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Let's sit down with HawkeyedFrog from SB Nation's TCU community and see how he feels about Saturday's matchup at Amon G. Carter.
Editor's note: Questions 1-6 were conducted before the Casey Pachall DWI arrest. I also answered some questions for Frogs O' War earlier this week, and you can check that out here.
1. Gary Patterson made his fame and fortune (and TCU's) on the back of his defense. That defense has now lost starters and reserves across the board for various reasons. Is this defense actually good or is it because they feasted on Dayne Crist and Kansas?
The defense is actually good, but it's not good for the reasons that it's usually good, and that makes a large number of the TCU faithful uneasy. Generally TCU has success from getting a whole lot of pressure from their front four, which enables them to be creative with the secondary and bottle up the opposing running game: Adrian Peterson, Garrett Wolfe, and C.J. Spiller are just three of the backs TCU has held under 100 yards in our games with them, so stopping the run is a big source of pride for the TCU defense. Unfortunately the secondary hasn't always been fantastic and has been prone to giving up the occasional head scratching deep ball over the Patterson tenure, particularly dreadfully in our upset loss at Baylor last year. This year however, the secondary looks really solid, I don't care how bad the opposing quarterback is, five interceptions in one game means your secondary is darn strong. TCU's D-line isn't causing their customary havoc up front though, and that has been a source of concern for us at Frogs O' War so far. I'm a bit more optimistic than most, because from what I've seen on the tape the D-line has been charged more with keeping contain against the run rather than getting after the quarterback, but it's a weird feeling. Patterson has been playing his defense a lot more vanilla than usual so far though, so Iowa State may need to be on the look out for a flip in strategy if the Cyclone O-Line looks vulnerable.
2. What has been the key to Casey Pachall's development? Everyone thought the cupboard was bare after Andy Dalton left but Pachall seemingly comes out of nowhere to lead an explosive offense in 2011 and is now among the leaders nationally in passing efficiency. Also, is it true that he's kept in an iron mask until game day? If possible, can Steele Jantz borrow it?
Well, Casey came into TCU as a highly ranked four star recruit, sporting offers from Michigan, Notre Dame and Florida, so there was always the belief that he could do great things once he got the opportunity. Studying under another NFL level quarterback in Dalton definitely helped his development, but our first glimpse of him in extended relief gave us the entirely wrong idea. Dalton had his bell rung a bit against New Mexico in our Rose Bowl season, and Casey came in and showed that he was a capable runner- running the option and several designed runs very well, while showing adequate but not great touch on his throws. We expected we would be getting a running quarterback. Then 2011 happens and Casey just obliterates most of the school's single season passing records, including the ones set by Dalton in the two years immediately prior... but he struggled running the football! Even now I wonder what happened to the wheels we saw in the New Mexico game, but trading them in for what I think may be the best arm in the country (Geno Smith included) is one that I'll take every day. As for how he's kept before game day, generally we have him in full Hannibal Lecter restraints when he's not in pads to keep him away from his recreational temptations, with an hour of release so that he can do something ridiculous to his hair before the game.
3. What is Tanner Brock doing right now? Like, right this second.
Purple haze is in his veins, I'm afraid. Lately things just haven't seemed the same. He's acting funny, but we don't know why. Excuse me, while he kisses the sky. In a more general sense, he's playing football at Sam Houston State, but in a right this second sense he's contemplating the wonder of his hands. They can't touch anything but themselves... oh wait, they can. Awesome.
4. Waymon James appears to have been the best shot at allowing TCU to have a consistent running game. With him gone now what happens? Is there any truth to Gary Patterson's joke that Trevone Boykin could see time in the backfield?
Waymon James would have been the best running back in the Big 12 this season had he stayed healthy, I'm supremely confident of that. He has the power, the speed and the vision that we haven't seen since LT- not to compare James to Tomlinson skill wise, but he's the most complete back we've had since then. The TCU running game has always had depth, with three 700 yard backs last season, but we've lost two of them now to the NFL and injury. The O-line is the key to the regression on the ground though, as it was hit in the offseason and as a result we're having trouble with Tucker's standard plays- the power run game up the middle, while having more success bouncing things outside. What happens now is that we're going more to the short passing game and calling more designed QB run plays, the latter of which I absolutely hate because Casey gets hit too much as it is. I thought about (and suggested) Boykin at Running back after the Virginia game, but really it would likely do him more harm than good in the long run to be missing the snaps that he needs to get at quarterback in practice- I expect we'll see a compromise of more Boykin snaps where he runs the ball as a result of the injury, but he won't be making a switch to running back. We'll just have to figure out what works to keep our heads above water until next year, when James comes back and gets a five star transfer from Nebraska to be his new backfield buddy.
5. Speaking of Boykin, how's his arm? He's went 9 of 10 on the year but against weaker competition and in mop up duty. Is he the type to roll out in a wildcat package, and unlike the Belldozer, actually throw the ball?
Boykin is a (slightly) slower Denard Robinson right now- he can throw the ball, he can throw it a long way, but he doesn't have the full passing tree open to him like Casey does yet. Boykin can definitely throw the ball wherever you want it, and is decent at reading defenses, he just needs more seasoning before we can have him come in and throw the ball as often as Casey does. What I've seen on tape so far is that the coverage softens to account for Boykin's threat as a runner, which makes the reads easier for him, so we're quite comfortable with him throwing the ball as needed and punishing defenses that cheat too much on wildcat runs.
6. Where do you think TCU finishes this regular season and is it possible to be in the conference championship discussion in late November? Does that record include a win over the Cyclones?
It's possible to be in the conference championship discussion in November, but I don't see it happening this year. Before James was injured I was confident in a nine or ten win season, with the potential for more if the O-line really came together over the second half of the season (yes, I'm ridiculously optimistic, Big 12 isn't Mountain West, and so on). However, since the running game has looked, well, bad since James went down I'm of a mind where 8 wins is what I expect. The Cyclones defense is solid, but I don't think Jantz will be able to throw the ball effectively against the TCU secondary, and the quality depth that TCU has at the receiving condition will continuously stress the Cyclone secondary until we have enough breakthroughs to win the game. It'll be close, but TCU wins 24-12 (you guys miss two extra points).
BONUS POST PACHALL ARREST QUESTION: So, given the circumstances of last night's events, how are you feeling about Saturday?
At the moment it's a bit of nervous excitement- particularly on the part of one of our editors', Purple Wimple, who has had Boykin taking over the starting job at some point this season even though he was behind the best quarterback in the Big 12. For the first time since the 2011 Baylor game I have absolutely no idea what to expect out of the quarterback position. Casey had the golden arm, could put the ball anywhere and could take an absolute pounding in the pocket but still deliver- now we know that the last part may have been him just being sauced out of his mind.
Boykin is something entirely different, he's still a threat to score every time he touches the ball, but he brings an electric element that Casey doesn't have- when he turns the corner the entire stadium holds their breath. I still think that TCU will be able to move the football, and I'm more confident in the ground game picking up a ton of yards with Boykin calling the plays, but if TCU gets behind late, I will be deeply stressed like I never was with Casey. I still think TCU scores enough to win, but it's tighter: 17-13. Of course, I base this on nothing but the general good feeling I have toward my program.