Wyoming-TCU Preview: Scouting the Frogs

Last year's loss to TCU may have been Wyoming's worst performance of the '06 season. It definitely wasn't the kind of outing Cowboys fans expect to see out of their team this Saturday. Have the Pokes improved enough in '07 to knock off the MWC preseason favorite? Or will the Frogs' bruising gridiron punch leave the Cowboys' early-season conference record a bit black and…well, purple?

Last year, Wyoming went to TCU and got blown out in an ugly 26-3 Frog-style whooping that ended any momentum a quarterback change and a three-game winning streak had given the Cowboys. It was hard to say whether the story of the game was a defensive letdown on UW's part or just total domination by TCU. Either way, senior quarterback Jeff Ballard engineered a 432-yard TCU offensive explosion (including 244 yards through the air) while Wyoming mustered a measly 165 yards total offense. It was an anomaly defensively for the Pokes, who came into the match-up nationally ranked in passing yards allowed (121 per game), and one the Cowboys desperately want to avoid this weekend.

Despite the Frogs' offensive production, Wyoming had plenty of opportunities to make last year's game a competitive one but failed to capitalize on TCU mistakes. The Pokes intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble deep in TCU territory only to come away with a punt, a missed field goal and an interception. Things almost could not have gone worse for the Cowboy offense all day. The running game mustered just 28 total yards, and Sween put up a dismal 137 through the air, including a pick.

A Different Story in '07?…

TCU will have to face the Cowboys in Laramie this year, and a change of venue and some glaring dissimilarities between the Frogs' '06 and '07 squads could mean a dramatically different result. Still, an overall 3-2 record (1-1 in conference play) has the Frogs even with last year's pace; after a 3-2 start in ‘06 they won eight in a row.

The thing that makes TCU's season hard to read thus far is that the team's losses were on the road and against formidable opponents (Texas and Air Force) while their wins, all at home, came against sub-par teams (Baylor, SMU and CSU).

When TCU traveled to Texas in Week Two, the Longhorns were ranked seventh in the nation. The Horned Frogs held Texas scoreless in the first half and went into the locker room with a 10-0 lead. They couldn't put the Longhorns away in the second, however, and a 33-point second-half from Texas handed TCU its first loss of the season and knocked the Frogs out of the top 25.

The Falcons saw a similar late-game let down from the Frogs in Week Three and were rewarded with similar results. TCU had a 14-point fourth-quarter lead with just more than 10 minutes remaining but allowed the Falcons to come back and tie the score at 17, forcing overtime. TCU then had an opportunity to go up by three in OT, but a 36-yard field goal banked off the left upright. On the next possession, the Falcons drove down the field to set up Ryan Harrison's 33-yard game-winning boot. It wasn't as devastating a loss as it may have at first appeared. When TCU traveled to Falcon Stadium, Air Force was 2-0 and had already grabbed an impressive road win over Utah. Still, it won't do the Frogs any favors in the minds of bowl voters at the end of the year. The Falcons have dropped two straight road games against BYU and Navy since their Week Three win and now have the same overall record (3-2) as TCU and a better conference record (2-1).

Personnel Picture…

Most of the pieces of the Frogs' '06 squad are still in place, but so far, the team has looked far less formidable than it did a season ago. TCU returned nine starters from a defense that ranked 2nd in the nation last year, allowing only 234.92 total yards per game, yet somehow the Horned Frog's are ranked 40th in the nation this season, giving up 331.80 total yards per contest.

The defense is led, once again, by Tommy Blake and Chase Ortiz—or, at least it would be if Blake suited up consistently. The preseason All-American defensive end will reportedly miss this weekend's game for undisclosed reasons. When he plays, Blake is a terror for opposing quarterbacks, and Karsten Sween has undoubtedly slept much more soundly this week knowing the big senior won't be donning the purple and black on Saturday.

Ortiz has been Blake's running mate at the defensive end spot throughout their college careers, and the two made up one of the best pass-rushing tandems in the nation in 2006. Although Ortiz doesn't get the kind of attention Blake commands, he is arguably every bit as effective. Last year, he had 64 tackles, 11.5 sacks and 25 tackles for a loss. Like Blake, he seems to always find his way into the backfield, and while Wyoming can give him more focus than they could with Blake in the game, Ortiz will be a handful for the Pokes' OL all afternoon.

Like Wyoming, TCU's strength on offense comes from its running game. Last year the Frogs finished ninth in the nation in rushing, averaging close to 195 yards per contest. The yards have been a bit harder to come by in '07, but TCU is almost sure to try to pound it out on the ground Saturday.

The team's main weapon is junior running back Aaron Brown. Last year, Brown rushed for 801 yards (66.8 yards per game) on 154 attempts, racked up nine touchdowns and added 455 receiving yards. He has already put up 243 yards on 38 carries in ‘07 (81.0 yards per game) but has yet to find the end zone. In a way, Brown is a mild version of both Wynel Seldon and Devin Moore—explosive through the hole and still big and strong enough to throw his weight around.

At the quarterback position for the Horned Frogs is redshirt freshman Andy Dalton, who faces the daunting task of replacing Ballard. A hard-nosed competitor with almost as much talent with his legs as with his arm, Dalton proved he could win at the college level, leading the Frogs to victory in more than 90 percent of the games he started. So far Dalton has completed 80 of 132 passes for 833 yards, three picks and three touchdowns. Saturday's game will be just the sixth start in Dalton's career.

Wyoming's Keys to Success

1. Limit Turnovers. Wyoming can't expect—or even dream—that it can have seven turnovers against the Frogs and walk away with a dubbya. Last time the Pokes faced the Frogs in Laramie, Corey Bramlett threw four picks and fumbled the football three times in a game Wyoming had every shot at winning. The last time the Cowboys played, Ohio did similar things to Karsten Sween. We'll need to treat the ball like it's bearing our children, or we won't have a chance. More than likely, it starts with solid rushing. If the holes are open up front, and Seldon and Moore are hitting them hard, things will open up in the passing game for Sween, who will hopefully make smarter decisions with the ball than he did in his last outing. With a top-notch defense playing in front of a raucous crowd, it won't likely be sacks, punts or incomplete passes that kill the Cowboys. Conservative play and ball control could be the key in this one.

2. Red Zone Production. When the Pokes do get a shot at the end zone, however, they need to come away with points. Last year, we hamstrung ourselves by not taking advantage of TCU's mistakes and scoring when we had the chance. Even without Blake, this game could become a defensive battle, and every point will count at the end of the day.

As always, log on for more pregame stories throughout the week as we near ever closer to the Pokes' biggest game of their young season.

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