Brad Hardcastle: This game has been circled on everybody's calendar for quite sometime now, how excited do you think Baylor is for it to finally be here?
Shehan Jeyarajah: Despite the injuries on both sides, this is the most anticipated game of the season for Baylor fans, and it's not really that close. Baylor fans and TCU fans have been at each other's throats for over a year now, and the combined snub from the College Football Playoff did not help things.
There should be a strong Baylor contingent at the game on Friday and even more glued to their TVs at home. This game may have lost some of the luster, but this game matters to both fanbases, if for no other reason, than bragging rights for the next year.
Like TCU, Baylor has been bitten by the injury bug. Who is going to miss this game and who do you expect to fill in at their position?
At this moment, top two quarterbacks Seth Russell (neck) and Jarrett Stidham (leg) are out, while defensive tackle Beau Blackshear (knee) is doubtful. A whole host of other players are questionable, including running back Shock Linwood (Linwood has now been ruled out), defensive tackle Byron Bonds and safety Orion Stewart.
Of course, third-string quarterback Chris Johnson will step in at quarterback. With Blackshear likely out, Bonds should be able to step in and start after missing a couple weeks. If Linwood is not able to go, there will be a strong combined contingent between backups Johnny Jefferson, Devin Chafin and Terence Williams.
Last week, without a true defensive tackle in the lineup next to star Andrew Billings, the Bears ran primarily a 3-man front with Billings, Shawn Oakman and Jamal Palmer and a rushing linebacker. Baylor could still show some of that look if Bonds is limited.
Chris Johnson will be making his first career start on Friday, for those who don't know much about him, can you describe the skill set he has and the potential impact he can make this week?
Seeing Chris Johnson come in against Oklahoma State and throw two touchdowns was nothing short of surreal. This was a player that was moved to wide receiver during the offseason and was not expected to ever take meaningful snaps at quarterback. That said, his move had much more to do with Art Briles' opinions of Jarrett Stidham than a strike against Johnson. All of a sudden, Johnson is one of the hottest commodities in football.
The redshirt sophomore is not as gifted a passer as Seth Russell or Stidham, but brings a different dimension to the game with his feet. The key will be simplifying the game and trying to avoid sophomoric mistakes. If he can do that, Baylor has an excellent chance of walking away victorious.
Baylor's defense has been up and down all year, how do you think they will fair against TCU on the road?
It's a cop-out answer, but it depends on how TCU is able to play offense. When the Bears are able to make teams one-dimensional, they can be absolutely dominant. Last week against Oklahoma State, the Bears held OSU only eight total rushing yards on the day and effectively shut the Cowboy attack down.
TCU at its best has the ability to attack Baylor all over the field. However, we saw last week, the entire Horned Frog offense struggles when they cannot pass the ball effectively. Baylor has the ability to absolutely shut down either the pass or run. It struggles to do both at the same time, especially while hobbled. TCU's offense is much too good to totally shut down, but Baylor's defense should be ready to adjust for different looks.
The Friday's weather forecast shows cold temperatures with a chance of rain. How much do you think the weather will play a role in this game?
Baylor's offense relies on the ability to be two-dimensional. In the rain, that ability is weakened to some extent. However, between Baylor and TCU, I think rain might actually hurt the Horned Frogs more. The Bears average almost eight more rushing attempts and 70 more rushing yards per game than the Horned Frogs. When the weather gets bad, it makes a big difference to be able to hand the ball off a get a few yards.
Corey Coleman is having a historic season. The only time he seemed to be held in check was against Oklahoma. What did they do to slow him down?
Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State for that matter, managed to almost shut Coleman down by throwing numerous different coverages at him. Most notably, both threw bracket coverage, combined with a couple of All-Big 12 cornerbacks (Kevin Peterson, Zach Sanchez). Coleman has struggled to find openings, combining for only eight catches for 128 yards the past two weeks. For comparison's sake, he was average 147 yards per game coming in.
Baylor struggled to adjust to the shutdown coverage against Coleman against Oklahoma, but took full advantage against Oklahoma State. Fellow wide receivers KD Cannon and Jay Lee combined for nearly 300 yards against the Cowboys because of the incredible focus on Coleman.
What do you think will be the deciding factor in this game?
I think the deciding factor will be who manages to establish the run better. Both teams are elite passing and have defenses that are more than willing to make plays. Last season, Baylor's offense struggled to find consistency until Shock Linwood wore down TCU's defense in the fourth quarter, and I wouldn't be surprised to see something similar happen on Friday.
Much of that will come down to the quarterback run. Trevone Boykin is obviously one of the best running threats in the country at quarterback, but is hampered by an ankle injury (assuming he plays). On the Baylor side, Chris Johnson is perhaps the most athletic quarterback on the roster. Johnson does not need to outplay Boykin, but needs to be competitive.
Who wins and why?
It really is a shame that these two teams are not at full strength, because this could have been an epic battle and the game of the year. Even so, this matchup should be excellent.
I think Baylor's offense and defense at this moment are just a little more refined than TCU's. Baylor arguably has the best running backs, best wide receivers and best offensive line in the Big 12. This should allow Johnson to step in and not have to do too much on offense. TCU needs to be able to get pressure with the defensive front, but I don't think it will be able to do it consistently.
On the other end, I worry about Boykin's mobility if he gets the start. We have seen a clear devolution of the TCU offense since Josh Doctson went out and that does not bode well against a Baylor defense that can make plays. The one caveat is that the Bears have been mediocre against running quarterbacks. Boykin will need to be a threat to keep BU on its toes.
I predict Baylor pulls away in the fourth quarter, 41-31.