1. Kenny Hill has been very good so far this season. What are some of his most notable strengths and weaknesses?
Kenny has really grown up over the past season, both on and off the field. Sonny Cumbie has built a playbook for him that maximizes his strengths - moving in the pocket, using his athleticism, putting the ball in his playmakers' hands and letting them to go to work. He has become a much better decision-maker, a better passer on the move, and does such a good job of keeping his eyes downfield when he rolls out of the pocket. He's not necessarily "BIG PLAY KENNY TRILL" anymore, but he has flashed some long ball potential when the opportunity arises, and seems perfectly content to lean on his running game and get wins whether he throws for 175 yards or 400. We saw the very best of who Kenny Hill can be when he needs to be great against Kansas (where he didn't need to be great, but still) as he stepped hard into throws, had laser like accuracy on a couple of touchdown passes on the move to Jalen Reagor and Des White, and lofted two absolutely perfect bombs for big plays. He still struggles with his accuracy a bit - my big frustration over the past year and a half is that he seems to miss by six inches, turning a big play into a short yardage one. But it's hard to complain about a guy completing 70% of his passes with a 15:3 touchdown to interception ratio and a 7-0 record. He deserves equal credit, and credit he seems legitimately happy to share, with his offensive line, running backs, and coaches.
2. Somehow, TCU was wildly underrated to begin the season. The Horned Frogs have established themselves as a major brand in the Big 12, so how did the sports media get it so wrong?
Never doubt a Gary Patterson team coming off a losing record. It's only happened three times in his career at TCU, and the previous two he bounced back to win the conference. Very few coaches are better motivators than Patterson, who has a unique ability to get in his players' craws without turning them away. And give him a chip on their shoulders to work with? It's almost too easy for him. One of the things that GP said at the beginning of fall camp was that "the good news is pretty much everyone is back from last year. The bad news is, pretty much everyone is back from last year - when we were 6-7." What a lot of people failed to heed from 2016 was how devoid of veteran leadership that team was. The Frogs had all of eight seniors in 2016, an astonishingly low number for a Power Five school, and only a handful that actually contributed on game day. This year, they have about triple that number, which completely transformed the off-season and the approach, as well as the chemistry in the locker room. All those players back, with a year of experience under their belt and a chip in their shoulder from a losing season, has translated into significant improvement.
3. Who are some players on each side of the ball that Cyclone fans may not know about, but will have a significant impact on Saturday?
I have the biggest football crush on Jalen Reagor, the true freshman wide receiver and state champion in the triple jump. The kid is a beast - he runs impeccable routes (pause for male laughter), has plus speed, and can jump over just about everyone. With as deep as the TCU receiving corp is, it’s a battle for snaps. But Cumbie keeps finding ways to get him in the game and find him touches. He had two touchdowns against Kansas and continues to gain confidence. Sewo Olonilua is another guy on O that is a potential game-changer; he gets most of his opportunities out of the “Wild Frog” formation deep in the red zone. Sewo has six scores in 37 touches this season, and is really hard to bring down when the goal line is in site. He’s 6’3”, 240 pounds, and could probably play linebacker for GP, too, a la Joel Lanning.
On defense, if you haven’t heard the name Ben Banogu yet, you likely will Saturday. The junior DE transfer from Louisiana Monroe has burst on to the scene this fall, making such a big impact so quickly that he’s getting some first round attention from Mel Kiper. He’s big and lanky with incredible speed off the edge, a true nose for the ball, and the strength to go bring QBs down. He changes the game for the TCU D, as his constant pressure allows the secondary to be more aggressive.
The TCU pass rush as a whole has been so much more effective this fall, and I would be remiss to not give credit to the two interior linemen as well - redshirt freshman Ross Blacklock and senior Chris Bradley. Blacklock commands double and triple teams inside, and is a huge reason (literally huge) the run defense has been so good). Blacklock has surprising speed and dexterity, and has one of the more impressive fat guy interceptions of the season, against Okie State. When GP can make teams one dimensional - and generally it’s the run he likes to limit - the 4-2-5 defense wreaks havoc. That’s what this unit has been able to do so far.
