The Cougars believe it will be different this year, however. With a good week of practice, a renewed attitude and focus, they're confident.
ARLINGTON, Texas — The Cougars travel here this Friday to match up against TCU. It’s a matchup that hasn’t been in BYU’s favor over the last three years — not by a long shot.
Cougar fans know the grisly details of those past three games all too well, as their team was outscored a combined 101-17 score, a minus-7 turnover ratio, and was generally hit in the mouth over and over and over again.
The Cougars believe it will be different this year, however. With a good week of practice, a renewed attitude and focus, they’re confident.
“We’re excited for this one,” said senior running back Bryan Kariya. “Guys have been focused and we have some new things to throw at them, so we all feel that we’ll be able to compete better than we have the last few years.”
It’s a bit of a different Horned Frog team this season. Gone is the dominating defense that defined the Horned Frogs over the past three years, but the offense looks to be as prolific as ever, averaging 43.6 points per game among other gaudy stats.
So how do the Cougars match up against TCU and is there good reason to believe that those matchups will warrant a different result this time around?
BYU rushing offense vs. TCU
The Cougars have been running the ball very well as of late. With Michael Alisa being the primary runner, the Cougar ground attack has proven to be efficient and even punishing since the San Jose State game.
They’ll need every bit of that against a Horned Frog defense that has allowed very few rushing yards to BYU in recent years.
“I think in most games, just about all of them recently, it seems that we got down big early and couldn’t run it like we wanted to,” said Kariya about BYU’s rushing performances against TCU. “We just can’t do that. It’s easier said than done, but I think if we can continue with a good game plan and not get behind early that we can do some good things on the ground.”
TCU has been good against the run this season, but not in the dominating fashion that it has in recent years. The Horned Frogs go for 123.7 yards per game, which gives them a 39th ranking nationally.
They’ll present a 4-2-5 defensive system that relies on quick reads, aggressive play and great overall team speed in limiting opponents.
“You look at their film and they’re very fast and athletic like they always are,” said tight end Marcus Mathews. “They’re as good as any defense we’ve faced so far and they’ll be a challenge.”
Their defense is led by senior linebacker Tank Carder, 6-3, 237, who is second on the team in tackles with 34 from his middle linebacker spot. He’ll be joined at linebacker by junior Kenny Cain, 6-1, 210, who is sixth on the team in tackles despite missing two full games.
Up front, they feature four very athletic defensive linemen, though only one of the four started last year.
“People say that they’ve lost a lot of guys up front and that they won’t be as good, but they’re as good as they’ve always been,” said starting center Terence Brown. “We haven’t had much success on them the last few years and they’ll be a tough challenge again regardless of who they might have lost from a season ago.”
As always, TCU will feature a dominant play-making defensive end. While Stansly Maponga, 6-2, 265, doesn’t come in with the pedigree of Jerry Hughes, he is a handful, leading the team with 6.5 tackles-for-loss, among other stats.
TCU's most experienced lineman is defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey, 6-4, 273, who is athletic enough to have run the first leg in the 4x100 relay for his high school team before coming to TCU. He’s second on the team in tackles-for-loss with 4.5 and should be a handful for the Cougars' interior offensive linemen.
The Cougars believe they’ll be able to run it better this year against TCU and there is good reason to believe they will. The Horned Frogs will have to account for quarterback Riley Nelson as a dual threat which is something that they haven’t had to do in the past.
“We have some stuff for them that they haven’t seen in years past,” said Kariya. “There’s a new energy to this offense and they’ll have to account for Riley with his ability to run, which I think can help us a lot in how we match up against them.”
TCU isn’t a team that BYU can beat on the perimeter like it did last week against Idaho State and other opponents. The Cougars will make due up the middle where Alisa could prove to be very effective against a TCU frontline that is a bit undersized with two defensive tackles that weigh in at 273 and 270 pounds, respectively.
Look for BYU to find some success in running the ball come Friday. If the Cougars don’t fall behind early, they should be able to mount an effective ground attack and gain well over the 123 yards TCU yields per game to opponents.
Most of that should come from the Cougar running backs and not from Nelson, however. With TCU’s overall speed and athleticism on defense, the Horned Frogs should be able to contain the Cougar QB much better than recent opponents have.
BYU passing attack vs. TCU
Just as the Cougar ground game has seen strides, the Cougar passing attack has as well. Due to the increased ground gains, with defenses having to respect Nelson’s ability to run, a lot of play-action and misdirection opportunities have opened up that offensive coordinator Brandon Doman has been able to take advantage of.
Cody Hoffman has risen to be Nelson’s primary target, making great plays on the ball in the air with his 6-foot-4 frame.
“We feel really good with how we’ve been able to throw the ball,” said Mathews. “TCU will be a tough opponent, tougher than we’ve faced here recently, but we have a good gameplan and I think we’ll be able to find some good success against them.”
TCU’s pass defense has given up some big yardage in games this year, particularly to SMU and to Baylor. The Horned Frogs are 78th in the nation in pass defense efficiency rating and give up 223.7 yards per game through the air.
