NCF Nation: Matthew Tucker

TCU keys in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

December, 29, 2012
Let's take a look at three keys for TCU in today's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

1. Be patient, young ones. TCU's offense hasn't been real effective after losing Casey Pachall, with a couple exceptions. However, they love to run the ball with B.J. Catalon and Matthew Tucker. Trevone Boykin provides another weapon with his legs at quarterback. The Frogs have had a lot of effectiveness working that scheme and then beating teams over the top. They may have to do that with Michigan State, who should be one of the better rush defenses (rank eighth nationally) TCU sees this year. Finding the right time for that big play and hitting it could be the difference in what should be a low-scoring game.

2. Wrap up, wrap up, wrap up. If you didn't already know, the first five minutes of tonight's game will make it very, very obvious: They simply do not make backs like Le'Veon Bell in the Big 12. The 250-pounder runs hard and leads the nation in yards after contact. He can also hurdle you with little hesitation. You cannot arm tackle this man, no matter how hard you try or how much you believe you can. TCU's got to be disciplined tacklers and swarm to him when he's got the ball, otherwise he's going for 200 and TCU's not winning this game.

3. Keep making big plays defensively. TCU kept itself in the game with a pair of defensive plays in the loss to OU, and the offense is likely going to have a tough night against the Spartans. Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell has multiple interceptions in his last two games after throwing two picks in his previous nine games. TCU, meanwhile, are fourth nationally with 21 interceptions this season. MSU won't chuck it around like Big 12 teams, but the Frogs' Jason Verrett, Sam Carter and Elisha Olabode have combined for 14 picks and could do some more thieving. I can't emphasize it enough: This game very likely will turn on a big play. TCU's defense may be just as likely to make it as the offense.

Big 12 game predictions: Week 14

November, 29, 2012
Time for one final week of picks. I'm headed to Fort Worth, Texas, this weekend for Oklahoma versus TCU. The staff at HornsNation will have you covered out in Manhattan, Kan., for Kansas State-Texas. You'll be covered from all angles this weekend, as usual.

Let's get to the picks.

Iowa State and Texas Tech have completed their regular seasons.

Last week: 3-1 (.750)
Overall: 52-19 (.732)

No. 23 Oklahoma State 44, Baylor 34: There's something to Oklahoma State's mastery of Baylor. The Bears are better, but Oklahoma State is playing great football late in the season and has found its stride with Clint Chelf taking care of the ball and producing. The Bears' defense faces a much tougher test in a more balanced Oklahoma State offense, and the Pokes make them pay. Solid day for Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith.

No. 11 Oklahoma 27, TCU 21: There's lots of upset potential here; I just couldn't bring myself to pick it. The Sooners are tired and susceptible to teams strong against the run. This one gets uglied up by the TCU defense, and the Frogs have success with the zone read with Trevone Boykin and Matthew Tucker. Too much aerial attack by Landry Jones and his growing set of receivers. He turns it over one or twice but finds Kenny Stills and Jalen Saunders enough to outweigh the mistakes against ball-hawking TCU secondary that has 20 interceptions, four more than any team in the Big 12 and tied for third-most nationally.

West Virginia 51, Kansas 21: Fast-paced offense. Lots of talented players in one-on-one matchups. That spells all kinds of trouble for Kansas, which has played decent team defense, but the Jayhawks don't have the talent on defense to slow down Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. The KU running game might make a difference and keep West Virginia's offense off the field, but I'm not betting on it. KU's imperfect season is complete.

No. 6 Kansas State 31, No. 18 Texas 20: With Case McCoy against a really disruptive Kansas State defense, I just don't see the Horns pulling off the upset. Meshak Williams is all over McCoy for 60 minutes, and Arthur Brown does a solid job spying and making sure he doesn't get loose scrambling on broken plays. Collin Klein bounced back with a good game, but one that's just average for him this season, accounting for all four touchdowns.
TCU coach Gary Patterson knew the Big 12 would be full of new challenges. Chief among them: close games.

The last time TCU had more than one conference game decided by one possession was 2008. That season, it was only two. Since then, the Horned Frogs have coasted through the Mountain West with three consecutive league titles and only three total conference games decided by seven points or fewer.

In the Big 12, it has been a whole new ballgame for the Frogs. Two of the past three games for TCU have gone to overtime, one in the Frogs' favor against West Virginia on Saturday and the other tipped toward their in-state rival Texas Tech two weeks ago.

