.

BYU meanwhile has seen better success in run blocking this year, having put together successful run attacks against such teams as UCLA and Washington. Lately the Cougars have managed some mediocre efforts against Utah State and New Mexico, and they're certainly going to have their sternest test of the year against TCU.

Prognosis: If the Cougars are able to run for more than 100 yards, then they'll win the game. This is of course a monumental task given TCU's run defense credentials coming in. TCU is intent on taking away the run from every team they've faced this year, including Oklahoma, and don't look for that to change Thursday night.

While TCU is tough up front defensively, the Cougars aren't mere sissies along their offensive front, and they're sure to give the Horned Frog front all they can handle. It looks to be a great matchup going in with a lot of potential.

What I'll be Watching: While it's difficult to prescribe any success in the Cougar ground game around the edge, it's probable the Cougars could find some success up the middle and off tackle against TCU's front. I'd put Travis Bright, Ray Feinga and Dallas Reynolds against most interior offensive linemen in the country, and their success in lead blocking for Harvey Unga will play a big part in the final outcome of the game. I'll also be watching to see if Robert Anae attempts to let the ground game work for the offense. It may not work altogether, but it will be interesting to see if much of an attempt is made by the Cougar offensive brain trust.

BYU passing attack vs. TCU

As good as the Horned Frogs have proven to be against the run, they have shown some weakness against the pass. Against what may be the only legitimate passing offense they've gone against so far this season, TCU gave up more than 400 yards against the Sooners.

While they graduated their two standout defensive ends Chase Ortiz and Tommy Blake, the Horned Frogs can still wreak havoc with their outside pass rush. Defensive ends Jerry Hughes and Matt Panfil have recorded 11.5 sacks between them so far this season. At cornerback the Frogs are solid with juniors Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders leading the way.

The Cougar passing attack has been somewhat sputtering here of late, but they look to rebound against TCU's very aggressive pass defense, which can be susceptible to big plays and crossing routes given their lack of over-the-top coverage in their matchup zones and man coverage. Since Robert Anae arrived as BYU's offensive coordinator, the Cougars have seen a lot of production through the air against the Horned Frogs.

Prognosis: The Cougars should be able to mount a good passing attack against TCU. Should TCU hold BYU to less than 300 yards passing, then it would be hard to prescribe a Cougar victory, as this is the matchup they need to exploit. With a veteran offensive line, Max Hall should have enough time to pick apart TCU's aggressive man-coverage schemes.

What I'll be Watching: Teams have had some success against BYU here of late by presenting totally different coverage schemes than the Cougars have practiced for the week going in. With TCU having so much success defensively, it's difficult to imagine them scrapping their entire coverage scheme much like New Mexico did, but I'll be watching for that.

The big key for the Cougar passing attack is how well David Oswald and Matt Reynolds control the outside pass rush. Considering the job they've done so far this season, I have to assume they'll give Hall and the offense plenty of time to execute effectively. Should they not prove effective and consistent in their pass blocking, then the Cougars could be in for a long night.

BYU run defense vs. TCU

TCU likes to run the football. The Horned Frogs average 233 yards on the ground so far this season and will likely present a very similar attack to what BYU saw last week against New Mexico. Both of their quarterbacks can run the ball effectively, which could cause a lot of problems for the Cougars defensively.

At running back the Horned Frogs are running by committee with no primary run threat, but they rotate three running backs that can each work in turn to pound away at a defensive front. Ryan Christian along with speedster Aaron Brown will work as the Horned Frogs' primary tailbacks, while Justin Watts will get some chances as their primary fullback.

The Cougars got pushed around a bit up front a week ago by the Lobos, despite holding them to just three points. The ends were very good, but in order to halt the prolific TCU ground game they'll have to prove tougher up the middle. The angles and open-field tacking also needs to see improvement should the Cougars prove able to hold the Horned Frog running attack in check.

Prognosis: The Cougars are well-prepped this week after having played a very similar Lobo run attack a week before. That said, the Lobos found some success on the ground, and the Horned Frogs will present more speed than New Mexico did a week ago. Look for TCU to see some success on the ground, as the Cougars will likely employ their bend-but-don't-break defensive mentality that yielded only three points to the Lobos a week ago.

What I'll be Watching: Marcus Jackson is the player who could cause the Cougars the most problems. When he's in the game the Horned Frogs aren't passing, and he can wreak havoc on a defense with his speed around the edges. Therefore I'll be watching to see how well the Cougar defensive ends and outside linebackers prove to be in containing Jackson and also Aaron Brown on the edges.

BYU pass defense vs. TCU

TCU presents a much better passing attack than the Lobos did a week ago. Andy Dalton's health is in question, but he has seen some success at throwing the football so far this year, as TCU averages 171 yards through the air. Like the Lobos, the Horned Frogs will be passing mostly out of play action.

The Cougar pass defense will likely be playing very conservative and off the line of scrimmage again, as it proved successful against the Lobos a week ago. Look for defensive coordinator Jaime Hill to formulate a defensive game plan that won't allow anything over the top of coverage.

Prognosis: The Cougars should do fine at defending the TCU passing attack. The Horned Frogs will be focusing on the run game, but the key for the Cougars will be not allowing any big plays, which this defense has done well with this season. There were some gaffes in coverage against New Mexico last week that a better offense would have been able to exploit, and the Cougars need to shore up those gaffes against TCU to hold their offense in check.

What I'll be Watching: I'll be watching the Cougar pass rush. Don't look for Hill to blitz much come Thursday night, but it would be great for Cougar fans should BYU be able to get to Dalton or Jackson with a three- or four-man rush.

Final Score Prediction: BYU 31, TCU 21

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