The past few weeks when I've gone to look the offense we're slated to face, I've started with its 2011 performance since our data for 2012 was relatively limited. This week, I'm not sure what purpose that would serve since you can basically take the 2011 TCU offense and throw it out the window. Very few of the players we'll see on Saturday are the same as the ones RGIII beat 13 months ago, and the ones that are back are mostly wide receivers. TCU has a new quarterback with a different skillset than Casey Pachall, new running backs who will be asked to do different things, and a mostly new offensive line that has flashed both talent and extreme inexperience in the young season. It's a good thing Baylor's defense had two weeks to prepare for this one because the information available is limited at best.
2012 So Far:
On the surface, TCU's offense this season looks decent, not great. Below average for the Big XII, but not horrible by any stretch. They rank 43rd nationally in passing yards with 257.6 per game, 71st in rushing yards with 155.8, and 57th in points per game at 30.0. Overall, they rank 56th in total yards per game at 413.4. Everything looks ok there, right?
You probably know the problem already: injuries. Almost 74% of their passing yards belong to Pachall, who is now out. 48% of their rushing yards this season went to Waymon James and Matthew Tucker. They're both out. Things got so bad offensively that TCU actually considered playing Boykin as a RB before the whole Pachall thing went down. Obviously that's not happening now. Their offensive line, which lost over 70 combined starts to graduation, now starts 3 players with 2 or fewer coming into the season. Their right tackle, Aviante Collins, is a true freshman. So is his backup Halapoulivaati Vaitai. The backup left guard, Joey Hunt, is also the backup center. He's a freshman, too. When they write the story of the 2011 TCU offense, it will be called "Oh, have we met?" Here's what Bill C said before the season about their OL:
If there is a concern for this offense beyond Fuente's absence, look up front. All-Mountain West guard Blaize Foltz does return, but only two other players with starting experience return, and one (center Eric Tausch) has started just one game. Gone are five players who had accounted for 73 career starts; that is a lot to lose from a line that ranked 14th in Adj. Line Yards and 27th in Adj. Sack Rate last year. A lot is expected out of big, sophomore BYU transfer Tayo Fabuluje, and a wealth of highly-touted redshirt freshmen enter the rotation, but that is still a lot of new blood, especially soldiering that projected starting tackle James Dunbar's status is currently unknown because of shaky academics.
Dunbar's status is known now: he's out.
All of that leads to a situation where the offense has been worse than it appears by absolute yardage alone. Offensive FEI (the Fremeau Efficiency Index), which is opponent-adjusted, ranks them 104th. S&P+, which isn't, puts them 71st. A poor rushing game (109th) leads to low success rates on standard downs (95th) and a poor score in equivalent points per play (94th). And all of that is based on the data from the entire 2012 season, during which they had Casey Pachall for 4 full games. Trevone Boykin may eventually be better than Pachall, but he's probably not yet.
That said, there's actually reason to doubt the advanced metrics here, one reason that stands out for a lot of this offensive futility unrelated purely to skill or scheme: turnovers. Only 12 teams in the country have turned the ball over more than TCU (14). (Two of those team are Arkansas and Auburn (17 each), which is somewhat hilarious to me but not really germane to this game). 4 of TCU's turnovers are of the intercepted variety with Boykin having thrown 3 (all this past weekend against ISU) and Pachall 1. That leaves 10 (10!) fumbles that TCU has lost this season, an incredibly high number. It's also probably incredibly unlucky. Yes, TCU is to blame for putting the ball on the ground so often, but the fact that so many fumbles bounce away from them probably isn't their fault. It's also not something we can expect to have happen on Saturday. Part of the reason their yardage totals look decent is that most of their turnovers come in the red zone. Again, that's largely an issue of luck. What I'm saying is that we can't just roll the ball out there and expect TCU to self-destruct their way to a loss. They've had problems this season, but most of those problems are of the kind not likely to continue long-term. As Boykin gets more comfortable in the system and they stop putting the ball on the ground, I think TCU's offense will improve. I hope we can make sure that improvement doesn't start Saturday.