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesGary Patterson's Horned Frogs have gone to overtime in two of their past three games.
"It just depends on whether you win or lose. After the Texas Tech game, nobody felt good," Patterson said. TCU led 14-9 against Oklahoma State in the week between the two close games and Patterson harped on his team to finish. It didn't, dropping a 36-14 decision to the reigning Big 12 champs.

He gave the team Sunday off to rest, and it paid off with a comeback victory against the Mountaineers in which the Frogs played their best ball late in the fourth quarter and in overtime.

That rest allowed TCU to get offensive lineman Blaize Foltz and receiver Brandon Carter back on the field, as well as defensive end Stansly Maponga. Even banged-up back Matthew Tucker returned to the field.

"He still wasn’t where we needed him to be last week, but we’ll need all of our bullets to have a chance against Kansas State because they’re a really good football team," Patterson said.

A 9-0 football team, to be exact. Still, the lesson was learned for TCU, which is still getting used to needing all its bullets every week in the Big 12.

"I feel like it helped us last Saturday at West Virginia. Both players and coaches, how do you manage the season? I think that’s one thing we’ve talked about," Patterson said. "To get ready for Kansas State you’ve got to be doing the same thing. You’ve got to be able to run and be able to get the soreness out of your body because they’ll make you play for three hours."

That's nothing new for the Cats, the reigning masters of the tight decisions. Since 2011, the Wildcats are 10-1 in games decided by one possession. Only two of those wins came outside Big 12 play and the only team to notch a win against K-State in one of those games won a Big 12 title in 2011.

"I’m probably like all coaches. Regardless of what the score is, they’re all tight games," Wildcats coach Bill Snyder said. "It’s never over until it’s over, and I think we’re all that way, but I can’t tell you in all honesty that there’s any great difference in how I am during the course of a ballgame. I don’t think it really has been all that different for me."

The Wildcats have shown the poise of an experienced team even when they didn't necessarily have that experience a year ago. The execution late in games provided them opportunities to consistently erase deficits and notch 10 victories. A year later, tight wins against Oklahoma and Iowa State on the road have the Wildcats right in the thick of the national championship race.

Can TCU give its players opportunities in practice to simulate the tight situations that haven't existed on the field with this kind of frequency in a long time around Fort Worth?

"We’re always trying to create adversity to get things ready to go," Patterson said. "When you’re in a conference where the competition level is so close, you’re going to have to get ready for those kinds of games. For as young a football team as we have, I think we’re building valuable experience, especially going on the road."

All three of TCU's Big 12 victories have been on the road this season, including last week's close victory at West Virginia -- the latest of many lessons for the Horned Frogs in 2012.

"There’s a lot of things that are being learned at this point by coaches and players. I don’t think it’s just the players," Patterson said. "The coaches, we’re trying to learn about our kids and how they play and how they handle things and we’ve got to do a better job on our side of getting them ready."
When was the last time a player worked as a third-string running back in practice during the week, and on Saturday took the field as a team's starting quarterback?

Before Saturday, it had to have been awhile. TCU's Trevone Boykin made both unorthodox moves out of necessity, but couldn't lead TCU to a win over Iowa State in the Frogs' first Big 12 home game.

[+] EnlargeTrevone Boykin
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireTrevone Boykin got his first start as the Horned Frogs' quarterback on Saturday against Iowa State.
Boykin won the TCU backup quarterback job ahead of Matt Brown, but the 6-foot-2, 215-pound redshirt freshman from Mesquite, Texas, worked at running back with Waymon James out for the season with a knee injury and Matthew Tucker a game-time decision with an ankle injury.

On Thursday morning, TCU coach Gary Patterson dealt with the news that his starting quarterback, Casey Pachall, had been arrested on suspicion of DWI. Pachall was suspended indefinitely, and all of a sudden, it was Boykin's time.

For one practice, he was the team's starting quarterback. After Thursday, it was time to go head-to-head against the Big 12's No. 3 scoring defense.

"We wish we had a little bit more for [time for] it. The biggest thing is he doesn’t have the experience to do it," Patterson said. "Trevone runs better, but just needs the experience of seeing the field better."

