The TCU Horned Frogs have found their first season of Big 12 Conference football to be rather difficult, and it doesn't get any easier for the squad as it takes on the 18th-ranked Texas Longhorns on Thanksgiving Day in Austin.
TCU head coach Gary Patterson has had a number of seasons where he and the Horned Frogs were at the top of the heap, specifically when the team resided in the Mountain West Conference, but now the competition has been taken up a notch. While outsiders are questioning whether or not TCU can compete on a regular basis with some of the top programs in the country, Patterson is realistic in his assessment of a team that is just two games over .500 at the moment.
"All those that said they didn't know whether TCU could play week-to-week hadn't been following much college football. It wouldn't have done me any good to argue that point off the field when we have to prove that on the field...We have to keep our goals high to understand where we have to get to. You have to be realistic and keep it in that visual point of understanding. That is what I feel we have done as a program up to this point."
What the Frogs have done on the field is drop three of their last four, with the lone victory coming in double-overtime (39-38) on a very surprising move by Patterson to go for a two-point conversion. Last time out the team was held to a season-low 10 points in a 13-point loss to Kansas State on Nov. 10, which means they've had additional time to prepare for this meeting.
As for the Longhorns and head coach Mack Brown, they've rebounded from back- to-back defeats against West Virginia and Oklahoma during the first half of October by running together four straight victories. Like the Horned Frogs, Texas has been out of action since the second Saturday of November when the team thumped Iowa State at home in a 33-7 final.
With that win over the Cyclones, just days after the death of legendary head coach Darrell Royal, and the stunning loss of top-ranked Kansas State to Baylor last weekend, Texas still has an outside chance of capturing the regular-season title in the Big 12, and coach Brown is certainly pleased about that.
"It makes you feel real good to know that you're back in the mix. The biggest thing for us right now, we just have to buckle down and stay focused on TCU, take it one game at a time and not let the hype get to us. It's not really surprising. We talked about it as a team that we need to buckle down and get back on our game. When you put in hard work, this is what pays off. It's not surprising at all."
In terms of the all-time series between these two Lone Star State squads, Texas holds a 61-20-1 advantage, posting a 34-11-1 edge in games played in Austin. Stunningly, the Longhorns have won all but one of the previous 29 encounters, the lone TCU victory coming in 1992 by a score of 23-14 in Fort Worth.
The Longhorns were able to play their way back into the Big 12 title picture thanks to a huge effort against Iowa State when they generated more than 600 yards of total offense. Quarterback David Ash converted all but six of his pass attempts for a career-high 364 yards and two touchdowns, while Johnathan Gray recorded a pair of scores stemming from his 14 rushing attempts which generated 74 yards.
Receivers Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis combined for 15 catches and 250 yards, the latter taking one into the end zone for the hosts.
Defensively, the 'Horns were on top of their game as they limited Iowa State to just 277 yards of total offense. The Cyclones were allotted just four possessions in the first half, three ending in punts and the other an interception. Josh Turner and Carring Byndom both recorded picks for the home team.
Although he was held out of the end zone by the Cyclones, running back Joe Bergeron is still a huge option for the Longhorns as he has posted 16 rushing TDs on 116 carries. As a team, Texas has recorded 29 rushing TDs, averaging 192.7 ypg on the ground.
Ash has taken the majority of the snaps this season, leading to 235.4 ypg and 17 TDs, against only five interceptions. Davis and Shipley have combined for 85 receptions and 12 TDs.
TCU, which needs one more victory for the 600th in program history, is already eligible for yet another postseason appearance under coach Patterson, but the team would still like to strengthen its position in the Big 12 where it is currently sixth in the standings with a record of 3-4. Unfortunately, the team didn't show much incentive when they went up against Kansas State a few weeks back, going scoreless for three quarters before a field goal and a 19-yard TD pass from Trevone Boykin to Brandon Carter broke the seal on a potential shutout.
Boykin, thrust into the starting role when Casey Pachall left the team, threw for 164 yards and was sacked five times by the Wildcats, who allowed just 274 yards.
Often considered one of the top defenses in the nation, the Horned Frogs also did their best to slow down Collin Klein who threw for just 145 yards and an interception while being sacked three times. Although, Klein did reach the end zone twice with his feet in the meeting.
Still, TCU ranks first in the conference and seventh in the country in stopping the run, giving up only 98.4 ypg which will be key against the Longhorns. Applying pressure at the line of scrimmage will be crucial if the Frogs hope to disrupt the Texas offense enough to make a difference, but really the only chance for TCU to come out on top is for the offense to perform better than it has all season.
Take away the 56-0 win over Grambling in the season opener, as well as the ridiculous shootouts against WVU and Texas Tech that experienced a total of five overtimes, and the Frogs have been rather average on offense. While he is certainly a solid player, Boykin is pretty much managing games now for TCU not to lose, even though he has completed better than 58 percent of his pass attempts.
"It makes you feel real good to know that you're the only game on Thanksgiving day," coach Brown says of this matchup. "People all across the nation are going to be watching you, so you have to show your best. It's not really added pressure at all because people watch you every week, so it's not really that much more pressure added on."