BYU wasn't as good rushing the football last week against San Diego State as they had been going into the game. A lot of this is obviously due to Manase Tonga not being able to play. Tonga has really stepped up in recent weeks and his presence certainly boosts whatever BYU is trying to do on the field offensively.
"Manase should be ready and that's a very good thing," confirmed Harvey Unga earlier this week about Tonga. "With Manase you have so much experience and he's really been playing well. Everything runs smoother with Manase in the game."
It's a good thing that Tonga is back, as the Cougars will face one of the consistently top rushing defenses in the country. This year is no different, as the Horned Frogs are giving up a paltry 81.2 yards per game on the ground.
"They're just so fast to the football," observed Unga about TCU's run defense. "They use their speed and quickness well and they're well coached. They just fly to the football and they don't miss tackles. They'll be a big challenge for us."
The 81.2 yards per game is down from the incredible 47.1 yards allowed per game last season, as a few teams this season have seen success on the ground against TCU. Most notable was Air Force, which had a 229-yard output against TCU two weeks ago, while Clemson was able to eclipse the century mark on the ground and rush for 117 yards.
The Horned Frogs operate out of a 4-2-5 defense that relies on its speed on the edges and through the gaps to keep offenses extremely limited in what they do. They'll be led by their strong side linebacker Daryl Washington (6-3, 234 Sr.), who is a Butkus Award semifinalist and leads his team in tackles on the season with 48.
While Jerry Hughes (6-3, 257 Sr.) is most noted for his pass rush, he's also very good against the run and has accounted for 31 tackles on the year. Hughes could be argued as being the best defensive end in the country, and controlling him in both the run and passing game will be a significant key in how BYU does come Saturday.
In the defensive backfield TCU returns just one of their starting three safeties from a year ago in free safety Tejay Johnson (6-1, 212 Jr.). They've had to replace last year's leading defender Stephen Hodge at strong safety with Colin Jones (6-0, 205 Jr.). Hodge was a monster last season and the slight drop in run defense may be directly attributed to his absence.
Look for BYU to have a decent outing against TCU while approaching 100 yards rushing. The run-blocking this season has been outstanding, and especially so against four-man fronts. The return of Tonga will aid in this department greatly.
What helps BYU here is the tendency of their running backs to keep the football between the tackles in their run attempts. BYU doesn't have players that can get outside and beat TCU to the edges, but fortunately Unga and company are well aware of that fact. Look for the Cougars to find some success up the middle of TCU's defense and put together a respectable effort. Making TCU respect BYU's ability to run the ball will open everything else up.
BYU passing offense vs. TCU
There isn't a lot to say here, as Max Hall has been as consistent and productive as one could hope for here of late. Hall has spread the ball around a lot more this season and has frustrated defenses with his third-down efficiency, having converted third downs so far this season by throwing to as many as 10 different receivers.
The story in the passing game will surround the hopeful return of McKay Jacobson. There is no question that Jacobson intends to play, but until he really works out that high hamstring pull there is no telling how able he'll be.
Should he be able to go he'll aid the offense tremendously, as TCU will be forced to account for him being a deep threat, which will go a long way in loosening up coverages underneath. Fortunately, both Luke Ashworth and Brett Thompson have stepped up in his absence, but the offense could certainly use what Jacobson brings to the table against a defense as good as TCU's.
The Horned Frogs have been very good against the pass so far this season, although they've yet to face a passing offense as prolific as BYU's, or even close to as prolific for that matter. They give up 156.8 yards per game in the air, with SMU having put up the most passing yards against them with 240.
The key to TCU's pass defense is with their pass rush, where Jerry Hughes is the story. The Cougars will try to handle him primarily with Nick Alletto, although it's been widely mentioned that they'll try different things to slow him down in this game.
"One of the reasons they got to me last year is because we had five-step drops from the gun and long-developing throws," said quarterback Max Hall. "This year I need to work on getting the ball out of my hands quicker with shorter drops and simply make better decisions. We're going to have to account for [Hughes] at all times and maybe even design some plays to go away from him during critical situations."
Just about all of TCU's success against BYU's offense last year was predicated on the fact that they were able to get to Hall consistently with just a four-man rush. When any team can do that while dropping seven guys in coverage, there isn't a lot an opposing offense can do through the air.
TCU is also very strong at corner, where they return two starting seniors in Rafael Priest (5-10, 185) and Nick Sanders (5-10, 174). Both corners are lock-down types that can man-cover as well as any cornerback duo in the country.
"Their cover guys are very good from what I've seen on film," observed Hall. "They lock guys down and they're very experienced. They'll certainly be a challenge for us to beat in coverage."