They’re led in the secondary by senior weakside safety Tekerrein Cuba, 6-4, 210, who plays more like a linebacker than a defensive back in the Horned Frog’s 4-2-5 defensive alignment. He leads the team in total tackles with 45.
At cornerback, they’ve had some problems and made some changes in their starting alignment since early in the season. Against BYU they’ll go with JC transfer Jason Verrett, 5-10, 180, who has not allowed a touchdown against him this season (according to TCU’s game notes), along with senior Greg McCoy, 5-10, 181, who leads the team in pass breakups.
A big reason why TCU has been so effective in defending BYU’s passing game has been its ability to mount an effective four-man pass rush. In doing this the Horned Frogs have been able to drop a full seven players in coverage, causing all sorts of problems for the Cougars QBs.
BYU should be able to slow down the Horned Frog pass rush this year with a more experienced offensive line, but even more so with Nelson’s abilities. TCU will have to contain Nelson, which won’t allow the Horned Frogs to simply tee off on a consistent five-step drop back as they have over the last three years.
Should TCU be able to keep him in the pocket he’ll have to beat them with his arm on a straight drop back consistently, which will be a true test for him.
Look for TCU to hold BYU to under 200 yards passing while working well to contain Nelson on the edges. I understand that I prescribed much of the same for Nelson against Oregon State and he did surpass the 200 yard barrier in that game with 217 yards. Look for TCU to come in better prepared than the Beavers were with what Nelson presents in defending him better than any team has so far this season.
BYU rush defense vs. TCU
The tune has been largely the same for the Cougar ground defense so far this season; good up the middle while struggling in preventing big-gainers on the edge. This was the focus for coaches this week, as BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall has noted.
“It’s what we’ve heard from him all week,” said linebacker Austin Jorgensen. “We can’t give up good plays and have to contain their running backs. They have some good ones who are fast and who can beat you with their speed and their quickness.”
TCU averages 217.4 yards per game on the ground, which is 18th-best in the nation. The Horned Frogs will use three different tailbacks in an offense that doesn’t use a lot of formations with a fullback but likes to spread the field.
Their primary runner is junior Ed Wesley, 5-9, 200, who has led TCU in rushing since returning from an injury three games ago. He’ll be joined by junior Michael Tucker, 6-1, 218, and by sophomore Waymon James, 5-8, 203, who also returns kicks.
Their quarterback, Casey Pachall, 6-5, 216, will run it on occasion but not as much as Andy Dalton did a year ago.
It’s far easier to like BYU’s ability to defend a team like TCU on the edges with a healthy Jordan Pendleton in the lineup. In joining with Kyle Van Noy at OLB, the Cougars should be able to cut down on some big-play possibilities.
A lot of pressure will also be placed on cornerbacks Corby Eason, Preston Hadley and Joe Sampson in providing good containment and run support. So far this season, they’ve done fairly well, but will have to be on top of their games come Friday.
“This is a big week for us,” said Hadley. “They’re going to be taking it to us on the edge a lot and we need to get off blocks and not let them get outside of us.”
Look for BYU to hold TCU to under its rushing average come Friday. The defense is confident and coming off of a good week of practice along with having more capable defenders on the edges than BYU has had in recent years.
BYU pass defense vs. TCU
The Cougars haven’t been severely tested through the air recently, although they did give up some long passes against Oregon State. Mendenhall has managed the games to protect leads while providing soft over-the-top coverage, which has chewed up a lot of clock time while yielding some short-gainers.
He’d love to have the chance to implement a similar coverage scheme come Friday and protect a lead against the Horned Frogs — something BYU hasn't had in three full seasons.
TCU presents a passing attack that averages 234.6 yards per game under the direction of quarterback Casey Pachall, who has been solid so far this season. He’s completed 69.7 percent of his passes and has 17 touchdowns, as opposed to only four interceptions.
“He’s really good,” said Jorgensen. “He doesn’t run it as well as Dalton did, but he throws it as well from what we’ve seen on film. I don’t think their passing game has gotten worse at all. They’re just as good as they have been with what we’ve seen on film.”
Pachall’s primary target will be sophomore Josh Boyce, 6-0, 203, who leads the team in receptions with 38. As mentioned, the Horned Frogs will look to spread the field with three- and four-wideout formations as their base offense.
Their primary deep threat is junior Skye Dawson, 5-10, 175, who is the Mountain West Conference 60-meter track champion with a time of 6.69.
While BYU should be able to limit what TCU does on the ground, it’s questionable whether the Cougars will be able to do the same defending the pass. It’s a defense that has shown to have some mental lapses that has allowed big-gainers so far this season.
TCU will use a bevy of quick-hitters in the flat that have killed BYU in recent years. The Horned Frogs will attempt to get BYU to bite on these passes while prepping to beat BYU deep with trick plays and misdirection.
Prediction: TCU 31, BYU 21
BYU should be able to give TCU a game this time around — but will still walk away with a loss. This is a true test for a BYU team that hasn’t been tested since the Utah State game.
While BYU has made some strides in its overall play on both sides of the ball, the Cougars should come up a bit short against a very athletic TCU team that has seen nothing but successful against BYU in recent years.