UW-TCU Position-by-Position Analysis: Offense

Tomorrow's Wyoming-TCU game may not feature a scoring explosion. Both squads have been more than impressive on the defensive end throughout ‘07, while offensive yields have been a bit sporadic. Still, whichever unit can move the ball consistently against a stout resistance will likely come away a winner. We decided to take a closer look at each position to see which team has the upper hand.

Here's how the offenses break down:


I would have given the Pokes the clear-cut advantage in this category had we played TCU about four weeks ago. Now I'm not so confident. After a season opener in which Karsten Sween looked like the best quarterback in the conference, it's been all downhill for the sophomore ever since. In his last three games, he's thrown seven interceptions, been sacked eight times, been benched once and has the third-to-worst passer rating of the league's nine starting gunslingers.

Karsten Sween has looked less than stellar in the Pokes' last three games. The Cowboys hope he can bounce back at home against the Frogs.

Fortunately, TCU's quarterback situation is perhaps even more precarious than Wyoming's. Andy Dalton, while appearing slightly less erratic than Sween in his first five starts, is far from the kind of quarterback the Pokes faced last year in TCU '06 senior Jeff Ballard.

Complicating things even further is Dalton's recent knee injury (suffered on the opening drive of the Frogs' win over CSU last week), which opened the door for backup Marcus Jackson, who arguably looked more impressive than Dalton. Jackson doesn't have the passing skills of Dalton, and he showed it against the Rams, completing just 11 of 26 attempts. What he does have is versatility, and his 38 yards and two touchdowns on the ground complemented another score through the air that helped the Horned Frogs get back above .500.

If Jackson continues to play the way he did against CSU, Dalton may have to fight to get his old job back after he heals up.

Right now, Jackson is the projected starter for tomorrows match-up. He's completed less than 50 percent of his passes in the two games he's played this year, but the sophomore has managed to avoid turnovers—something that may end up being the key in what promises to be a defensive struggle all afternoon.

Jackson and Dalton bring very different skills to the table, and while both have their strong points, neither is as dangerous as Sween has the potential to be. At the same time, neither has looked as out of control as Sween has at times during the early goings of '07.

At the end of the day, the quarterback who can manage the game and avoid mistakes should come away a winner. I hate to say it, but right now, Sween needs to prove once again that he can do that. As for TCU, Jackson, at least, has done just that.

Advantage: Horned Frogs

Running Backs:

If Laramie really is as windy and rainy as weather forecasts say it could be tomorrow, this game may well come down to which team can run the ball most effectively, and both TCU and Wyoming boast talented running backs.

Aaron Brown is about as good as they come in the Mountain West Conference. The preseason Offensive Player of the Year, Brown is shifty and strong, a load to take down and elusively fast. The Frogs will most likely try to pound it out on the ground early, and the Pokes' fourth-ranked defense should get one of its biggest tests of the season.

When Brown has played, he's been a force in '07.

Obviously, he's proven over the past two years to be a formidable offensive weapon, but Brown's effectiveness as a running back this season can really only be measured by his performance against Colorado State last weekend. He played less than a quarter against Baylor in the season opener and missed Weeks Two and Three with a leg injury. Even against SMU two weekends ago, he only carried the ball 11 times.

He looked 100 percent healthy when the Rams came to Fort Worth last Saturday, however, and his 150 all-purpose yards gave the Pokes an early peek at what to expect from the talented rusher this weekend. The Frogs are a different team when he's on the field, and his impact on TCU's success has been abundantly evident through the first five contests of '07. The question is: How does he stack up next to Thunder and Lightning?

Wyoming's one-two punch puts most opposing running backs at a disadvantage, and tomorrow's contest should be no different. While Brown is both strong and quick, Wynel Seldon is stronger and Devin Moore is quicker. All three have shown they can be threats out of the backfield in the passing game, but Wyoming's duo not only gives the Pokes a bit more versatility than the Frogs, it gives them more endurance as well. In the kind of bruising, pound-it-out battle that this game could very likely turn into, it's a huge advantage to be able to give your horses constant breathers without losing a beat offensively.

