Position breakdown: TCU

Two top-level defenses square off in Fort Worth this Saturday

Up front, TCU is nasty, disciplined and pretty good. That’s even without preseason Big 12 defensive player of the year, Devonte Fields, who transferred from the school earlier this season.

The Horned Frogs pose the biggest challenge from a toughness standpoint for Oklahoma this season, and they might be the toughest – in a physicality sense – that Oklahoma will face all season.

Gary Patterson’s defense still leads the league or is at the top of the league in about every category,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. “They’re sound fundamentally, really disciplined and they know what they’re doing.”

Oklahoma will have to find a way to run the football, putting a heavy onus on the Sooners’ offensive line. The trouble is actually doing that.

Within the conference, TCU has the best total defense (218.7 yards per game), the best scoring defense (7 points per game), the best pass defense (127 yards per game) and the third-best run defense (91.7 yards). Full disclosure: TCU has played just three games this season – the fewest in the league.

TCU isn’t just a great team defensively. They also have talented individuals. Linebackers Marcus Mallett and Paul Dawson are both just shy of 10 tackles per game, and Dawson is third in the conference in average tackles for loss. Defensive end James McFarland is tied for the Big 12 lead in sacks per game.

“It’s always exciting to go against one of the better fronts,” Oklahoma offensive tackle Tyrus Thompson said. “They’ve got a really good front 7. We think we have a really good offensive line. It’ll be really exciting for us.”

That’s where the biggest battle will take place. It’ll be the toughest trench battle thus far for Oklahoma.

That is the key position battle this week. Here’s a look at how each team compares across the board:

Quarterback: TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin was a huge question mark before this season started. He had done nothing but struggle at quarterback. Now, he’s the answer. He’s a step ahead of Trevor Knight on the curve – although Knight will probably pass him and then some in the coming years. He’s in the top five in the conference passing and leads TCU in rushing.

Running backs: Boykin is TCU’s leading rusher, and the Sooners have Samaje ‘I don’t really care if you call me Optimus’ Perine. Oklahoma has the better collection of running backs but averages just 11 more yards per game on the ground.

Wide receivers: TCU likes to spread the ball around, which makes its passing game scary. However, its receivers aren’t better because of it. The Horned Frogs don’t have a receiver with more than 55 yards per game, and Sterling Shepard is the ultimate trump card for Oklahoma.

Tight end: This might be the first, last and only game where Blake Bell has more catches (4) than the opponent’s tight ends combined (0). Throw in Bell’s importance run blocking for Oklahoma, and there’s really no debate.

Offensive line: Same song, different verse. Oklahoma is too good up front and getting better.

Defensive line: With a playmaker like Devonte Fields, this position battle probably would have gone to TCU – as long as Fields lived up to his preseason billing. Without Fields, Oklahoma has the top two defensive linemen in the game and maybe three of the top four.

Linebackers: TCU brings a sound, disciplined style of linebacking. Yes, I said linebacking. Oklahoma is far more of a controlled chaos. Which do you like? Oklahoma has enough of that control thing, too.

Secondary: Oklahoma’s pass defense hasn’t been perfect, but it makes plays and creates turnovers, including cornerback Zack Sanchez’s five-game INT streak. TCU has allowed just one touchdown and only 127 yards per game in the air despite being WAY ahead in every contest it has played. At some point, TCU’s consistency wins out.

Special teams: Michael Hunnicutt is the career points leader in OU history. Punter Jed Barnett can boom it 70 yards when called upon. And then there’s Alex Ross. Now, if Oklahoma could just find a way to get Shepard comfortable as a PR, it would be set.

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