It’s quickly how things change. Just last year BYU and TCU were bitter conference foes, with TCU putting an unblemished cherry on top of the MWC. The Horned Frogs blew through everyone in their second to last season heading for the Big East. Today TCU is playing hopscotch through the Big East en route to the Big 12 beginning next year. BYU is now independent, but the teams still have scores to settle outside of their former conference ties. TCU, having a checkered season, winning only one game against an FBS opponent with a winning record, is out to solidify the Big 12’s mind that they have the right team. BYU, in it’s inaugural season as Independent, is trying to validate ESPN’s commitment to them by winning a big game. This is BYU’s last opportunity at a quality win this season, having not won a game against a team with a winning record and having BYU’s remaining teams on schedule a combined 8-13. BYU certainly remembers the body blow it took at the hands of the Horned Frogs last season, 31-3. TCU has won the last 3 meetings against the Cougars by a combined 101-17. But TCU has certainly shown it can give up points to teams that can throw the ball down the field effectively and control the clock.
BYU’s defense has been the backbone to the Cougars success this season, other than the anomaly of the Utah game where turnovers and time of possession wore down the defense. The defense has kept BYU in games where they were anemic on offense and struggling to put points on the board. With the change at quarterback 3 weeks ago to Riley Nelson, the offense has been much more productive, allowing the defense to re-energize. The team has averaged 41 points over the last 3 starts for Nelson versus 18 in the 5 starts with Jake Heaps. Nelson hasn’t done it alone, but the added wrinkle of his running ability has allowed for defenses to respect the run and the pass. Oh and the the discovery of finding that Michael Alisa was still on the team has proved to be a good find. His numbers, 80 ypg over the last 3 games, don’t speak for his spark to the team and his ability to put BYU in 3rd and manageable situations, which are key to being successful, according to Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall.
TCU has been rolling right along as well. Casey Pachall is one of the best game-managing QB’s the nation has never heard of. He completes 70 percent of his passes, has a 4-1 TD to INT ratio, and has a 3-head rushing dog in Ed Wesley, Waymon James and Matthew Tucker who all combine to average nearly 205 on the ground per game. With balance like that, it’s given defenses fits all year on which part of the offense to stop.
My keys to Friday nights fight under the bright lights (trying to use all my ‘ight’ words a la Happy Gilmore’s ‘ay’ words) begin with BYU’s defense. Yes, they’ve been good, but let’s not forget they do give up big plays. TCU is very well balanced, can show different wrinkles to their offense, and can switch from run to pass with ease depending on defensive set up. The Cougar defense must play assignment football and make open-field tackles. The secondary can not be lured in to stopping the run and letting receivers burn them over the top. They can’t be so committed to stopping the run or it will be a long night for the Cougar D.
Next is BYU’s offense against the TCU defense. The Horned Frog defense is fast again this year, but has given up more points this year than normal. In their two losses, TCU gave up 718 yards passing and 13 pass plays over 20 yards, including 6 touchdowns. As much as balance is a key to BYU’s success, TCU will focus more on shutting down the run game. Therefore, down the field passing will be a primary factor in the game. Riley Nelson will need to keep the offense rolling with his arm more than his legs. Hence, it will be a benchmark test for the highly regarded wide receiving trio in Cody Hoffman, Ross Apo and McKay Jacobson. Will they be able to get open and make plays in assumed 1 on 1 coverage?
Cowboys stadium will NOT be a factor. BYU knows the field and can play on the big stage. However, I’m not convinced that Nelson’s arm is big enough to make the down field throws necessary for consistent success. But I’m also not convinced in either secondary’s ability to stop the big play. Pitching QB’s, I like Pachall and his 3-headed running dog over Nelson and his team of running cronies. Expect some scoring Friday with the balanced nature of these teams…it should be fun to watch.