I said it last year and I’ll say it again — it’s weird we aren’t playing the Aggies. It’s Thanksgiving and that’s what is supposed to happen. We should be getting ready for the Aglets to invade Congress for Yell Practice, “whoop!” all over the capitol grounds, play their song on car horns and talk about sips. If you were old enough to watch Texas football before 2012, and that’s all of you, you know that Texas/A&M is a Thanksgiving staple, whether it was actually on Thanksgiving or Friday, which we knew as T+1. It’s Turkey Trot, Thanksgiving and the Cowboys game, then either: A) Texas/A&M or B) The Egg Bowl and Texas/A&M on Friday. It was the way things were, and with it that way it’s weird.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like them or miss them. I don’t like their cheerleaders and their dumb uniforms, their armed band with the three songs they play, their silly chants, their sillier traditions, their fans, what they call themselves … But it is weird not playing them. Do I miss that game? I think I do.
Doesn’t matter what I think, though, because the game at hand is Texas vs. TCU, and the Frogs have everything to play for with a final four spot potentially on the line. The Horns are looking to finish the with a winning record, and while that doesn’t have the same consequences as a final four spot, it’s crucial for Texas to continue the momentum of the last few weeks into the heart of recruiting season.
This is an uphill battle, because Purple is very, very good. But don’t for a second think Texas will be overwhelmed. Let’s get to this.
No.5 TCU (9-1/6-1) @ TEXAS (6-5/5-3)
Fox Sports 1
TCU is two wins and a loss by Bama, Oregon, FSU or Mississippi State from being included in the Final Four this weekend. With Iowa State to close out the year, this is the only road block left and three of the top four have championship games, and anything can happen there… First things first, they must win this game against Texas. They’re certainly hitting on all cylinders, but they are not the same team on the road as they are at home. So far this season on the road TCU has lost (at Baylor), won by one (at WVA) and four (at Kansas). I don’t count on the road at SMU, because I’ve seen them play. The offense is doing what they do in those games, averaging 41 points per game, but the defense is giving up 40 points in those three road games as well. So what I’m saying is, there’s a chance.
Hands down the Coach of the Year in the Big 12 is Gary Patterson. From installing a new offense to losing arguably the best player on the best defense in the league (Devonte Fields) right before two-a-days started, Patterson has manned the helm masterfully this year. And if he PUNTS THE BALL at Baylor rather than going deep on 4th & 1, he’s likely undefeated and sitting at No.2 right now. But you know what they say about hindsight? It’s stupid, exactly right. They still have a shot, but Texas stands in the way.
The key to this turnaround is the offense, where the difference from last year is unbelievable. After his offense was a dumpster fire last year, Patterson poached Sonny Cumbie from Texas Tech and installed the Tech-esque up-tempo offense you’ve come to know in Tortilla flats.
The key to the success of the offensive turnaround has been quarterback Trevone Boykin. A super athlete thrust into the qb role in 2012, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior was always a good runner — remember the Texas in 2012? Oy. — but his arm and his decision making were sketchy at best. Enter Coach Cumbie, who has turned a very raw athlete into the (likely) Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. On the season he has 3,021 yards passing with 24 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. He averages 302 yards per game passing, which is second in the league, and his 143.0 efficiency rating is third in the Big 12. And he still has those wheels, ranking second on the team with 548 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, also second on the team. He’s as dangerous a dual threat quarterback as Texas has faced since Brett Hundley, and Cumbie puts him in great scenarios to make plays.
The wide receiving unit is where you really can see the Texas Tech influence on the offense. There aren’t huge numbers outside, but three players average 60 or more yards receiving per game and two more average over 30. The leader is Josh Doctson. He’s tied for the lead with seven td receptions and has a team-high 693 yards receiving. At 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, the junior is a tall, rangy wide out that reminds me of Limas Sweed a bit with the ability to adjust to the ball in the air and stretch the field. They don’t stretch the field a lot, opting more for the Tech-like outs and crossing routes, flooding areas and overwhelming the coverage, but when they do he’s the guy. The other one to watch is Deante Gray, the 5-foot-10, 175 pound junior. He’s your classic inside receiver with kick return open field ability, darting and slashing. On the year he has 486 yards receiving and is tied with Doctson with seven scores. Junior Kolby Listenbee (606 yards, three scores) benefits from all the attention Doctson and Gray get, and to a lesser extent so does sophomore Ty Slanina, who has the best name in this game on either side. Slanina and Listenbee (sounds like a cop show on TNT) are similar in game and size at 6-feet, 190 pounds and will hurt a defense that focuses too much on Doctson or Gray. This is a Tech wide out unit, and I mean that as a compliment.
Again, the running game is Tech-like in numbers, but rather than using them just for swing passes, they actually run on defenses that are spread out defending the four wide outs. Aaron Green, the Nebraska transfer that I thought Texas was getting out of high school, is the leading rusher with 677 yards and six scores. They like to platoon their backs, using Green and junior BJ Catalon almost interchangeably. Despite being smaller (5-foot-9, 190 pounds) Catalon leads the team with 10 scores. You don’t see eye-popping numbers from the running game, but what is eye-popping is the 8.3 yards per carry Green has and the 5.0 Catalon has. That’s serious. They have taken over games, like the win over West Virginia, but most importantly they are another effective weapon in the offense.