TCU's offense didn't change much with Boykin in place instead of Pachall, but to make matters worse, Tucker couldn't play to provide Boykin a safety valve. When James went down with a knee injury, Patterson said he had one back he trusted. Now, that one back was down, and only freshman B.J. Catalon and senior Aundre Dean were left.

Still, TCU managed 455 yards of offense, more than any offense against Iowa State all season.

"You’re talking about playing your first Big 12 [game] and I consider Iowa State a pretty good defense," Patterson said. "The key is you can’t throw interceptions, especially not for touchdowns, and you can’t turn the ball over. He’s got to do a better job of managing the game."

Will Boykin get another chance this week against Baylor, which has had two weeks to prepare for the Frogs? Patterson says he'll address Pachall's status at his Tuesday media luncheon, after meeting with the school's AD and chancellor on Sunday.

Boykin was responsible for three interceptions, and Catalon coughed up a pair of fumbles, including one inside Iowa State's 5-yard line.

Boykin's last interception was returned for a score, but his speediness provides a new facet to TCU's offense that Pachall couldn't.

"We’re excited about it; he gave us some options we didn’t have before," Patterson said. "We’ll move forward with that."

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 5

September, 27, 2012
Here's what I'm keeping an eye on in this week's four games across the Big 12:

1. Who's the man? I'm skeptical of Wes Lunt's supernatural healing powers. So, considering his knee was immobilized until Monday, and he wasn't expected to practice until today, I'm also skeptical that he'll play a down Saturday against Texas, the roughest and best defense in the Big 12 with the biggest and fastest defensive line. Call me crazy, but that doesn't sound like the best idea for your true freshman's long-term health. Still, Lunt was listed as a co-starter alongside J.W. Walsh on this week's depth chart. Will he play? We may find out Friday when OSU releases its injury report. Walsh will get a much tougher test, but he looked pretty solid against Louisiana-Lafayette.

2. Are we done yet? I agree with coach Gary Patterson -- the red zone turnovers are out of character for the Frogs. Still, they've turned potential blowout wins into just OK wins in two consecutive weeks. The Frogs turned it over four times in the red zone against Kansas and twice against Virginia. How much longer can they get away with that? SMU would love to take advantage, so TCU had better fix it.

3. Feeling the need for speed: Tevin Reese and Tavon Austin are on the short list of the Big 12's fastest players. They've both had huge games early on this season, but which speedster outraces the other in Morgantown? It may ultimately decide the game. They both have a teammate who can go up and grab jump balls, but with two questionable defenses, these two may have the day's biggest highlights.

4. Is it real? Is it spectacular? Texas Tech leads the nation in total defense, which is unlikely to last but impressive nonetheless. Just how good is this defense? The first three games told us pretty much nothing, except that the Red Raiders are better than last year and won't be giving up chunks of yardage to bad teams. Iowa State is not a bad team and has plenty of playmakers. What can Tech prove as its schedule toughens up?

[+] EnlargeCalvin Barnett
Richard Rowe/US PresswireCan Calvin Barnett and the Cowboys' D slow down the Texas rushing attack?
5. Calvin's last stand: Heading into this weekend, it feels like Texas' running game versus Oklahoma State's defensive line is one of the biggest mismatches on the Week 5 slate. Will that be the case? The Longhorns have looked efficient and physical running both inside and outside the tackles, and Arizona worked over OSU's defense with a zone read. If anybody's going to slow down Texas, it's Calvin Barnett getting a push up front and mucking up the Longhorns' schemes.

6. All Tuckered out. Matthew Tucker was pretty average against Virginia, gaining 52 yards on 15 carries. He's the one back Patterson says he trusts, but what will he look like on the road against SMU? TCU needs him to play big this year, and he needs to show something before Big 12 play really hits its stride. Can he top 100 yards?

7. Throw it to the guys in white. Nick Florence has put up big numbers. But when I saw the Bears play SMU, he tested fate pretty often, throwing the ball into coverage a handful of times but getting away with it. He wasn't picked off all night. He did it again last week against Louisiana-Monroe, with one really bad interception and another that came on a ball thrown while he was being hit. Simply put: He can't throw interceptions this week. More than one will all but eliminate Baylor's opportunity to win this game. He has to make better decisions.

8. They just keep coming, Clones. Texas Tech has about 74 receivers on its team who can be productive in this offense, and Seth Doege finds them all. Still, Tech might have the league's deepest receiving corps and Doege spreads it out really well. It'll be a tough test for the Cyclones. Texas Tech has already had 13 players catch at least four passes through just three games. ISU's defense showed up big time against OSU last year, and it may need a similar effort to win this one.

