If you ask me, this is a very scary situation that the Cowboys walk into Saturday in Fort Worth. TCU's rebuilt and remodeled Amon Carter Stadium is a great home-field advantage and I'm like a lot of Cowboy followers that have voiced the opinion that they are happy the kickoff is at 11 a.m. versus later in the day when the Frog fans will have had time to relish game day with more libations.
TCU head coach Gary Patterson has always had a hankering to beat the Cowboys since arriving in the Big 12 and having to go to Stillwater back-to-back trips the first two seasons to fulfill a debt belonging to Texas A&M. Those first two trips added up to 36-10 and 24-10 losses. Two years ago when the Frogs got the Cowboys to Fort Worth they swamped the Pokes 42-9.
Vegas has been losing on the Cowboys as of late, especially on the road where OSU won as a dog two weeks ago against Kansas State and is now a four-point dog with most Vegas sites for Saturday. You don't have to grease Mike Gundy any to get him to compliment the Horned Frogs and access the situation as a tough one.
"They're a good team. They've got a good coaching staff. (Head coach Gary Patterson) has been there a long time and is a good football coach," Gundy said on his radio show on Tuesday night on the Cowboy Network. "They always have speed and traditionally play well on defense.
"They went through some changes this year at quarterback. They've had some good days and some days they haven't played as well on offense as they wanted to. They had quite a few injuries in the first five or six games of the year, and have all of those guys back now. They looked considerably different two weeks ago than they do now. They're a good football team. Earlier in the year, they played Oklahoma right to the end. They had a really good game with Arkansas, and should have won that game. We're all about the same. It comes down to taking care of the football, minimizing big plays and being sound in special teams."
Gundy said the bye week for TCU off the 62-22 win over Baylor in their "Holy War" rivalry has buoyed their spirits and getting back weapons like speedster receiver and returner KaVontae Turpin, receiver Ty Slanina, offensive lineman Patrick Morris, and cornerback Julius Lewis makes them not just better but much better.
Gundy counters with Oklahoma State being healthier on defense and overall. The Cowboys certainly don't want a repeat of the 2015 season – 0-2 in the regular season and the 0-3 overall.
"We are healthier on defense. Last year, the teams we played at the end of the year were really, really good football teams. I didn't feel like we played as well defensively as we could have, but we were beat up a little bit," Gundy explained. "That made it difficult for us to practice.
"We're healthier, so overall I feel like we're better off as a team. We were able to get out of the last game without getting anybody injured. Their focus has to be to finish strong. Fatigue could be an issue in conference play, but there is so much parity in our league right now that it's just a matter of what teams stay focused, make the plays, take care of the football, and so on. I do feel better about where we are now than we were at this time last year with our health on the defensive side of the ball."
Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer did something different last week with the use of the 3-3-5 to give Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes something more to think about. I think that scheme could show up some again on Saturday, but it is more important that some of those defense reserves that showed the Pokes have more depth like linebackers Justin Phillips, Kevin Henry, and Kirk Tucker, cornerbacks A.J. Green and Darius Curry, and safety Derrick Moncrief give the back seven some fresh legs to match the defensive line reserves that keep the front four or front three energized. They'll need it because once again the Horned Frogs have the quarterback run game to go with the spread with Kenny Hill at quarterback.
"It's different. Kenny is a good runner," Spencer said. "I think he likes to run the ball and I think they see that. Everyone knows the difficulties as far as numbers that you have to have to stop a good quarterback, so we'll have to have that in the system. The challenge now is that he's got his supporting cast healthy. We saw a little taste of it against Baylor, kind of what they can do when they have those good linemen back.
"We'll look back on things, and we might use a few of the things we've done before," Spencer continued. "Like last year when they had a mobile quarterback, so we'll just take things from that and other teams' schemes and put it in place for the game Saturday."
On the defensive side TCU is good and has the added uncertainty of using more different schemes than a year ago. Patterson is the father of the 4-2-5 and he has always stuck with it and with aggressive schemes to stop the run first, but like others he has gone some to the flavor of the season in the 3-3-5 and three-man front.
Oklahoma State has hit a lot of home runs against the Frogs, including touchdown passes of 48, 50, 82, and 74 yards last season in a 49-29 win. So does Patterson back off and back up against the Cowboys this time?
"They're traditionally a corners coverage team, mainly," OSU offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. "They'll mix up some coverages and I'm sure he'll get a safety over the top of him – just about everybody has tried to roll to him, so I'm sure they'll have a plan to take him away on certain downs and distances and formations and that sort of thing where they think he's going to get the ball from what we've shown in the past.
"We have to anticipate that, be able to run the football and stay balanced. But, who knows? We have a plan to get our best players the ball and if they take it away we have to go elsewhere with it. We're not sure who's going to lead us in receiving, we're not sure who it going to lead us in rushing, and those are good things to have in your offense."
"Coach Patterson is usually pretty disciplined and comes with his best defense. If they change then we'll have to be ready and we will," quarterback Mason Rudolph chimed in. "We'll have a good plan and be ready."
It's always nerve wracking when you get just one game away from playing for a Big 12 Championship.