TCU vs West Virginia Primer

A look at TCU's matchup with No. 12 West Virginia on Saturday.

Coming off a bye and having played five of their first six games in the DFW metroplex, the TCU Horned Frogs (4-2, 2-1) now embark on their biggest road trip and what may very well be their biggest test of 2016 – a trip to always hostile Morgantown to take on the No. 12 West Virginia Mountaineers (5-0).

“They’re a lot like the 2012 we played,” TCU head coach Gary Patterson said. “Lots of weapons, great defense, they have a quarterback who can beat you with his feet and they are very skilled at the wide-receiver position. Your guys have to be able to make some big plays against them.”

One of only two undefeated teams left in the Big 12 conference, it is the first time this season that the Horned Frogs find themselves going up against a top 25 opponent. And it should be a real tester. After very small expectations following a 7-5 season, head coach Dana Holgorsen has reinvigorated the Mountaineer offense led by quarterback Skyler Howard, while using a usually reliable West Virginia defense to make his squad a serious contender to win the Big 12 title for the first time since joining in 2012. This weekend though, the Frogs have the chance to crush the Mountaineers’ hopes and dreams, while resurrecting their own aspirations of a Big 12 title.

The Series

With both having joined the Big 12 conference in 2012, the TCU West Virginia rivalry is one of the newer ones in all of college football, and the Frogs have the edge thus far with a 3-1 record in the Big 12 era for the two. Last season, Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson ran all around the West Virginia defense in Fort Worth as TCU blew out the Mountaineers 40-10, with Holgorsen giving a now memorable high-five after a scramble for first down. But the other three games could have gone either way. The Frogs won both games in Morgantown in 2012 and 2014 by one point, and each on the final play of the game. The first time around, it was a do-or-die two-point conversion in double overtime, and two years later, it was Jaden Oberkrom drilling a 37 yard field goal as time expired to keep the Frogs’ playoff aspirations alive. In 2013, the Mountaineers had their shining moment as they won on a field goal in overtime. With the history between these teams, maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised if we get another instant classic.

What a win means for TCU

A win for the Frogs would be nothing short of monumental given what is at stake. For TCU, the answer is simple: run the table, and maybe you win the Big 12. Anything else, and the season is over for all practical purposes. Going to play in Morgantown against one of the superior defenses in the nation will be an extreme challenge for a TCU offense that has struggled to find its rhythm, and the defense won’t have it any easier trying to contain Howard and company. But an extra week of rest is right what the doctor ordered, and if the Frogs get either WR KaVontae Turpin or C Austin Schlottman back, both who are listed as game-time-decisions, it would add serious depth for the Frogs when they need it more than ever. And with the Frogs on the outside looking in when it comes to the top 25, a win over the No. 12 team in the country in one of the toughest venues in the Big 12 would be huge as the playoff committee releases its first rankings in the coming weeks. The playoff may be out, but the Frogs would love to get some of the respect back that was lost after Kansas.

What a win means for West Virginia

With a 5-0 record entering this game, a dominant win for the Mountaineers on Saturday would not only exorcise the demons from previous home games against TCU, but it would only further solidify West Virginia’s position as a surprise playoff contender in 2016. The Mountaineers have also yet to play any power-5 team with a winning record this season, only adding more value to a potential win over the Frogs on Saturday. With road games against Oklahoma State and Texas and home contest against Oklahoma coming up within the four weeks following this contest, West Virginia would have all the momentum they need entering that slate should they prevail. 

Players to watch on offense and defense for TCU

John Diarse, WR) – Morgantown is no easy place to play, no less when the game-day forecast calls for temperatures in the low 50s/upper 40s. You’d think the Frogs might put an extra emphasis on the running game, but that’s hard to say when you face a defense as good as West Virginia’s. For that reason, I’d put your focus on Diarse on this one. As one of the strongest and most experienced receivers on the team, watch for Kenny Hill to throw those short little passes to Diarse on Saturday in hopes that he can outrun the defense after making the receptions, similar to what we saw against SMU on that 75-yard touchdown pass. Having previously played in the SEC, Diarse also knows how to play in some of the most hostile road environments in all of college football, and that’s an asset that shouldn’t be taken lightly. 

Ty Summers, OLB) – Skyler Howard is proving himself to be one of the best quarterbacks in the conference this season, and if the Frogs want to stop him, they will really need to make him feel the pressure to get him out of his groove. Look no further than Ty Summers to get that job done. He leads the Frogs with 29 solo tackles on the year, and he will need keep up his MVP like numbers this weekend more than ever if the Frogs continue to extend their winning streak in Morgantown to three games. Summers recorded a season high 8 tackles against the Jayhawks two weeks ago, and coming off a bye, a rested Summers could be lethal this Saturday.

Quote to note: “You can’t harp on the negatives all of the time, or it will consume your minds. As a group, we take a new approach each week to getting better and better in our craft. With a bye it’s a great time to go back to the basics because you often tend to overlook the small things.” – wide receiver John Diarse

Reasons for concern: Even with the bye, there’s a lot to be worried about in this one if you’re a TCU fan. The defense doesn’t look anything like what we’ve come to know in the Patterson era. The offense has been sporadic week after week. The Frogs have lost to both teams they played whom are currently ranked. And with the team having looked sloppy in what will likely be their two easiest road games of the year, it’s hard to be optimistic when the team gets ready to play in an atmosphere that Patterson described as a place where “everyone hates you on Saturday.” Sure they’ve found ways to win each of their last two trips to Morgantown, but barely, and that was with former Heisman contender Trevone Boykin. Nonetheless, a 7-5 team got the job done against the Mountaineers in 2012, so why not stun West Virginia on their home turf a third time?

Prediction: It’s hard to confidently say the Frogs will win this game without looking like a total TCU homer. The team has yet to face a quality opponent on the road this season, and this much-improved Mountaineer squad still remembers last year’s beating they took in Fort Worth all-too well. Combine that chip on their shoulder with their playoff aspirations, West Virginia will be pulling out every trick in the bag on Saturday. Could the Frogs have magically solved the problems on defense during the bye week? Sure. Could Kenny Hill go off out of nowhere? Sure. But even then I’m not sure they won’t be overmatched. An 11-1 TCU squad in 2014 was able to battle back from an early 13-0 deficit just barely, and I’m not sure a younger TCU squad against a stronger West Virginia squad will be able to do the same if they find themselves in a similar position.

West Virginia: 41, TCU: 28

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