9. Can you say Heisman? What's the deal with David Ash? Did we see a flash on the road against Ole Miss a couple of weeks ago? Or was this the beginning of a special season for Ash in Austin? We'll get a pretty good idea in Stillwater on Saturday. OSU's corners, Brodrick Brown and Justin Gilbert, are as good as any in the Big 12.

10. Big test for a big D. Texas' defense, unlike Texas Tech's, has not been overly strong through its first three games. Saturday could be a good opportunity for the Longhorns' D to prove what it can do long-term. The Longhorns have the horses to be elite, but giving up 31 points to Ole Miss won't impress anybody. Tackling issues were pervasive in that win. Linebacker Jordan Hicks isn't healthy, and his status is up in the air, but I'd expect him to play, despite an injured hip.

Big 12 game predictions: Week 4

September, 20, 2012
Last week was a good one, my second week this season without a missed pick. That wasn't too difficult, though. This week, it gets harder.

No big surprises in my Saturday location: I'm heading to Norman to see the Sooners and Wildcats tangle in a Saturday night prime-time showdown.

Here's who I've got in this weekend's games:

Last week: 8-0

Season record: 22-3 (.880)

Texas, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are off this week.

Baylor 41, Louisiana-Monroe 28: I don't buy the upset potential here. Tyler Wilson looked fine against the Warhawks before he got hurt. Nick Florence should do the same. Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese give Louisiana-Monroe fits. The Bears will take care of business and have too much offense, though Kolton Browning will make plenty of plays to make Baylor's defense sweat.

No. 8 West Virginia 55, Maryland 17: Maryland is better this year under Randy Edsall, but not good enough to make this a game. West Virginia is playing like a top-10 team and will keep it going to close out nonconference play. Stedman Bailey will grab two more touchdowns and Tavon Austin will hit double digits in receptions once again. Business as usual for the 'Eers.

No. 17 TCU 44, Virginia 20: Gary Patterson is not sweating the turnovers from last week because the fumbles were so out of character for his team. The Horned Frogs will prove it this week, dominating the line of scrimmage against the Cavaliers. Matthew Tucker will clear 100 yards easily, and Skye Dawson will finally get in the mix after a Week 1 suspension and quiet game at KU last week.

Kansas 28, Northern Illinois 27: This was by far the toughest pick of the week. Ultimately, I think NIU is a bit overrated based on its reputation this season and won't be able to stop Kansas' running game. Tony Pierson and James Sims are quite the duo in the backfield, and Sims will be fired up after returning from suspension. He's ready, and KU will get a big win on the road against the Huskies. Dayne Crist should learn from his mistakes and make a couple of big throws late, instead of interceptions.

No. 6 Oklahoma 37, No. 15 Kansas State 31: This is (obviously) my game of the week. Come back later today for a video explaining why I picked the game to play out like this.
TCU came to Lawrence to play its first Big 12 game.

It left with a win.

The Frogs can leave with that knowledge, but they also leave with a long list of mistakes that could have made Saturday's 20-6 win much more impressive.

TCU won and convincingly looked like the better team, but it also looked like a team prone to bone-headed mistakes when it mattered most.

On the game's opening drive, TCU quarterback Casey Pachall had a snap go between his legs on a play inside the KU 10-yard line. A scramble resulted in KU possession all the way back at the Jayhawks 47-yard line.

On TCU's next drive, Pachall was sacked and fumbled on a play at the KU 23-yard line. The Jayhawks took over, but threw an interception on the ensuing play.

With a 20-6 lead and a chance to seal the win early in the fourth quarter, Pachall was stripped at the 1-yard line on what would have been a touchdown. The ball squirted out the back of the end zone for a touchback and seven more points that would never be on the scoreboard for the Frogs.

Most unbelievably: Running back Matthew Tucker fumbled with just over three minutes to go inside the 10-yard line and TCU nursing that same two-touchdown lead.

The Frogs' Jaden Oberkrom also missed a 27-yard field goal in the first quarter.

By game's end, TCU had been inside Kansas' red zone six times. It finished with 10 points, three turnovers and a missed field goal. Not good at all.

TCU got the win, but the focus in the days to come will undoubtedly be on those big, big mistakes.

