Fort Worth, TX – The 20th-ranked TCU Horned Frogs finally get their 2012 season off the ground this weekend as they challenge the Grambling State Tigers in the refurbished Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.
TCU, which just invested $164 million to revamp the under-sized venue, is now part of the Big 12 Conference after spending several years in the Mountain West where it built a 24-game conference win streak which is the longest in the nation.
Head coach Gary Patterson, who needs one more victory to give him 110 which will make him the winningest coach in program history, has developed the Horned Frogs into a national power. Patterson, who has the fourth-best winning percentage among active coaches at .784, has won 26 of the last 27 games played at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
Last season, the team kicked off the campaign on the road yet again and had to do so against a Baylor squad that was waiting patiently to get into the national spotlight. Against the Frogs, Robert Griffin III and the Bears celebrated a 50-48 victory, which meant TCU had to go back to the drawing board.
Three straight wins and victories in 10 of the next 11 games, including a thriller against fifth-ranked Boise State on the road (36-35) in November, sent TCU to the Poinsettia Bowl where it stormed back in the fourth quarter against Louisiana Tech to notch a 31-24 victory.
As for the Tigers, members of the SWAC in the Football Championship Subdivision, they kicked off their campaign last week with a road trip to Shreveport, Louisiana where they tangled with Alcorn State in the Port City Classic and let an 11-point fourth-quarter lead slip away, en route to a disappointing 22-21 setback. The loss snapped a seven-game win streak that Grambling had mounted to close out the 2011 campaign.
"We watched every Grambling State game from last season," coach Patterson said of TCU's preparation for this game. "They didn't do some things in their first game that we saw a lot of in film from last season. They are a lot better football team in (head coach) Doug Williams' second year. For us, having an extra week to prepare, we better be ready to win the ballgame. If you start taking people lightly, you get people hurt."
The Tigers registered one rushing touchdown in each of the first three quarters against Alcorn State last week, but in the final period Grambling allowed Darius Smith to score a pair of rushing TDs of his own for the opposition, the second coming with just 1:33 remaining to send the Tigers to the loss column.
Grambling managed to amass 356 yards on the ground thanks to the efforts of Jeremy Runner and Dawrence Roberts who accounted for 166 and 121 yards, respectively. Unfortunately, the passing attack wasn't nearly as potent with D.J. Williams converting just 10-of-19 for 66 yards while being sacked twice.
Outside of the two late touchdowns, the Grambling defense wasn't all that bad really, holding Alcorn State to just 101 yards through the air. Then again, the Tigers did surrender 224 yards and three total TDs on 45 rushing attempts. Last year the run defense was much more sound as it permitted just 143.2 ypg to rank 42nd out of 120 FCS programs.
The effort running the ball in the opener was certainly a move in the right direction for the Tigers, considering they were 84th nationally in that department with 123.2 ypg. Had it not been for six total touchdown passes by Williams in back-to-back games late in the season, the numbers for the Grambling passing attack in 2011 would have looked even weaker.
The loss to Baylor to open last season really shook up the Horned Frogs and forced them to regroup. Add to that the 40 points dropped on them by SMU in their only other loss of the campaign and the Frogs had to face the fact that their defense wasn't nearly as good as it had been in previous years.
In 2010 TCU led the nation in total defense, allowing just 228.5 ypg, and scoring defense, permitting a mere 12.0 ppg, and last season the latter stat ballooned to 21.5 ppg which is a huge number given how much coach Patterson emphasizes defense.
Hoping to bring back some of the swagger that was lost on that side of the ball is defensive end Stansly Maponga, who is a preseason All-Big 12 selection and on the watch lists for the Chuck Bednarik, Ted Hendricks, Bronko Nagurski and Rotary Lombardi awards.
"We have had great guidance, and it has been by committee," coach Patterson says of his defense. "We have received good leadership on the defensive side. We are not as deep at linebacker. I think we are better on the defensive line. I think we are more talented in the secondary but are not as deep there. I wish I could play with my practice squad, because we have four guys who have transferred who are going to make us a better team. We have a long way to get where we want to."
Taking care of business on the offensive side of the ball is second-year starter Casey Pachall at quarterback. After enjoying the exploits of Andy Dalton for so many years, it was expected that the Frogs might take a step back in that department, but Pachall took off running and never slowed down.
A Second-Team All-MWC performer in his first year at the helm and now on the watch lists for the Maxwell, Davey O���Brien, Manning and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm awards, Pachall set single-season school records for completions (228), completion percentage (.665) and passing yards (2,921), and his 25 passing TDs were just two shy of Dalton's record set the season before.
Having running backs like Matthew Tucker and Waymon James available to lighten some of the load, Pachall might not be a flash in the pan as long as he is able to remain under control.