Do Thunder and Lightning trump a preseason Player of the Year? We think so.

Take away the edge the Cowboys get from having, in effect, two starting tailbacks, and UW still wins this competition in my book. Brown's been solid when he's played, but Moore's been nothing short of fantastic throughout the young season. There may not be a single offensive player in the league who has looked more dominant so far in ‘07.

Most teams would be more than happy with any of this game's three talented backs, but, in the end…

Advantage: Wyoming

Wide Receivers:

The Frogs are led at wideout by senior Ervin Dickerson, who is poised to have a breakout year. After posting less than 100 yards receiving in each of his first three seasons at TCU, Dickerson already has 14 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns in '07. At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, he has the size to be a tough cover for either of Wyoming's senior cornerbacks, and his top-end speed could be a threat if he breaks loose in the secondary.

Dickerson is a big target for TCU's two young quarterbacks. He's not afraid to chat with teammates during games, either. Here he is discussing the emotional tendencies of his inner child with cornerback Mike Salvage…or maybe they're just getting pumped up to hit people…

Going into the season, the Frogs were left without a true number one at the position after losing '06 stud Quentily Harmon. Still, Dickerson's team-leading stats have been a bit unforeseen. The man most expected to dominate the receiving categories is Donald Massey, but a shoulder injury and less-than-stellar play has kept his production lower than coaches would have liked. His best outing of the year—a five-catch, 58-yard performance against Air Force in Week Three—was still well below his potential, and his injury has kept him from posting any stats since. It's not clear yet whether he will be ready to go against the Pokes tomorrow, but if he does play, he has the athleticism to be a deep threat all afternoon. At 5-foot-11 and 172 pounds, he plays a similar game to that of Wyoming's explosive slot receiver, Hoost Marsh, but hasn't equaled the production of the Cowboys' shifty senior. So far, he has just 10 catches for 139 yards and no touchdowns on the year.

Massey is primed for a big game. The Pokes hope it won't be against them.

What TCU lacks in star quality, it makes up for in depth. The Frogs have six receivers with more than 100 yards on the year and five with more than 10 catches. Stepping up nicely has been senior Derek Moore, whose 14.7 yards per catch leads all wide receivers.

Most of the Cowboys' production at wideout has come from their three starters, sophomore Greg Bolling and seniors Marsh and Michael Ford. After posting just one reception for zero yards last season, Bolling is having a breakout year in '07. He's already grabbed 23 receptions (1st on the team) for 228 yards (1st on the team) and two touchdowns (1st on the team).

Bolling has found the end zone in both of the Cowboys' home matches this season. He'll be looking to please the crowd again tomorrow.

Marsh is by far the Pokes' most explosive receiver, and his 12.2 yards per catch average leads all other Wyoming receivers by more than two yards per reception. Cowboys coaches have tried to take advantage of his quickness in a variety of ways in '07, running reverses and setting up bubble screens in goal line and third-and-short situations. It's paid off fairly well; he leads all non running backs in rushing with 26 yards and a touchdown.

Marsh was a huge deep threat in Week One. This long catch set up the Cowboys' first touchdown of '07.

After a slow start, Ford has been picking up steam of late. The Pokes' leading receiver last season, he had just four catches for 45 yards in Weeks One and Two of '07. Since then, he has brought in 10 receptions for 88 yards, including a terrific game-saving touchdown snag against Ohio in Week Four. He won't burn anybody with his speed, but he may be the most accurate route runner on the team. He is definitely the strongest of the Cowboys' wide receivers, and coaches agree he has the surest hands. TCU will need to keep an eye on him in third down situations tomorrow.

