MATCH-UPS, MUSINGS AND MORE
Trevoyne Boykin has quite rightly gotten a ton of credit for the Horned Frogs' stellar play this year, but B.J. Catalon, like WVU's Rushel Shell, should not be overlooked.
Catalon isn't going to make any all-league teams, and he's certainly not on the watch list for any national awards. However, he heads a pack of contributing runners who make TCU's offense difficult to defend. Sound familiar? It should, because that's exactly the blueprint followed by West Virginia with its group of five in the backfield. Catalon has just 388 yards this year in seven games, but the number to look at for him, as well as for his tammates, is yards per carry. He averages five per tote, and when you add that in with Aaron Green (9.3), Trevorris Johnson (6.6) and Kyle Hicks (4.2), you have output similar to that of a "feature" back (which is kind of a dumb term when you think about it). And that's not even counting Boykin, who has more carries than anyone else on the team awhile contributing an additional 4.4 yards per attempt.
While yards per carry can be skewed in a single game by a long run, this is still a metric to watch in this contest. West Virginia has to be able to keep TCU from getting four and five yards on first and second down, which opens up the playbook and will keep the Mountaineers in reaction mode. It won't be easy, because that's been the game plan for mostHorned Frog foes, but the Mountaineers have to keep TCU at four yards per carry or fewer in order to have a chance to win.
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When All-American defensive end Devonte Fields was declared persona non grata on the TCU campus and expelled from the school prior to the season, expectations were that the Horned Frog defense would suffer.
There's no way to quantify the total effect, but the results to date seem clear. Even without Fields' productivity, TCU stands in the top three in ten defensive categories in the Big 12, and in five of those are in the top six in the country. Would those numbers have been as impressive had Fields, with the same attitude he's reportedly showing now, been in the Frog locker room?
WHERE'D THAT MASCOT COME FROM?
We're fans of unique mascots or those with interesting back stories, so TCU gets good marks in most of those areas. The current day cartoonish foam-headed rep, however, leaves something to be desired.
All of that is pretty cool, as no other large schools in the country use that animal. Say "Horned Frogs" and everyone knows who you are talking about -- unlike such generics as "Tigers" which won't even get you out of the SEC without problems. However, it's offset a bit by "SuperFrog", who serves during games and events as TCU's spirit leader. A costumed version of the mascot began around 1949, and looked more like a Sleestak than a Horned Frog, but the current version is at least reasonably representative. Still, it looks more friendly than fierce, and seems to be more geared to entertaining a young audience than to the school itself.
THINGS TO WATCH
TCU has held 13 of its last 14 opponents under 51% completions in passing. The outlier? West Virginia, which was 25-41 (61%) against the Frogs last year in Fort Worth.
This is important for a couple of reasons, most notable of which that WVU's offense is heavily dependent on rhythm. Hitting passes, slashing some runs, keeping the chains moving -- that's when the Mountaineers are at their best. Trying to establish that flow is difficult when your completion rate hovers at 50% or less, which has been the story for most TCU opponents over the past two years. This is a critical item to watch in this game. Obviously, West Virginia must gain yardage on catches, but simply completing those passes, even if they aren't for huge gains, will be very important.
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The debate over West Virginia's offensive play heated up last week after the Mountaineers stuck to the ground against Oklahoma State. The successful strategy wore down the Cowboys, kept the ball from the hands of Tyreek Hill, and most importantly took advantage of what OSU was doing defensively. Facing an explosive offense this week, will that still be on the menu?
Combatting a high scoring offense by trying to possess the ball is a time-honored strategy, but not one that is an automatic success. If a defense is geared to stop the run, no amount of pounding the ball into a wall of defenders is likely to yield good results. So, the quick answer to this is no -- the assumption can't automatically be made that West Virginia is going to run it twice as many times as it throws it, as it did last week.
The item to watch here, as always, is TCU's defensive tactics. Is it rolling pass coverage to one side, or playing its zones striaght up? Is it able to get pressure with its front four, and from the edge, which WVU quarterback Clint Trickett seems to have trouble avoiding? It's really not a complex situation, but one that tends to generate a great deal of discussion. The Mountaineer coaching staff has clearly progressed, learned and is implementing those lessons in its approach to games, and fans will see that as the contest progresses. West Virginia will attack where the Horned Frogs offer the least resistance. The problem is indentifying those areas, because they have been great across the board for much of the past decade.
SOMETHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
West Virginia's defense is much improved this year. By any measure, whether old metrics (yards allowed, third down conversion rate, etc.) or new (points or scores per possession, yards per passing attempt), WVU is markedly better than it has been the past two years. Digging past those facts, though, there's something else to keep in mind -- luck.
We don't mean, by any stretch that the Mountaineers have been more lucky than good this year. Far from it, in fact. However, there's also that element of chance involved. Call it a break, a lack of execution by the opponent, or just plain good fortune, but it has an effect on games. Take, for example, the Baylor contest. WVU leads by 14 late in the game, but the Bears have the ball, and somehow get a receiver open behind the entire WVU defense. QB and receiver are unable to connect, however, giving the Mountaineers the ball back and the ability to salt away the win. The very next week a similar situation, although Oklahoma State trails by just one score. Another wide open receiver, another errant pass, and WVU wins going away. It could have been much closer.
In this game, if it's close, plays like these will be magnified. A drop here, a missed receiver there, could well be the difference.