Making it all work are the boys up front. They aren’t stars or super sexy (center Joey Hunt was a Remington Trophy Watch List member at the beginning of the season), but they are consistent and have each started in the same spot all season. They keep Boykin clean, the holes open and the offense moving.
This offense is hard to defend. If you focus on the running game, Boykin has shown the ability to throw it over the top. If you focus on coverage, they’ll hammer you with Catalon and Green. If you focus on the backs, Boykin will zone read-keeper you to death. Death by a 1,000 cuts. I don’t expect any changes this week. I expect they’ll go at Duke Thomas and make Caleb Bluiett and Ced Reed make decisions in the option game and see if the Texas lb’s have truly turned the corner as far as tackling goes. Even when it doesn’t click, it still clicks: they scored 58 points in their lone loss. Nothing changes offensively for TCU, because there is no reason to change.
Why does TCU only list their top five tacklers on their official athletics website? Your website is dumb, TCU. DUMB. Even still, it’s easy to see who the best player on the defense is: linebacker Paul Dawson. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior sam leads the team in tackles with 105, tackles for loss with 15, sacks with five, fumbles recovered with three, fumbles forced with two and passes defended (tied for the lead with five). In short, the guy is fantastic. He’s fast, active, physical and very, very good. He’s joined by 6-foot-1, 227-pound Marcus Mallet in the middle and he is also very good: second on the team in tackles (74), tackles for loss (6.5) and a team-high six quarterback pressures — I guess he’s got the lead? 5 guys listed with stats. Jerks. — and while he’s not quite as disruptive as Dawson, he’s pretty darn good. In the 4-2-5 scheme they only play two linebackers, but they make plays.
Up front Chucky Hunter is an NFL talent at 6-foot-1, 305 pounds. He’s big, strong and physical and can take over the line of scrimmage. Devonte Fields was supposed to be the superstar outside, but he lost his mind and his scholarship. In his place junior college transfer Mike Tuaua has stepped in, leading the team with five sacks. Hunter is a next level guy, but the rest are solid if not spectacular. They do a great job of protecting the backers and allowing them to make plays.
In the back four they have some terrific talent, led by weakside safety Chris Hackett. The 6-foot-2, 195-junior is a big safety that covers a lot of ground in the secondary, especially in the passing game. He leads the Big 12 with six picks and has a league-high 11 passes defended. He’s also NFL-ready and a terrific safety, particularly in coverage. He’s joined in the back by Sam Carter, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior and pre-season All-America selection. Carter is a big, physical run stuffer that has good coverage skills (two picks, five pbu’s) and terrific run-stuffing skills (46 tackles, .5 sacks). The other three db’s are solid, but these two are terrific. The corners aren’t overly big (5-foot-10, 175 pounds) but they can hold their own. Their abilities, and the play of the linebackers, allow Carter and Hackett to roam and adlib.
There is a formula to attacking the Texas offense: stuff the run, bring pressure on the qb and create turnovers. And they do create turnovers, leading the league with 28 total (17 picks, 11 fumbles recovered). I imagine they will stick to that formula.
Cameron Echols-Luper has three names, and averages 10.8 per punt return with a touchdown. BJ Catalon sorta has three names and joins CEL on the kickoff return team, where he averages a terrific 31.8 yards-per-kick return with one score.
Points kicker Jaden Oberkrom is terrific, going 18-22 this year. He is third in Big 12 history in field goals over 40 yards with a 69% career percentage. They don’t punt all that well, though, averaging just 39.6 yards per kick. But they cover kicks extremely well, allowing an average of -.3 yards per return with a long of just three.
The kick returners are difference makers and need to be accounted for. The cover teams are terrific and, with Oberkrom out there, expect plenty of long field attempts.
Like TCU, Texas had the last week off to watch film and look for weakness and things to attack. If it were me, here’s what I’d do:
It seems Daje Johnson is just about back from whatever it was he’s paying for this season. He’s the freshest weapon outside Texas has and I think the school he was oh-so-close to picking over Texas is going to see what everyone was so excited about. With Daje on the field, I am running the diamond (yes, I know I’ve said this before, but THIS time could be the one) with Gray, Daje and Malcolm Brown. It gives the offense options to run either direction and while it only provides two outside routes in the passing game, it offers a lot of protection for the quarterback and short, quick routes to those three backs in the flats and on screens.
I would attack with the diamond and I would answer TCU’s up-tempo offense with an increased tempo of my own, forcing TCU to keep big personnel on the field. It keeps them from substituting, and with the trio of backs on the field it allows Texas to move Daje Johnson outside to wide out at any time. With Jaxon Shipley (leg) less-than-100% if he plays at all, it’s vital Texas get another playmaker on the field and Daje Johnson can fill that role. I expect Armanti Foreman to join John Harris outside, adding another dynamic playmaker with speed in the passing game.
