The purple visitors we have this weekend are in a similar state of disarray right now (which is arguably worse given their dark horse Big 12 contender preseason status), so we thought we'd check in with HawkeyedFrog from SB Nation's Frogs O' War (owner of the best logo across the network) to see which fanbase is more apathetic/depressed right now. It's tough to admit defeat, but they might actually win here.
Casey Pachall has been struggling since his return but didn't exactly light the world on fire before he got hurt. What happened? Is it the running game? The offensive line? The fact that Trevone Boykin may have been TCU's best receiver before Pachall got hurt?
The short answer is yes. More specifically though, the issues are, in order, the offensive scheme and playcalling, the offensive line, the wide receivers, Casey's rust and the running backs. The offensive line is really, really young and has had a lot of shuffling due to players getting injured or stating left tackles quitting football during fall practice (damn you, Tayo Fabuluje) and as a result they've had a lot of growing pains and struggles, particularly in pass protection. The offensive line's strength (being at least adequate at it) is run blocking, where their nice size (300 lbs across the board) comes into play more, but TCU's offensive coordinators have stubbornly refused to run the ball this season, meaning that through nine games TCU still hasn't had a running back go over 100 yards rushing. This is not due to lack of talent, as both B.J. Catalon (who may miss this game due to injury) and Waymon James (who may miss this game due to a violation of team rules) are excellent running backs and a load to bring down- James is actually TCU's all time Yards per carry leader and there hasn't been a game where he's had more than 11 carries. The fact that TCU refuses to run the ball means that TCU's receivers are blanketed and are generally unable (or unwilling in the case of Brandon Carter) to make the tough grab and keep drives alive, leading to an exceedingly poor third down conversion rate.
Finally, Casey has looked pretty good in both of his starts- not quite the 2011 Casey Pachall who looked like he'd rewrite all of TCU's passing records, but confident and willing to stand and deliver even with his left arm in a flexi-cast. Sadly, due to the offensive line issues this has led to Casey being hit a ton including over forty times in the West Virginia game. Nobody is good enough to withstand that kind of beating all game, and the fact that Casey is out there playing with a still broken left arm is both inspiring to his teammates and frightening to fans who are hoping Casey will have a long life ahead of him.
No Devonte Fields, no problem right? Gary Patterson is known for fielding one of the best defenses in his conference and this edition seems to be up to the task. What is it that makes this group capable of keeping that terrible offense in games?
The secondary, led by all-everything cornerback Jason Verrett (who may also miss this game), is simply incredible. They stay with receivers and force quarterbacks to hold the ball, giving TCU's talented defensive tackles Davion Pierson and Chucky Hunter time to collapse the pocket and either get to the quarterback or force a bad throw. This in turn feeds the secondary chance balls, which we convert into turnovers more often than any other team in the Big 12. Still, Devonte Fields is sorely missed, as his explosive pass rush from the end position has not been duplicated, and as West Virginia showed, if you can stop TCU's DTs from penetrating there will be time and space to make plays. Patterson is a defensive mastermind, but sooner or later TCU's poor offensive performance catches up and the defense starts to wear down and that's when the big plays start to happen that let close games slip out of TCU's fingers.
Speaking of Patterson, how long before TCU fans get restless with records around .500 after the move to the Big XII? It's reasonable to expect some backsliding since the MWC isn't equal to the Big XII in terms of competition but this is mostly the same TCU squad that rallied late last season.
Patterson has said that he had a five year plan for the Big 12 transition and there's virtually no chance that he won't get every year of it and then some. It takes a special sort of program to fire the winningest coach in program history after a bad season, and happily I don't think we're that dumb. Still, I do expect coaching changes to occur in the offseason this year as co-offensive coordinators Jarrett Anderson and Rusty Burns have both tried playcalling this year and both have proven absolutely inept. Patterson has proven exceedingly loyal to his assistants in the past, but I think he's as frustrated as anyone with what he's seen from the offense this year and won't hesitate to pull the trigger when the season is done.
How's year two of the Big 12 experience going in Fort Worth? The attendance has looked pretty sparse. Is there any thought of borrowing Baylor's now-retired Tarp?
It's depressing as hell, but we're still really happy to be here. The 11 AM kickoffs are a bit bad (the best way to get into the primetime slots is to win) but attendance has actually not been as bad as it's looked- averaging about 45K per game with several sellouts. The issues are old ones- fans coming in late and drifting back to the parking lot to tailgate some more in the half and then just... not coming back. It's frustrating that the TCU fanbase you see in the stadium when the game gets underway (about ten minutes left in the first quarter) isn't what you tend to see on TV, but I've been watching TCU games for almost thirty years now and things aren't going to change without a policy change (no readmittance if you leave the stadium, for example).
It looks like B.J. Catalon and Jason Verrett will be out for this game. It seems like you guys can wrangle up any running back, but does the loss of Verrett scare you in containing the only bright spot on the Iowa State offense, Quenton Bundrage? (/dies laughing because that's assuming Sam Richardson/Grant Rohach have enough time to get the ball to Bundrage)
Yes, yes it does. Jason Verrett is probably the second best player I've seen play for TCU after LaDainian Tomlinson and him missing any time hurts because TCU really has to be as close to perfect on defense as possible to keep the inept offense in the game. Missing B.J. Catalon is sad, but then, it's not like we were going to run the ball anyway.
So, how about a score prediction?
I've predicted TCU to win every week this year- I'm both a homer and an optimist, and it's made me look rather foolish. This week, even though I believe TCU is more talented at just about every position, I'm picking Iowa State to win. We'll call it 10-6 Cyclones, you guys recover a fumble for a touchdown and TCU is unable to do anything on offense all game. The sooner we're not bowl eligible the sooner we can start looking for new offensive coordinators.
Thanks to HawkeyedFrog for his time, and be sure to check out the questions we answered for him yesterday. May the team with less shitty offensive coordinating win on Saturday.