The offense has instituted a lot of facets to their passing game due in no small part to what TCU was able to do against them a season ago. Hall won't be locking on to just two key guys while trying to get big chunks of yardage this time around. They'll throw a lot more at TCU in regards to screens, quick hitters and misdirection in hopes of slowing down their very aggressive blitz packages and coverages.
BYU should eclipse SMU's mark of 240 yards in this game while approaching 300 yards passing. Should the run game prove effective, the passing game should be fine with Hall focusing on spreading the ball around and getting rid of the ball quickly.
BYU run defense vs. TCU
BYU's run defense has been very good since their whiff against Florida State a few weeks back. BYU has always been strong in defending the run up the middle, where Romney Fuga has proved outstanding. Fuga will be aided by the return of Russell Tialavea this week, which should only work to help BYU's effectiveness defending runs between the tackles.
It's on the edges where BYU has traditionally struggled, although they've proven better than last season in this area. The tackling and pursuit from the secondary positions has been much better this season, accounting for better defense on the edges.
TCU will throw everything at an opposing defense with their run game. Their primary runner is combo-back Joseph Turner (6-1, 225 Sr.), who will rotate with speed-back Ed Wesley (5-9, 185 Fr.). But it doesn't end there, as TCU will use as many as four tailbacks during any given game.
"They have two great running backs, but they'll throw everything at you," observed safety Andrew Rich. "They present a lot of problems throwing a lot of guys at you since you can't key on just one guy. You have to expect anyone to come at you at anytime, so that will be a big challenge."
TCU will throw one-back, two-back and even three-back sets at a defense. The Horned Frogs will also feature a so-called wildcat formation with speedster Jeremy Kerley (5-10, 192 Jr.) on occasion, which can give an opposing defense all sorts of headaches.
"They have a lot of fast guys that can go the distance on any play, so it really makes it tough," said Rich. "What you have to do is just stay on your assignment and be disciplined since you never know exactly what is coming at you during most plays."
TCU will also present a running quarterback in Andy Dalton (6-3, 215 Jr.). Dalton resembles Florida State's Christian Ponder in how TCU uses him in running the football and in his ability.
"They'll call quarterback draws for him, options, and he can scramble, so we definitely need to do a better job against him than we did against Ponder," said Rich. "It's just another thing that we have to account for, but I like our scheme going in and if we execute it we should be fine."
The Horned Frogs average 225 yards on the ground per game coming in, and the Cougars will have their work cut out for them to keep them under that average. While it's easy to like their ability in stuffing the run up the middle, that won't be TCU's focus, as they'll try all sorts of attempts on the edges in sweeps and in in keeping the defense on its toes with the constant threat that Dalton presents.
TCU will make their yards on the ground and should approach their average on the year against what still looks to be a bit of a suspect defense in defending a diversified running attack.
BYU pass defense vs. TCU
The Cougar pass defense isn't coming off its best outing, as they uncharacteristically gave up some long passes over the top of coverage against San Diego State. TCU didn't rely on the long pass last season, but killed the Cougar coverage with quick hits to the flat where the receiver would almost invariably break the first tackle on their way to a big gain.
"We definitely need to improve on our open-field tackling against them," said linebacker Terrance Hooks. "If they get by that first guy then they can take it all the way with their speed, so we need to get on them fast in the flats and make sure we make that tackle."
As mentioned, TCU will be returning Andy Dalton, who has a wealth of experience and who simply doesn't turn the ball over. His top targets will be the aforementioned Kerley along with Jimmy Young (6-1, 204 Jr.), who ranks 10th all-time at TCU in receptions. Young was able to match up man-on-man with Brandon Howard a lot last season and beat him with fade routes in the end zone and on third-down situations.
TCU will use all kinds of sets while throwing the kitchen sink at a defense.
"They'll go four-wide a lot, but they'll put guys in motion too, they'll put running backs out wide, they'll bring receivers into the backfield before the snap, especially Kerley, so again, you have to be ready for everything," said Rich. "Dalton is very good at making right reads and he's accurate."
TCU, by keeping an opposing defense off balance, is able to cut down the effectiveness of any pass rush, but their offensive line is a very productive and experienced unit led by left tackle Marshall Newhouse (6-4, 320 Sr.).
BYU's discipline on defense should cut down the effectiveness of TCU's consistent misdirection and bevy of formations. The very nature of BYU's defensive system forces the players to be very disciplined in their assignments and their pursuit. The key will be not letting the first guy get past the first wave of tacklers. The strides the Cougars have made in their open-field tackling should give way to a lot of improvements in defending the TCU attack better than last season.
Prediction: BYU 31, TCU 27