Make those same kinds of mistakes, and how many Big 12 teams does TCU beat? Anyone besides Kansas? It's certainly debatable, especially considering nine different Big 12 teams got votes in polls this past week.

The Frogs were the more physical team in this one, and running backs Waymon James and Tucker combined for 164 yards on 24 carries. James left the game late in the fourth quarter with a knee injury.

Tucker's fumble marred an otherwise good day for the backs, too.

Fortunately for the Frogs, the defense picked up the slack on this day. Through two weeks, though, Kansas had been the Big 12's worst defense. How many Big 12 offenses can TCU hold to six points?

Gary Patterson doesn't need anybody to tell him scoring 20 points, especially on the road, won't get it done in Big 12 play.

The mistakes were out of character for the Frogs, but they happened on this day.

To Kansas' credit, the Jayhawks have now forced 12 turnovers through just three games. In all likelihood, that'll be the best mark of any team in the league by day's end. No Big 12 team had more than five through two games.

On one hand, it's impressive that TCU could do so much wrong and still win somewhat comfortably on the road in conference. When you lose the turnover battle 4-2, that's not easy to do. TCU kept from sweating in the final minutes by forcing a Dayne Crist fumble near the goal line.

On the other hand it's definitely going to be big, big trouble later in the season if TCU does anything like this again.
Just when you thought the offseason couldn't get worse for TCU, it does. Arguably the team's most talented rusher will leave the team.

TCU running back Ed Wesley will leave TCU because of family reasons, according to a report in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Coach Gary Patterson confirmed Wesley's exit, which leaves the Frogs with two 700-yard rushers entering fall camp in August.

Wesley was second on the team with 726 yards and six touchdowns in 2011. The Irving, Texas native was the Mountain West Conference freshman of the year in 2009 and earned all-conference honors in 2010. He was a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back and would have been a senior in 2012.
Waymon James and Matthew Tucker will pick up the slack for the Frogs, and Nebraska transfer Aaron Green will be ready to go in 2013, but losing James is still a big gut punch. The senior was a leader, and accounted for 120 carries in 2011. James and Tucker will have to handle more of the load.

It could get worse for the Frogs, too. The Star-Telegram also reported linebacker Deryck Gildon, offensive lineman Carter Wall and fellow lineman Nykiren Wellington were off the team because of grades.

That's the last thing TCU needed this offseason. The Frogs already lost their top defender, Tanner Brock, after a campus drug sting before spring camp. Safety Devin Johnson, DL D.J. Yendrey and reserve OL Ty Horn were also removed from the team.

The biggest question for TCU heading into its inaugural Big 12 season was: Do the Frogs have the depth to win big? Offseason attrition is doing its part to make the answer to that question very clear.
TCU FansCal Sport Media/AP ImagesThe Horned Frogs move to the Big 12 next season, an AQ conference with a perfect geographic fit.
We'll cap our moving week by introducing a new team to the big stage: TCU, welcome to the Big 12.

Our former Southwest Conference teams surely remember the Horned Frogs, but it's time to get everyone acquainted. To help me out, we've got College Nation blogger Andrea Adelson.

David Ubben: Andrea, you've been around this program the last year or so. Most fans won't have to travel far when they make it to the newly renovated Amon G. Carter Stadium, but what can they expect for a game-day experience?

Andrea Adelson: TCU might not have a stadium as big as Texas or Oklahoma, but fans sure get loud and provide a really good home-field advantage. The Horned Frogs have won 26 of their last 27 home games, and coach Gary Patterson has lost only seven times there in his 11 seasons as head coach. The newly renovated stadium should provide even more of a home-field advantage as the student section has now been reconfigured to run goal line to goal line behind the opponent bench. Students typically get dressed up all in purple and there is one spirit organization known as the HyperFrogs that leads chants throughout the game to get everybody fired up. Word is that playing a full slate of Big 12 competition is going to spur even more excitement at games and lead to many more sellouts.

DU: I'm excited to see it. I've done baseball and basketball at TCU, but I've never been to a football game. I'll have to end that this year. I'm definitely buying the idea that TCU's attendance issues have been accentuated by some less-than-stellar opponents. I'm not impressed by the home record, though.

The Horned Frogs already have their hand signal ready, a signature of Texas teams from that old Southwest Conference, but what's this move, getting reacquainted with some old friends, mean to TCU?

