Willie Nelson once sang about how he was happy to be on the road again, insisting that the world keeps turning his way. Now, TCU is singing the same tune, hoping that their offense continues to shine and wins continue to roll in as the Frogs travel to Iowa State this week for their fourth P5 road game.
With Josh Doctson getting some Heisman hype after his heroics against Kansas State, and Trevone Boykin doing Trevone Boykin things, the Frogs are a 20-point favorite against the Cyclones as TCU plays away from Amon G. Carter Stadium for the third time in four weeks.
Although the Frogs keep winning and showing off a flashy offense, the defense hasn’t been quite as stellar in opposing stadium, giving up big plays and yardage that they shouldn’t. Last week took another massive comeback to get past the Kansas State Wildcats, marking the second time TCU’s had to overcome a fourth quarter deficit to get a road win.
Needless to say with that performance, TCU head coach Gary Patterson wasn’t too pleased about the mental preparation of his team.
"I told our guys what it's like to come here and play and they didn't believe me. Now they believe me,” Patterson said after beating Kansas State last week.
During the game week, players were apparently joking in team meetings, laughing in practice and generally not focusing on the opponent ahead of them, something Patterson harped on when the Frogs were down 35-17 at halftime. His words are now especially true headed into Jack Trice Stadium in Ames.
The Cyclones may not have been the best team in a while - if ever - but they’ve been capable of ridiculous things before. College football is only four years removed from one of the Big 12’s biggest upsets, as Iowa State toppled the No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners in double overtime. That alone should concern TCU, but Iowa State does have a real set of ball players who can cause TCU some worry.
THE IOWA STATE OFFENSE
Iowa State offers several legitimate threats to TCU’s defense, starting with their power running game. After giving up an average of 4.8 yards per rush to the Kansas State Wildcats, the Frogs now have to deal with Cyclones freshman tailback Mike Warren. The Lawton, Oklahoma, product has been Iowa State’s breakout star this year, rushing for 574 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Warren was Iowa State’s main player against Texas Tech, running for 245 yards on the Red Raiders. With TCU struggling in defending the run this season, Warren is ready and won’t give any mercy to TCU.
''I heard that [TCU’s] run defense is a little shaky, and I think that's a big plus for me because I think I can probably have like another great performance,'' Warren said.
He’s not exactly wrong. TCU’s given up 16 rushing touchdowns this season, nearly double from what they gave up all of last year. The Frogs have already given up 1,098 yards on the ground, good enough for opponents to average 4.3 yards per carry. TCU’s linebackers and defensive front will have to find ways to plug holes quickly and repeatedly if they want to avoid what happened in Manhattan last week.
If the rushing attack wasn’t enough, TCU’s also got problems to deal with in the air. The Cyclones don’t have much of an effective passing game and don’t play well from behind, which will help if TCU gets the lead early. However, with the size of receivers D'Vario Montgomery and Allen Lazard, both over six-foot-five, the play-action pass will be a point of weakness for TCU if the Frogs can’t suffocate Warren.
Iowa State’s senior quarterback Sam B. Richardson (not to be confused with ISU defensive back Sam E. Richardson) has to be pressured consistently and checked from utilizing play-action schemes in order for TCU’s defense to get a win. The returns of Mike Tuaua and Terrell Lathan have helped TCU’s defensive line tremendously, and they’ll need to keep bringing pressure to opposing quarterbacks on passing downs.
That pressure is needed for turnovers, which should be bountiful against Richardson. The quarterback is a mere 4 for 24 on passes while under pressure, and four of his six interceptions this season have come off pressure plays. Whereas Texas saw several QB spy plays from TCU’s linebackers, Iowa State may see a few crash or robber blitzes to get Richardson rattled and force Iowa State into becoming a one-dimensional offense.
Iowa State doesn’t have the luxury of Richardson being a mobile quarterback, which was a major reason for Joe Huebener and Kansas State’s success against TCU’s defense. Richardson averages less than one yard per carry, largely because of the sacks he takes. Those sacks will translate into turnovers and good field position for TCU’s offense quickly.
THE IOWA STATE DEFENSE
On the other side of the ball, there’s not much for TCU to worry about. The Cyclones have been very pedestrian when it comes to defense, giving up and average of nearly 30 points per game and 7.2 yards per passing play.
Boykin and Doctson will do Boykin and Doctson things against the mismatched ISU secondary, and even if Kolby Listenbee (still listed as day-to-day) doesn’t see the field, KaVontae Turpin and JuJuan Story should help move the ball around enough to give Boykin the options he needs.
Aaron Green, already pulling in 625 rushing yards on the year, should easily keep up his 6.4 yards per carry average against Iowa State, who gives up more than 170 rushing yards a game. Between Boykin’s legs and Green’s motor, the Frogs running game should be solid throughout the game.
The Frogs offense will decide what the final score is, and how quickly the game should end. It’s unlikely that TCU will play with its figurative food, and the Horned Frogs should get points on the board immediately and often.
Perhaps the biggest thing the Frogs had to work on this week was TCU’s mental preparation for Iowa State. Despite TCU being an overwhelming favorite in this game, strange things have happened in Ames before. It’s highly unlikely that TCU’s had as many jokes and giggles in preparation of this game, and Patterson’s most certainly hammered in that the Horned Frogs need to have a complete focus on the Cyclones.
"It's definitely going to be a challenge," Green said earlier this week about the upcoming challenge. "Iowa State is definitely not an easy place to play. We saw what they've done to people there in the past."
If TCU’s got its collective head in the right place, Iowa State should be another reason to get excited about being on the road again.