What to Expect on Saturday
According to their depth chart (page 19), TCU will start Tayo Fabuluje (6-7, 315), Eric Tausch (6-3, 300), James Fry (6-3, 305), Blaize Foltz (6-4, 310), and Aviante Collins (6-6, 310) from left to the right on the offensive line. That's a huge OL. Foltz, a senior, is the most experienced of the bunch with 20 starts while Collins, the true freshman, has only 5. Collins has been a bit prone to penalties so far this season and has a mean streak in him that bears watching. It's also worth noting that this line is different than the one that started against ISU. In that game, Collins started at LT, Tausch at RT, and Joey Hunt at LG. With Fabuluje in the mix, probably because of Collins' struggles protecting Boykin's blind side, things are a bit different. The tight end when they want to block will be senior Corey Fuller (6-6, 255) while the TE when they want to pass will be freshman Griffin Gilbert (6-5, 220), another member of the 2012 recruiting class.
On the edges, their depth chart lists four wide receivers with the biggest names being Josh Boyce and Brandon Carter, who I already told you about last night. Another name to know is redshirt freshman LaDarius Brown (6-4, 220), maybe the most talented of the bunch already. The fourth receiver, Skye Dawson (5-9, 183), actually leads the team in total yardage because he is the primary punt and kick returner. He lines up as an inside receiver opposite Carter with Boyce and Brown on the outside. I'll be honest and say that Brown scares me because of his size and what that might let him do to our defensive backs. Here's the first TD catch of his career against Virginia. That guy is going to be a monster.
Schematically, TCU does a little bit of everything. With Boykin in place of Pachall they've been more run-oriented in a very small sample, something that might change as the season goes on. They've also added a zone read game very similar to our own to take advantage of Boykin's legs. It is imperative that our defensive ends read that play correctly and force Boykin to the inside and our waiting linebackers. Assuming they can get off blocks, Eddie Lackey and Bryce Hager are more than capable of taking care of things from there. TCU also mixes in a power running game from time to time, though they didn't do much of that against Iowa State, and, of course, a true speed option with Boykin and probably freshman B.J. Catalon. Expect Catalon and Aundre Dean to split carries in the backfield in the thunder/lightning combination I mentioned to you last night.
So far this season, TCU has been more run-oriented than expected with 57% of their offensive plays being rushing attempts. That number was more even against ISU largely because they trailed most of the game. My feeling is that TCU will try to grind us away on the ground to take advantage of our weak defensive line and give Boykin short third down conversions. Stopping that running game will be critical because we want Boykin to have to beat us with his arm, not his legs. He's too good a natural runner and our defense too poor at tackling. I predict that you'll see quite a bit of the 3-man front again this week because it's actually been decent against the run, and that Baylor may load the box with linebackers and safeties to force the young QB to throw the ball. Whether he can make good enough decisions to find his talented receivers is an open question.
I don't expect to hold them in check as Iowa State did last week for a lot of reasons, most of which relate to the Cyclone defense being a lot better than our own. Their defensive line is better at pressuring the QB, as you can tell from the fact that they sacked Boykin 4 times and had 7 tackles for loss. We can only hope to replicate that kind of production. I say this every week because it's true: almost any QB can beat you when you give them unlimited time to try. It won't be enough to just make Boykin throw the ball; we have to get consistent pressure when he does. We can't let Boykin sit back in the pocket and find the open man. He'll do it. And TCU's WRs are good enough to beat us, regardless of what they've done this season. And if we do get pressure, we have to bottle up Boykin's scrambling ability and keep him from turning broken plays into big gains. ISU did that by overloading the offensive line and getting to Boykin before he could pull the ball down and take off. We have to do the same.
My hope is that with Mike Hicks back at safety and Ahmad Dixon in his usual spot, we can move our cornerbacks up on the receivers and play more aggressively on the outside. I don't know if we will. I also hope that we might finally see different blitz packages as Bennett opens up the defensive playbook. As I've said, getting to the QB is by far the easiest way to disrupt an offense, and this offense, with Boykin back there instead of Pachall, is no exception. If we had any defense at all against West Virginia we'd be 4-0 right now. We didn't. We need it now in a big way.
For more information on TCU's offense, I highly recommend you check out the preview posted by user "S11" on BearsTruth.com. You might remember him from that time he posted here as Fountain Mall. They picked him up to write exclusively for BearsTruth, and his stuff is always worth a read. If you don't have a sub there, get one.