AA: It means everything, David. TCU was so desperate to get into an automatic qualifying conference, it agreed back in 2010 to join the Big East and then tried to tell everybody that geography did not matter and making the move was the perfect fit. The truth is, TCU always had designs on the Big 12, but the league had no interest in the Horned Frogs. Maybe that is because they were viewed as the pesky little brother that needed to be kept locked in his room. But the shifting sands of realignment made it increasingly obvious that TCU was the no-brainer choice to join the Big 12. It is no wonder TCU jumped ship for a conference closer to home without ever having played a down of football in the Big East. The Horned Frogs have finally achieved the goal set when the Southwest Conference broke up -- and it took only three (and a half) league homes to get there.

DU: Yeah, people want to knock TCU for conference jumping, but how can you not when the non-AQ leagues are shifting as much as they have in the past couple of decades. There's no doubt about it: TCU is home. I was at the news conference when they announced the move, and I've never seen so many people in suits wearing enormous smiles.

Big 12 fans may know TCU's combo of quarterback Casey Pachall and receiver Josh Boyce, but who are a few names Big 12 fans should keep an eye out for in 2012?

[+] EnlargeEd Wesley and Waymon James
Troy Babbitt/US PresswireEd Wesley and Waymon James are part of TCU's deep running back corps.
AA: TCU has a three-headed running back trio in Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Waymon James, and all three return for this season. The three nearly split their carries evenly in 2011 -- each getting over 100 -- and combined for 2,337 yards and 24 touchdown runs. On the defensive side of the ball, watch for DE Stansly Maponga, a first-team Mountain West selection who really blossomed in his sophomore season. Maponga had nine sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles and will be expected to anchor what should be a solid defensive line. I am also going to be intrigued to see how receiver Brandon Carter does in his sophomore season. He did play as a true freshman and had 352 yards and three touchdowns, but bigger things will be expected. He was one of the big gets in the 2011 recruiting class, a four-star prospect out of Euless, Texas.

DU: OU fans may remember Brandon Carter. He was almost a Sooner, but they wanted him to play corner. Safe to say he's feeling good about his decision now.

Time to put you on the spot, AA: Forecast the Horned Frogs' first year in the Big 12. Win total, conference record, bowl game and Big 12 finish.

AA: Without knowing the actual schedule, as in home games and away games, I am going to say at least eight wins and a finish in the top four. So that would project out to Alamo or Insight, and of course that depends on who else is eligible to be selected.

DU: Yeah, the Big 12 isn't really making this one easy on us.

I like what TCU's got coming back. This is a team that could run the table outside of the Big 12, but they may hit a few speed bumps in the transition. I'll say TCU wins nine games, finishes fourth in the Big 12 and heads to the Insight Bowl. Not a bad debut for a program that could see its success sky-rocket in years to come.

Poinsettia Bowl Keys

December, 21, 2011
You saw the preview and prediction, now here are three keys for TCU and Louisiana Tech in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl:

TCU (10-2)

1. Move on: No doubt, the Horned Frogs have to be a little disappointed after failing to reach a BCS bowl game after going in back-to-back years. But head coach Gary Patterson said that's in the past and they have moved beyond it. We know Louisiana Tech wants to be there. Every year there is at least one team that feels like it is playing below its station in life. If TCU is anything but 100 percent ready to go, the Bulldogs will jump all over them.

2. Something special: Greg McCoy, the Mountain West Conference's special teams player of the year, is a difference maker in the return game -- averaging 31.6 yards per return, good for fourth in the nation. He has two kickoff returns for touchdowns of 94 and 99 yards. TCU's vaunted defense creates a lot of punts, which means McCoy should have a chance to make an impact on this game -- be it in the field position battle or potentially breaking a touchdown.

3. Share the love: TCU has three stellar running backs in Ed Wesley, Waymon James and Matthew Tucker. Each brings their own skill set to the position and each will rotate throughout the game liberally, assuring that the Horned Frogs always have a fresh pair of legs running the ball. They'll run some option and misdirection with multiple-back formations. Once they get into a running rhythm, that will open things up for quarterback Casey Pachall to start looking downfield and make good use of play-action.

