The Chalkboard: WVU – TCU
TCU’s 4-2-5 defense, in its own way, presents some of the challenges that West Virginia’s 3-3-5 does to opponents. While the four-man front isn’t an oddity, the alignment of just two linebackers, flanked and backed by two strong safeties, changes blocking paths and angles for linemen looking to get to the second level — assuming they can successfully move or stymie the front wall. That can allow those defenders more clear paths to the ball or into the backfield on those occasions when they blitz.
The big key to the defense, though, is the success of the front four in getting penetration, pressure and sacks. Defensive end Ben Banogu has 19 tackles (fifth best on the team), with six of those coming behind the line of scrimmage, including three sacks. Mat Boesen also has 19 stops, while Ross Blacklock and Chris Bradley are also disruptive forces. In all, they have accounted for 44 tackles and four additional quarterback hits.
Controlling, or at least negating, that pressure will be a huge factor in the game. If TCU’s front four, without help, can get into the WVU backfield routinely, the Mountaineers’ rhythm, which it seems to thrive upon offensively, will be disrupted. However, if West Virginia can hold the line and get out to one linebacker or safety at the point of attack, its rushing game could continue to thrive.
Watch TCU’s defensive tactics, especially early in the game. Are the Frogs bringing additional rushers to the line, or blitzing with more than four? How is WVU responding, and is it able to run four wide receiver sets, which leaves only one additional blocker to help the offensive line?
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Since 2013, TCU has recorded 14 games where it topped the 600-yard mark in total offense. over the same span, West Virginia has reached that plateau 12 times.
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The match-up of TCU’s third down conversion rate (a national best 63.2%) and West Virginia’s third down defense (the Mountaineers are allowing only a 32% conversion rate) has been chronicled already, but the key here is what happens on first and second downs, not third. The Frogs have been very good at “staying in front of the sticks” and not getting themselves into second and long or third and long situations, and have faced a steady diet of third and shorts in their quest for a new set of downs. Excluding QB sacks, TCU has lost just 80 rushing yards this year, and averages 5.2 per rushing attempt. Just one average carry on first or second down yields a makeable third down distance. That has also helped quarterback Kenny Hill’s completion percentage, which stands at a gaudy 72.6%. He doesn’t have to push the ball downfield, and is able to make safer, shorter throws.
The key here is fairly simple, yet very difficult to execute. West Virginia must keep the home team from gaining four or five or six yards on first down, and put it in a position where it can deploy confidently against the pass on third down. The Mountaineers, although they may not excel in press coverage, must also take some chances to try to disrupt those short passing routes and challenge the safe throws that have led to the plethora of first downs.
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This streak has to breaks sometime, right? TCU is 5-0 all-time when GameDay has been present., including 4-0 on the road. TCU is hosting GameDay for the second time overall, and the first time in eight years since its 2009 victory over Utah. TCU’s last GameDay contest was at West Virginia in 2014, a 31-30 Horned Frogs’ victory.
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TCU doesn’t get enough respect for its achievements from the national media. Perhaps that is due to the Frogs’ affiliation with lower level conferences during much of its recent successful run, but the national natterers have also largely ignored their achievements in the Big 12 — other than to cook up reasons why they shouldn’t have been included in the College Football Playoff in 2014.
Over the last four seasons, TCU has the Big 12’s second-best overall record (33-10) and conference mark (20-8). It also has the fifth best record in the nation since 2005 — a sterling 121-37. All of those wins didn’t come against the dregs of leagues, either. TCU head coach Gary Patterson is 22-19 against ranked opponents, including an 8-5 mark over the last four seasons. If you don’t think that’s good, check out where those numbers stack up against the rest of the country.
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Scoring on as many possessions as possible is the obvious goal on offense, but if that can’t be achieved, the next best thing is gaining a couple of first downs before having to give the ball up via punt. In this game, that importance is magnified. TCU has controlled the ball well, and even when the Frogs don’t score, they typically move it some. That keeps the other defense on the field, gives theirs rest, and gains all-important field position.
For West Virginia’ it’s a bit of a different story. The Mountaineers have been sort of a boom or bust story on offense. Even though most of the time it’s been “boom”, when WVU doesn’t score, it has tended to give the ball up quickly. The Mountaineers had four three-and-out sequences against Kansas and another possession which ended in a third-play interception. On it’s other two possessions that ended in punts, it managed just six plays each. It’s vital that the Mountaineers don’t hit the field, run three plays, then head to the sidelines.
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TCU defeated Toby’s Business College by the score of 8-6 in its first-ever football game, which occurred in 1896. We’ll leave it up to you as to whether or not that’s a better opponent than the Mahoning Cycle Club, which WVU actually lost to by the score of 26-0 in the same season.