4. The TCU is at the top of the conference in scoring defense for the billionth time in their history in the Big 12. What makes this defense click seemingly every single year?
Well, I guess I answered this a little above, but basically, Patterson wants to take away the run game, pressure the passer, and dare teams to beat them over the top. That has taken some adjustment in the Big 12, where the QBs are generally able to do that, but it remains effective when the QB doesn’t have a lot of time to throw. That’s been the case this season - because the defensive line is so good, the timing of the blitzes has been generally spot on, and opposing run games have been rendered ineffective (2.4 yards per rush), you can put your corners on an island and generally win those one on one battles.
The Frogs have quite possibly their best D Line in recent history, with two guys that can get to the QB in Banogu and Mat Boesen, two guys inside who form a human wall against the run, a linebacking crew that can really wrap up and lay wood (Travin Howard is still out here doing Travin Howard things) and a veteran secondary that knows the playbook inside and out and can anticipate plays. I am interested to see how the smallish guys in the defensive backfield matchup with the monsters in the ISU receiving corp - if they get in some jump ball battles, there could be some problems. But Innis Gaines and Ridwan Issahaku play bigger than their height at the safety spots, and Ranthony Texada plays with excellent technique, so hopefully the height advantage is somewhat negated.
5. Iowa State is one of the best teams in the country at forcing the opponents into third and long situations. Early in the season, the Cyclones were simultaneously below average in stopping offenses on third down, but the defense has been much better on third down in recent weeks. However, TCU is one of the best in the country at converting on third down at over 50% success rate. Do you see the Frogs continuing with that rate of success on Saturday, or see that torrent pace slow down against one of the best defenses they will have faced so far this season?
That is going to quite possibly be the difference maker in this game, along of course with turnovers. The Frogs are so good on third down this year, mostly due to how good the run game has been and how committed to it the coaches have been. When you’re primarily working in third and short, it’s much easier to make first downs, obviously. It also helps that the Frogs have four guys in the backfield that can make guys miss and break tackles, including Kenny Hill. Lastly, Hill has been so confident in those situations, and has made the right Read time and time again. Fans have been (rightfully) concerned about some dropsies among the WRs, but for the most part, they’ve made the big catches on third and fourth down - though that’s definitely something to watch Saturday.
If TCU keeps up their 4.7 ypc average against an ISU D that has only allowed 3.4, they can stay in the 50% conversion range, which might be enough. But if the Cyclones can limit Kyle Hicks and Darius Anderson, putting the game more in Hill’s hands, it could be a much more daunting task to continue drives and find the end zone.
6. The Cyclone defense lives by the "bend, but don't break" mantra, consistently trading off short completions in favor of eliminating the vertical passing game. Do you see TCU varying a bit from their vertical passing game and misdirection running, in favor of a more conservative offense which can exploit Iowa State's 3-2-6, or will they try to play to their strengths and keep throwing plenty of deep passes, but play directly into the greatest strength of the Cyclone secondary?
Really, the Frogs haven’t been a big play team nearly as much this season, as they are playing a more conservative offensive style that is predicated on pounding the rock, getting the ball in the playmakers hands in space, using Hill’s mobility and athleticism, and using play action when the situation calls for it. TCU can chuck it down the field, but they use that more sparingly than in the glory days of Doc and Deuce. The Frogs are only averaging 8.0 per pass, but I bet the ball travels closer to 6-7 on average. The RAC has been a huge part of the offensive game plan, and with guys like Turpin and Des White that can turn a short pass into a big play, that’s a smart way to attack a defense. The screen game is a massive part of this offense, along with plenty of jet sweeps, misdirection, and counter action. There’s a little razzle dazzle with Cumbie at the helm, but so much of what has worked is just executing well against their opponent.