Louisiana Tech (8-4)

1. No home? No problem: Louisiana Tech has a hike from its Ruston campus to Qualcomm Stadium -- (temporarily renamed Snapdragon Stadium by the opportunistic folks at Qualcomm to promote their new processors) -- 1,609 miles to be exact. So what? The Bulldogs have won five straight on the road by a combined score of 140-76. In fact, it will have been almost three months since Louisiana Tech dropped a game away from home. The last road loss was on Sept. 24, a 26-20 defeat at the hands of Mississippi State in overtime.

2. Point of attack, and beyond: One of Louisiana Tech's advantages is its defensive line -- where 340-pound nose tackle Justin Ellis eats up space. Just as TCU rotates backs, look for a steady rotation of defensive linemen from the Bulldogs. They are also one of the better teams in the country at getting after the quarterback, ranking 17th nationally with better than 2.5 sacks per game. Christian Lacey and Matt Broha are outstanding defensive ends who could create havoc in the TCU backfield.

3. Good decisions: Louisiana Tech hasn't dropped a game since Colby Cameron got the starting gig. He can make all of the throws downfield to a solid group of receivers -- Quinton Patton (74 catches, 1,135 yards, 10 touchdowns) being his primary guy. But TCU hasn't been one of the best defenses in the nation for half a decade for nothing. It knows how to create pressure, disguise its coverages and blitz packages and keep quarterbacks guessing with its 4-2-5 formation. Cameron is a very good athlete, but his mental skills will be put to the test.
TCU Horned Frogs (10-2) vs. Louisiana Tech (8-4)

Dec. 21, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

TCU take by college football blogger Kevin Gemmell: After dropping the season opener to Baylor, and then falling to SMU four games later in overtime, people were starting to wonder if TCU could really overcome the loss of quarterback Andy Dalton. But the Horned Frogs went on a tear after the SMU loss, winning seven straight, including a thrilling 36-35 win at Boise State.

Quarterback Casey Pachall has been excellent, tossing 24 touchdowns to six interceptions while completing nearly 68 percent of his passes. TCU has a deep backfield, headlined by Waymon James (98-786-4), Matthew Tucker (109-629-10) and Ed Wesley (96-615-4). The three-headed rushing attack has the Horned Frogs averaging 210 yards per game -- ranked 20th nationally. That high-powered offense averages better than 41 points per game.

The defense isn't as stout as its been the past couple of seasons, though Stansly Maponga has been solid in the pass rush, generating six solo sacks and assisting on five others.

Not to be overlooked, TCU has the No. 1 kick return team in the nation -- boasting an average of 28.57 yards per kick and three kick returns for touchdowns.

Louisiana Tech take by college football Matt Fortuna: The Bulldogs entered 2011 with just four returning starters on each side of the ball, were picked to finish fourth in the Western Athletic Conference and had no real answer at quarterback. Despite close losses against eventually ranked opponents Southern Miss and Houston, their only win in their first five games was by six points against Central Arkansas, an FCS school.

They then won their final seven games to finish 8-4, won their first WAC title since 2001 and earned a berth in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

Go figure.

The seven-game winning streak was Louisiana Tech's first since 1973-74. It featured three turnover-free games and six defensive touchdowns for the Bulldogs. It included a blowout win at an SEC school (Ole Miss) and a 44-0 shutout against Nevada to close the regular season.

The defense did not allow a 100-yard rusher in 10 of 12 games. It recorded a conference-best 20 interceptions and ranked 11th in the nation in turnover margin. The Bulldogs even got help from their punter, Ryan Allen, a Ray Guy Award semifinalist who was largely responsible for the nation's No. 8 punting unit.

Boise-TCU could come down to defense

November, 9, 2011
Whenever people talk about Boise State, they talk about Kellen Moore. It is only natural, considering all Moore has done as a four-year starter for the Broncos.

But if the past two games between the Broncos and TCU are any indication, defense is going to take center stage. It was Boise State that harassed and bothered Andy Dalton in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, forcing him into three interceptions. One of them was returned for a touchdown, making a difference in the Broncos' 17-10 win.

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Kevin Jairaj/US PresswireGary Patterson's TCU defense has held Boise State star quarterback Kellen Moore without a touchdown pass in two meetings.
In the Poinsettia Bowl in 2008, TCU limited Boise State to just 250 total yards. Moore had no touchdown passes and one interception as the Horned Frogs won 17-16.

So it might be a safe bet to pick a defensive battle Saturday when TCU travels to play No. 5 Boise State with the Mountain West championship on the line.