Texas is going to need to score some points and I think this offers the best chance to do that; and if this diamond formation helps kick start the running, it’s only going to open up shots downfield to the tall John Harris against the 5-foot-10 corners.
Get after Trevone Boykin. He’s not an easy quarterback to tackle, but he’s not terribly accurate, either, completing only 59.3% of his passes. Texas leads the Big 12 with 37 sacks and while TCU has only allowed 17, that’s a pretty high number when you consider how mobile Boykin is. Get. After. Him.
Texas has the front seven to keep Boykin pinned in and as confident as they are, I think are excited about the opportunity. This is a good offensive line, but not a great one, and I like Texas’ matchup in the trenches. I think TCU is going to have a tough time running the ball with Texas’ terrific front seven, so the key will be limiting Boykin on broken plays (when the coverage shuts down his receivers and he takes off) and making sure not to lose wideouts downfield on third down (come on, Duke). If Texas can do those things, they have a good shot at pulling this off.
Can we just have it all come together one freakin’ time? Just once? One game without a mishandled snap, or a missed field goal, or a holding penalty on a TOUCHBACK? Just once? If that is an option, can it please be today? PLEASE?
Texas has no pressure in this game. Their bowl game is secure and, in the big scheme of things, one more win will not make or break this season, as much it would help the recruiting and return of the program. TCU on the other hand, has everything at stake. A win keeps their title hopes, both Big 12 and National, alive. A loss and it’s over. That’s a lot of pressure, and sometimes that pressure is too much to overcome. I don’t know how TCU handles pressure. I know it’s a national TV game and it’s senior night at Texas and it will be an emotional night for a lot of Longhorns. On paper, just looking at points scored and points allowed, it’s about a 10-point advantage for TCU … but Texas is at home, and TCU isn’t the same team on the road. This has all the makings of 28-28 game late in the fourth. Who takes it home?
I can’t wait to find out. See you Thursday night.
Last Week in the Big 12
Thursday, November 20th
No.12 KANSAS STATE 26 WEST VIRGINIA 20
It wasn’t an F, but it wasn’t quite an A. Morgantown is a tough place to play and K-State didn’t lose like Baylor did, but they looked less dominant than I expected. Even still, it was a win in a tough place to play. K-State keeps their Big 12 Title hopes alive, and Baylor’s final four hopes alive.
Saturday, November 22nd
OKLAHOMA STATE 28 No.7 BAYLOR 49
It was a solid outing for Baylor, who jumped out to a 28-7 halftime and a 42-14 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The fact Bryce Petty scored the final touchdown with three minutes to play tells me Art Briles wanted and expected more from his offense. That tells me he knows he needs to put up some big numbers to stay near the top four. Was it enough? We will see Tuesday night.
KANSAS 7 No.21 oklahoma 44
So Saturday we are at a bachelor party in Houston. We are also in a college fantasy football league and last Saturday was the first round of the playoffs. As the games started, the groom-to-be realized that he hadn’t started Samaje Perine as he wanted (he forgot to hit the “apply” button) and started Mike Davis of South Carolina instead. He got 5.4 points from Davis instead of the 75 points from Perine and lost, ending his chance to repeat as champion and retain The Tina (that’s the name of our trophy). If you were out and about Saturday afternoon/night and saw highlights of the ou game and heard seemingly uncalled for cursing and obscenities, that was us.
TEXAS TECH 34 IOWA STATE 31
I really liked you, Paul Rhoads. Too bad you (soon) will not be coaching there next year. This is the sort of win that gets Kingsbury a raise, and that’s the sort of thing Tech does way too often to keep them in this predicament.
This Week in the Big 12
No.20 oklahoma (8-3/5-3) BYE
OKLAHOMA STATE (5-6/3-5) BYE
Saturday, November 29th
TEXAS TECH (4-6/2-7) vs. No.5 BAYLOR (9-1/6-1) 2:30 pm ABC
Oklahoma State is better than Tech and they were blown out at home, now the Bears get another chance to explode on someone. And they will explode on Tech, similar to the way TCU did. They will give up a few more points, but they are going to light up Cowboys Stadium and officially end Tech’s bowl game chances.
KANSAS (3-8/1-7) @ No.11 KANSAS STATE (8-2/6-1) 3 pm Fox Sports 1
Yeesh. I think ou broke the Jayhawks and with a low of 36 in Manhattan and Rock Chalk playing in sunny Florida, I think the fans have already moved on to basketball season (those few that stuck around). The Wildcats have not moved on. Yet. They will soon enough after they smack the stuffing out of Kansas. Who in the world will take that job?
WEST VIRGINIA (6-5/4-4) @ IOWA STATE (2-8/0-7) 11 am FOX Sports 1
And who takes this job? Is there a football version of Fred Hoiberg out there? I don’t think so. Two words for you Ames: Mack Brown. That would be fun to watch.
It’s Senior Night. Let’s do this