2007 Look Ahead: TCU

If you were a close study of Stanford's opponents last year, then you may have a good handle on the 2007 schedule. TCU plays the Cardinal for the first time this fall, visiting Stanford Stadium during Homecoming in October. The unfamiliar Horned Frogs won 11 games in 2006. Particularly nasty is TCU's defense, where nine returning starter should help a young but talented offense grow.

TCU Horned Frogs

First Down: Quick Hitters

TCU @ Stanford – October 13

No previous meetings.

Side-by-Side Stats: (TCU/Stanford)
Returning Offensive Starters: 5/8
2006 Points Per Game: 29.2/10.6
2006 Rushing Yards Per Game: 195/65
2006 Yards Per Carry: 4.5/2.1
2006 Passing Yards Per Game: 214/167
2006 Pass Completion Rate: 61.4/52.8
Returning Defensive Starters: 9/8
2006 Points Allowed Per Game: 12.3/31.4
2006 Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game: 61/211
2006 Yards Per Carry Allowed: 2.2/4.9
2006 Passing Yards Allowed Per Game: 174/177
2006 Pass Completion Percentage Allowed: 53.6/60.3
2006 Record: 11-2/1-11
2007 Projected Record: (10-2, 7-1 MWC)/(3-9, 2-7)

Second Down: Offense

An overpowering defense should allow a young offense time to gel.

The Frogs have averaged at least 29 points per game the last five seasons.  Not coincidentally, they have won at least nine games four of the past five years as well.  So while the starting quarterback and the top receiver leave Fort Worth, Coach Gary Patterson's system is well-enough entrenched that the Frogs should still be able to move the ball.

Sophomore quarterback Marcus Jackson will threaten defensive ends with his ability to escape the pocket, tuck and run, or as my demographic puts it: pop, lock and drop it.  Whatever you call mobility, Jackson used it to his advantage.  He earned Mountain West Player of the Week honors in his one start against Baylor last season and put up nearly 400 passing and 100 rushing yards in his limited action.

Junior receiver Donald Massey is only 5'11" and 172 pounds but reeled in 332 receiving yards and three touchdowns last season.  He could well be the top target this year.  The Frogs also like to pass to tight end Shae Reagan (300 yards last year) out of a power set, which makes sense for an old-school team that looks first to the run.

The Frogs' rushing yards per game has been within 20 of their passing yards per game four of the last five seasons.  That is more impressive than it appears at first blush in an era where the average college team passes for nearly two-thirds of its yards.  Even more incredible:  last season, TCU ran 557 times and threw just 352.

So the heart of this offense is a line that returns eight of its top 10, though just three starters.  It allowed just 15 sacks (to be fair, on relatively few pass attempts) last year and paved the way for 4.5 yards per carry.  Two to watch are center Blake Schlueter – he squats 870 – and All-Conference left guard Matty Lindner.

After splitting carries last year, junior tailback Aaron Brown figures to inherit the keys to Patterson's offense.  The Mountain West Player of the Year as a freshman, Brown has over 1,500 yards to his name as a Frog and is also a receiving threat out of the backfield.  He will not go down as TCU's greatest tailback because of a guy named LaDainian Tomlinson, but Brown could put up LT-like numbers this season, as the offense looks to revolve around him given the youth in the passing game.

Third Down: Defense

While the offense may be nothing more than mediocre with a good line by Pac-10 standards, there is no questioning this defense.  Undeniably, it is in the top-tier of Pac-10 (insert joke about Pac-10 defenses here), okay scratch that, BCS-school defenses. Nine starters return off a nasty unit that allowed just 61 ground yards and 12 points per game last year.  And if you are still skeptical, you will not be after Week 2,  when this defense proves its mettle to the country against Texas.  (My take:  Texas probably wins, but by something like 20-7.)

The only departing starters are nose tackle Jaracea Williams and star safety Marvin White, who turned his 4.37 speed into a fourth-round NFL paycheck.  While White is a loss, the secondary may actually improve on its nine touchdown passes allowed last year, as two freshmen will no longer be holding down the corner spots.  The backfield has not allowed a 55 percent completion rate for a season under Patterson's seven-year reign.  It might not allow 50 percent this season.

Both defensive ends and both linebackers (the Horns run a 4-2-5) were All-Conference last year, three of them on the first team.  The ends, rising three-year starting seniors Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz, were both lowly-regarded out of high school as is typical for TCU recruits, but they have combined for over 30 sacks and nearly 200 tackles.  The unit is as good against the run, as their 2.2 yards per carry was easily the best under Patterson, and one of the best in the NCAA.  By means of comparison, Ohio State had two All-Conference linemen, and two linemen drafted in the first three rounds.  Of course they played tougher opponents, but they allowed 3.3 per carry, a whopping 50 percent more.

The key player in TCU's 4-2-5 is the strong-side linebacker.  Junior Robert Henson (69 tackles last year, Honorable Mention All-Conference) likely takes over that position, with two-year strong-side starter Jason Phillips (First Team All-Conference) likely shifting to middle linebacker.

Fourth Down: Extra Points

This is probably not the season for TCU to have a killer schedule.  Given last year's schedule (Mountain West co-favorite BYU at home, a visit from Texas Tech the toughest out-of-conference game), this year's squad would likely run the table.  But this year, that proposition becomes dicier, with visits to BYU and Texas looming.  That is doubly bad luck as $13 million BCS payouts mean that much more to smaller schools and their conferences.

TCU does have to host Mountain West power Utah just five days after their visit to Palo Alto.  They presumably agreed to the Thursday nighter for ESPN exposure, but perhaps they will be overlooking Stanford the week previous.

As Stanford fans recreate the chicken-and-egg argument by debating the relative importance of recruiting and coaching, TCU serves as an illustrative data point.  BCS schools, Stanford included, probably laughed at TCU's classes the past five years.  Yet the team has an incredible work ethic and training program – 75 percent of the squad benches 400 pounds – and it pays dividends on the field.  Not a single returning defensive starter, not one, was ranked in the top 100 at his position by the recruiting services coming out of high school.  Yet that unit paved the way for a 10-win season with stats traditional powerhouses envy.

Do not just assume TCU's numbers come against substandard competition either.  Last year:  TCU 20, Texas Tech 3.  Yes, that Mike Leach-coached Texas Tech that has led the NCAA in passing four of the last five years.  It was only the second time Leach's team did not score a touchdown in his eight years in Lubbock.

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