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Opponent preview: Horned Frogs are scary, good

OBNUG’s game previews are written by reader-turned-contributor Stephen Grettenberg. Because not every article should contain pinings for Marty Tadman.

Boise State vs. TCU

I know many Bronco fans were hoping for the BCS – but this should be a great game, and it is one of the five best bowl matchups even if it is not one the five BCS games. TCU is a solid opponent and a very interesting matchup. For those traveling, San Diego is gorgeous in December, and you should bring your bathing suit.

I read a little coaching factoid on TCU’s site. BSU coach Chris Peterson was the starting QB at UC Davis when TCU coach Gary Patterson worked their as the linebackers coach. The other thing I noticed was how unerringly polite and respectful they are about the Poinsetta Bowl and Boise State on their site.

TCU only gave up more than 14 points once in the entire season, and that was to national championship bound Oklahoma. Given Oklahoma has been averaging around 60 points a game lately, holding them to 35 points isn’t too shabby either. While TCU has two losses they came against current BCS No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 6 Utah, which is nothing to be ashamed of.

Offensively, TCU is known as a rushing school, but it has 2,417 yards passing, just a bit less than their 2,610 rushing yards. Two of their top five rushers are the two main quarterbacks, and they run a viable, underrated option offense that can hurt you in multiple ways.

TCU at the QB Position:

TCU has two pretty decent quarterbacks. Andy Dalton is the starter, but capable QB Marcus Jackson is likely to see action, if only as a runner.

Dalton, a sophomore, is more of a passer. In 10 games he went 160-for-272 for 2,045 yards, 11 TDs, 4 interceptions, and 14 sacks. On the ground he had 97 rushes for 358 yards and 8 TDs. He was knocked out of the Oklahoma game with an injury, and did not play the next two games against San Diego State and Colorado State. TCU came on as a passing team late in the year. In his last game against a solid Air Force team, Dalton went 21-for-27 for 321 yards and 2 TDs in the air, no interceptions, and another 39 yards rushing with another 2 TDs.

Backup QB Jackson is a decent passer and a better open field runner. He played in seven games, going 35-for-62 for 372 yards, 3 TDs, 2 Interceptions, and 2 sacks. He added 384 yards on 70 rushes and 4 TDs.

TCU on Offense:

TCU is a solid rushing team without having a major star. Five players have over 300 yards, but none reached the 500 yard mark. A number of other players have also carried the ball – with almost as many WR carries and RB carries. QB Dalton is fifth with 358 yards. WR Christian Ryan is fourth with 380 yards, and QB Jackson is third with 384 yards. Then we get to the two actual running backs that shared the load. Aaron Brown had 85 rushes for 445 yards, for a 5.2 average, but only two TDs on the ground. Junior RB Joseph Turner is more of a grinding runner at 226 lbs. He rushed 130 times for 494 yards, a 3.8 average – but he also scored 10 TDs. Turner missed the Utah game, and had he been healthy, BSU might have been in the BCS.

Although senior TE Shae Reagan only played in seven games, he is the fourth leading receiver with 17 receptions for 226 yards. For the most part, TCU tends towards using tight ends as blockers, with its backs catching a number of screens and short passes underneath and the receivers carrying the ball on a number of end-arounds and reverses. Reagan also missed the Utah and Oklahoma games, but was back in the lineup the last few weeks. I expect TCU to try to create a few third down situations pitting Reagan against BSU’s linebackers.

The second and third best receivers are WR Bryant Walker (21 catches for 231 yds) and WR Ryan Christian (the almost-RB has 380 yards on the ground, and caught 24 passes for 268 yards). But the unquestioned favorite target in the passing game is sophomore Jimmy Young, with 54 catches for 926 yards and 5 TDs. I expect BSU CB Kyle Wilson to be matched up against Young in one of the more interesting matchups of the game. With Young on the field, the safeties may need to respect the pass enough to make stacking the box against the run a dangerous idea.

Overall TCU has been offensively somewhat inconsistent over the course of the year due at least in part to injuries. The passing game started off slowly, but has improved a great deal. This is a balanced offense, and it is hard to key on any one player.

Boise State ranks third in scoring defense, so there is hope to keep TCU out of the end zone a lot of the time. Given the reputation of TCU’s defense, that is a very good thing.

One interesting fact is that TCU leads the nation in time of possession, meaning basically that they are very good at being physical and grinding the ball right down a defense’s throat. This is not a team you can give a lead to and expect to come back – because they’ll grind the clock down as they grind out yards.

TCU on Defense:

The only place Boise State has seen a defense anywhere near this tough is on the practice field. TCU ranks second in the nation in both total and scoring defense.

The time to prepare for this bowl might help Boise State a little. The reason for that is that TCU often runs a rare formation on defense, a 4-2-5. Your first assumption might be that this defense might make them soft on the run, but that is actually the strength of the defense. The defensive backs also make some unpredictable shifts and stunts trying to disguise their coverage scheme. They also blitz. DE Jerry Hughes often draws double teams to try and control him – which helps the linebackers out. With Hughes leading the country with 14 sacks, or 1.17 per game, he has more sacks than the Broncos have given up all year. Overall, the Horned Frogs average 3.42 sacks a game. Given time, Kellen Moore can take apart a defense. So the matchup of TCU’s front four to the Boise State offensive line is a key matchup. This is a run defense that held Oklahoma to 25 yards on 36 carries. Heisman candidate QB Sam Bradford did light him up for 411 yards – 202 of which came in the first quarter.

TCU may be the first team the Broncos really play all year that can pressure a QB and force him to beat you. I think Kellen Moore is up to the task, though few freshmen QB’s can pull off a feat like that against a defense like this. If Moore pulls it off consistently, Boise State should win.

The Game:

This should be a hard-fought, physical game. I expect Kellen Moore to take his lumps, and get sacked and pressured more than he is used to. I also expect him to win the game passing – provided Kyle Wilson locks down TCU's star receiver Young without too much help from the safeties. The game will definitely test Boise State’s running defense, too.

The pick:

Boise State by 7 in an extremely physical game. I expect the offensive linemen and Kellen Moore to see the TCU front four bruise them up, but ultimately I think Boise State can tough out a win.