Throw out all the preseason predictions. We’re only in week five of the 2016 college football season, and so many unforeseens have been thrown upon us – like this weekend’s matchup between No. 21 TCU (3-1) and unranked Oklahoma (1-2) that many expected to be a top 10 matchup entering the season.
Instead of a chance to solidify themselves as a national heavyweight with a win, Saturday’s contest between the Horned Frogs and the Sooners has now become a battle of survival; a chance to salvage any slim playoff hopes for a Big 12 conference that has experienced nothing short of disaster thus far.
So does Bob Stoops’ squad get back to .500 this weekend in Fort Worth, or do Gary Patterson and the Horned Frogs revitalize themselves with their second straight home win over Oklahoma? Here’s what to watch for Saturday afternoon at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
A little history lesson
While the Sooners may hold a 10-5 record against the Horned Frogs all time, we’ve be spoiled the last few times when TCU and Oklahoma battle it out on the gridiron. The last four matchups between the two have all been decided by one possession, and last year’s one-point contest in Norman was nothing short of an instant-classic. Of course, TCU fans would like to forget that their team was a missed two-point conversion away from potentially going to the College Football playoff.
And the coaching matchup between Stoops and Patterson is just as intriguing in its own way. Both are the all-time winningest coaches in history for their respective teams, with Patterson tallying 146 victories for the Frogs since 2000 while Stoops has found the win column 180 times for Oklahoma since taking charge in 1999. That’s a cumulative 326 wins in more than 30 years of coaching combined between the two.
So how does history relate to this game in particular? Well, the Sooners can take confidence in having won their last three Big 12 openers and not having lost consecutive regular season games since 1999. The Frogs however have not fallen to a Big 12 opponent at home since 2013, and only twice in the last nine years have they failed to begin the year 4-1 or better.
What a win means for TCU
Long story short, the Frogs still desperately need that win over a quality opponent after an underwhelming start to the 2016 campaign. They’ve struggled out of the gate consistently, and the loss to Arkansas in week two was nothing short of crushing.
While they won’t have the chance to beat a ranked opponent this weekend, a win over Oklahoma would nonetheless be a statement for the time being. Yes, the Sooners are 1-2, but both of those losses were against top 10 teams.
Going up against an offense led by quarterback Baker Mayfield and the running back duo of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine is no cake walk either. The TCU defense will need to shine against a Sooner squad that can flat-out run you over, and the receiving corps will need to stop dropping passes left and right. If they can get the job done though, the Frogs will be proven as Big 12 title contenders, and maybe even a playoff dark horse once again.
What a win means for Oklahoma
Playoff aspirations have been all but dashed for the Sooners as they look to avoid their first 1-3 start ever in the Bob Stoops era. For Oklahoma, the goal is to salvage the season and win their second straight Big 12 title, and a win on Saturday is a must if the Sooners want to achieve that goal. A win may also save Stoops from losing his job, given the hot-seat nature of the coaching business these days. Just look at what happened to Les Miles last weekend despite all the success he had at LSU. There are no guarantees the Sooners are safe in week six either, as they will play the ever-unpredictable Red River Rivalry game against Texas at the Cotton Bowl.
What to watch for on TCU’s offense and defense
Offense – We can talk all we want about how quarterback Kenny Hill is no Trevone Boykin, and how the TCU offense is missing that swagger that it carried the last two years. But before you declare the sky is falling in Fort Worth, you really shouldn’t be blaming the Texas A&M transfer. Hill recorded more than 800 yards between his first two games on the season. In case you didn’t know, that’s something only been accomplished twice in FBS play since 1996. His six rushing touchdowns are nothing to complain about either, so just imagine what could have been if Hill hadn’t thrown an FBS high 17 dropped passes on the season.
Which brings us to the receiver corps. While young, it still deep compared to Oklahoma, who is desperately trying to the fill the gap created Sterling Shepard’s departure following the 2015 season. Certainly the Frogs face the difficult task of replacing an injured KaVontae Turpin, but impressive play of new receivers such as transfers Taj Williams and John Diarse is something to smile about. Diarse is coming off a career night in a single game as he caught for 139 yards in the win over SMU, and Patterson said Diarse may even be named a captain for Saturday’s contest. Expect the LSU transfer to be a go-to for Hill this weekend. The speed of tail back Kyle Hicks is also something to look out for, as he has not only rushed for 314 yards but also has 20 receptions on the season.
Defense – Though it showed significant improvement against SMU last Friday, TCU’s defense has been rather a let-down in 2016, plagued by missed tackles and a secondary that looks it can hardly cover anyone. That said, we can expect Mayfield to be looking downfield to Westbrook repeatedly on Saturday, and the Frogs will need to find a way to offset the size and speed of Mixon and Perine on the ground. The Frogs can be thankful they already got a taste of a bigger team in the form of Arkansas two weeks ago, allowing 28 points in regulation.
Come Saturday, TCU will need the big boys to step up to stop the Sooners. That means outside linebacker Ty Summers will have to perform like the player who leads the Big 12 with 39 tackles this season. Defensive linemen Josh Carraway and James McFarland, both seniors, will have to force the pressure onto Mayfield and make those sacks. And the margin of error for the secondary will be near zero, let alone the entire defense.
Quote to Note: “Every player on this team is expected to make great plays when their number is called. Everyone is capable of doing the same thing (as I did Friday). Big plays fire up our team and get others ready to also make big plays,” said TCU wide receiver John Diarse.
Reasons for concern
The glaring concern in this one is that TCU has yet to win a ballgame against a quality opponent, and even when they have won it hasn’t exactly been pretty. The only respectable team they’ve faced is Arkansas, and that is on the time where the Frogs weren’t able to get the job done thus far. Certainly it helps that TCU enters this one now having experience against a squad that has the edge when it comes to size, but as Patterson said several weeks ago, there’s a big difference when it comes to freshman and sophomore bodies vs. junior and senior bodies. Missed opportunities also have been the Achilles heel for the Frogs this year, from untimely fumbles, unforced penalties and 17 dropped passes. If TCU can’t rid themselves of those miscues, it could be a long day for Gary Patterson’s squad against the Sooners.
This game is truly a toss-up. You have one team who is coming off a refreshing win against an old-time rival, and you have one team who is stacked, yet has been sitting two weeks on a crushing defeat that brought them to 1-2 on the year. Oklahoma may enter the game as a four-point favorite, but anything can happen between the Sooners and Frogs from what we’ve seen in recent years. As I mentioned earlier, all four of the last contests have been decided by one possession, and the home team has won each of the last three. Why not stick with that trend for another year? I predict TCU just barely keeps their playoff chances alive while the Sooners fall to their worst start of any season in the Bob Stoops era.
TCU 33, OU 31