7. Prediction Time. What has to happen for each team to win? Who are you taking?
Man, this game is going to be a classic, I’m afraid. ISU has so much momentum, and certainly has the attention of a TCU team that has excelled at staying focused and locked in. I have no fear that the Frogs are looking ahead to Texas, and will come in ready for a top 25 matchup. The game will come down to who wins the battle of the trenches and who wins the turnover margin. If Iowa State can force TCU to throw it around, the opportunity for mistakes increases, and that could spell trouble for the Frogs and Kenny Hill. But if TCU can run the ball well, stay ahead of the chains, and control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, they’ll pull out the W.
On the other side, TCU needs to make the ISU offense uncomfortable, use the blitz appropriately, and minimize a very good Cyclone run game. The Frogs can’t give up the big play down the field, and the only way to limit that is with pressure in the backfield. Also, with a huge piece missing on the offensive line, it’s imperative that TCU maintains a clean pocket and opens some holes for Hicks and Anderson.
Give me the Frogs, 31-30 on a late field goal. But I do believe this game could go either way.
8. Do you think Texas and Oklahoma's overwhelming brand recognition hurts the Big 12 when they aren't the best in the conference, even when teams like TCU or Oklahoma State are worthy of recognition in their place?
Yep. And it drives me insane. The problem isn’t that TCU, Okie State, WVU, and ISU are good - the problem is the national media is still so sold on Texas being expected to be good, that it’s inevitable they are let down. Same thing with OU - they have always been “the brand” so anytime they struggle, people assume the whole conference is down. No, you clowns, sometimes other teams are just better. It’s completely unfair that the narrative is “OU’s loss to ISU eliminates the Big 12 from playoff contention” when a 7-0 TCU team is in the top four already. But we all know that a one loss Horned Frogs team probably doesn’t get in, unless that loss comes to OU and they avenge it in the B12 Championship Game. Never mind the fact that half the conference is ranked and as a whole it may very well be the strongest top to bottom in CFB. All that to say, letting TCU win Saturday is good for the B12, so what do you say?! ;)
9. Is Gary Patterson gonna Bill Snyder this thing and coach TCU until he's 150 years old?
Definitely not. GP is so much more than a football coach... he is an avid traveler, a talented musician, and a man of many interests off the field. That is why the pervading feeling among Frog fans is that we better enjoy these moments while we have them, because he may not be long for the sideline. I think we have another five years of Coach P, at best, before he retires. I don't see many scenarios where he leaves Fort Worth - succeeding Bill Snyder at Kansas State, where he played, was something I thought was a possibility before a very ill and very wealthy donor begged him to allow a statue to be built at Amon G Carter Stadium before he passed, and now that he has a bronze monument, I don't see any way he ever coaches at another Big 12 school - or likely any school, period. And GP isn't much for the NFL - he's a control freak who likes the camaraderie and stewardship of the college game, where these kids come to him as a coach and father figure and leave as young men - something that I see a lot in Matt Campbell as well. I don't think we will get a shocking sudden retirement like we did with Stoops, I think there will be a quiet succession plan put in place (rumors of a handshake deal with Cumbie are always floating around), and he will walk away sometime before signing day between 2020-2022. He has built a staff full of youngish position coaches, many with ties to TCU (tons of former players litter the staff) and some really strong veteran leadership (Curtis Luper is one of the most underrated coaches in the country). I think once he feels they are ready to continue the legacy without him, he will step away.
And then I will cry. For a good, long while.
10. What the hell is the finger thing TCU fans do? It looks nothing like a frog.
Isn't this a family site? Should we talk about finger things?
I'm very concerned getting to deep into knuckle talk (see what I did there?) with the infamous WRNL crew, but, here we go. So, first the first thing that you need to know is that the Horned Frog is not a frog at all, but a lizard. One that shoots blood out of its eyes, which is pretty bad a**, but still a small, horned reptile, not amphibian. When you take your pointer and middle finger and bend them over, the top knuckle represents the horns and the bottom knuckle the eyes of the lizard. I guess that's a very Texas thing, the mandated hand sign for a school. And while UT's is probably the most iconic, I think TCU's is way cooler than Texas A&M's (gig em is actually in reference to TCU, as in 'giggin' frogs'), Baylor's (yawn), and Tech's Tech (so generic).
Ha. Family site.....