While the Horned Frogs have comparable stats at the wide receiver spot so far this year, the Cowboys may have more talent. This one could go either way, and obviously, whichever team's running backs and defense prove to be the most successful will have a much easier time in the passing game. It may boil down to which quarterback can make smarter decisions throwing the ball, and given that they are finally playing at home again, the Pokes should be able to regain some of their early season momentum.

Advantage: Wyoming

Tight Ends:

Wade Betschart is having his best season receiving as a Cowboy. Known for his blocking, Betschart's five catches for 65 yards against the Aggies in Week Two showed off his terrific hands—and his ability to rumble past defenders after the catch. He has quieted down since then with just one reception for three yards in the Pokes' last two outings, but he has been nonetheless invaluable in the running game, clearing out huge holes for the Cowboys' star tailbacks and knocking more than a few linebackers on their heels.

Betschart has looked good in the passing game this year, but what the Frogs should really fear is his blocking.

For TCU, Shae Reagan proved to be one of the conference's most explosive pass-catching tight ends in 2006, and he's picked up right where he left off in the early goings of '07. A more consistent part of the passing game plan than Betschart, Reagan has already six catches for 100 yards and a touchdown this season. He's also the team's biggest threat to put up big yardage every time he touches the ball. He leads the team in yards per catch, at 16.7, and last year, he was virtually unstoppable with the ball in his hands, finishing the season with more than 21 yards per reception.

Reagan doesn't have the blocking skills of Betschart, but he has the potential to develop them. He should have a tougher time than usual getting involved tomorrow against the Pokes' lightning-fast linebackers. If Jackson starts, the overall numbers in the passing game could go down as well. Nonetheless, Wyoming better put a body on him all afternoon.

This is probably the most competitive match-up of all the positions, so I'm going to go back to home field advantage. Betschart is one of the team's biggest crowd-pleasers, and since the weather may demand more conservative play calling, blocking becomes a bit more valuable in this one.

Advantage: Wyoming

Offensive Line:

The Frogs return one more offensive lineman from '06 than the Cowboys do, and both squads have proved they can open up holes for the running game.

TCU is led by 6-foot-4, 298-pound left guard Matty Lindner. A tough run blocker, Lindner's real forte is in pass protection. He has great athleticism and is healthy after suffering a knee injury in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Junior center Blake Schlueter was an all-star for the Frogs last season, and 6-7, 271-pound senior Wade Sisk is a steady starter next to Lindner at left tackle.

TCU's line is far more experienced on its left side than its right, and the Cowboys may look to take advantage of that in pass rush tomorrow.

Wyoming is led by junior center Tim Bond and junior right tackle Kyle Howard. The rest of the unit is made up of sophomores—some of which saw their first division one action in the '07 season opener against Virginia. They have held up well so far, however. Left tackle Ryan Otterson went toe-to-toe with Virginia All-American Chris Long in Week One and all but shut the big senior down. In the running game, they've been fantastic, and both Cowboy tailbacks have had nothing but praise for the young unit.

Wyoming is averaging almost 40 more yards rushing per game than the Frogs, but TCU's front five have been far better in pass protection than the Pokes have been. Wyoming's line is giving up almost three sacks a game compared to less than two for TCU.

Sween hasn't received the kind of pass protection he needed in the Pokes' first four games. Will things be different against the Frogs?

Pass protection is something head coach Joe Glenn worked very hard on with his offensive line during the Pokes' bye week, and the Cowboys should show marked improvement tomorrow. In any case, with a home crowd behind them and a pound-it-out game plan, giving Sween extra time to throw may not be as important as blowing open holes for Thunder and Lightning.

Advantage: Wyoming

So there you have it. If you're a TCU fan, you may not agree with every prediction we've made on this site this week, but that doesn't take away from the fact that they are all true.

Remember to log on tomorrow for message board updates throughout the game and a recap, complete with quotes from both teams, afterwards. And check out the site later in the weekend for a picture gallery of tomorrow's big match-up.

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