"It's just one of those things in a game like that between two great teams, usually the most physical team wins," Boise State nickel back Hunter White said in a phone interview. "Their defense has been great the last few years. They always say defense wins championships. We feel it does, especially when you have two caliber teams like this."

You can bet TCU coach Gary Patterson enjoys trying to game plan for Moore, who has never thrown a touchdown pass against TCU. In fact, TCU is one of three teams to hold Moore without a touchdown pass, and the only team to do it twice. Moore has averaged 216.5 passing yards a game and completed 60.8 percent of his passes in two games against the Horned Frogs, both below his career averages -- 272.8 yards and 69.2 percent.

But Patterson says he only has fooled Moore once with a coverage. It was a zone blitz that resulted in a sack.

"That's a great compliment," Patterson said. "We feel we can play pretty decent defense around here. He's a guy who has an answer for all those things."

Boise State is no slouch in the defense department, either, especially along the defensive front. TCU presents a unique challenge, though, because the Horned Frogs are varied in what they can do. They have an excellent trio of running backs in Waymon James, Matthew Tucker and Ed Wesley -- each of whom has more than 500 yards rushing.

Casey Pachall has taken over for Andy Dalton as the starting quarterback and has not really missed much of a beat, throwing for 1,940 yards, 19 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has a standout receiver in Josh Boyce, who already has 704 yards receiving and six touchdowns this season.

"They do the same things," White said. "They're successful at what they do and they don't care who's at what position. They run what they're going to run."

The magnitude of this game is not lost on White or his teammates. The intensity level at practice has shot up a notch, knowing they are playing the two-time defending Mountain West champs. Though this is their first and only conference meeting, White and his teammates are looking forward to putting on a show for their fans on the blue turf.

Even if it means a defensive show.

"We know the quality of the team, caliber of the players. They're better, bigger, faster so we can't just approach it like another game like its Colorado State or UNLV," White said. "They are a great team. They have been the last few years. The two games we have played have been close. We have to find that extra edge, bring that extra effort. We know this is going to be a physical game. We need to bring that edge this week."

Midseason report: TCU

October, 11, 2011

Record: 4-2 (2-0, MWC)

The Horned Frogs had a banner year in 2010, winning the Rose Bowl and finishing undefeated. But they knew there were some challenges ahead, having to replace quarterback Andy Dalton and several key players on defense, including safety Tejay Johnson. The offense has not been the problem. It has been the defense that has had some issues to work through, which is uncharacteristic for a Gary Patterson-coached team. TCU ranks No. 69 in the nation in total defense, on pace to be the worst since ranking No. 99 in 2004. This is a group that finished the last three seasons ranked No. 1. But the Horned Frogs have been hurt by the loss of starting linebacker Tanner Brock and an inexperienced secondary. In losses to SMU and Baylor, TCU put itself in position to win after giving up huge leads. But the defense could not hold long enough for the Horned Frogs to prevail. Patterson says the unit is getting better, and the biggest challenge left remains its game at Boise State on Nov. 12. Meanwhile, Casey Pachall has done a fine job replacing Dalton. The rushing game also has proved to be invaluable thanks to its quality depth. TCU is averaging 209.7 yards a game on the ground. Ed Wesley has been banged-up, so Waymon James has taken on a bigger role, rushing for 398 yards and two scores while Matthew Tucker has seven rushing touchdowns. Josh Boyce is on pace for a 1,000-yard receiving season, with 580 yards and five touchdowns. But no matter what has happened on the field this season, perhaps the biggest story has been off the field, where TCU is now set to join the Big 12 for 2012. The Horned Frogs spurned the Big East for an opportunity to stay closer to home, its years of BCS busting paying off in a big way.

Offensive MVP: QB Casey Pachall. There are plenty of candidates here, with James and Boyce having great seasons, too. But questions about Pachall have been answered with his play so far -- going 118-of-171 for 1,391 yards with 15 touchdowns to just four interceptions.

Defensive MVP: DE Stansly Maponga. Patterson has repeatedly praised Maponga for his strong play this season. Maponga leads the team with 4.5 sacks, and he also has forced four fumbles and recovered one. Linebacker Tank Carder has not quite been 100 percent but he is nearly there.

Baylor loses its starting corner

September, 2, 2011
WACO, Texas -- Baylor's new-look defense was in for a test against TCU's offense, but it looks like new coordinator Phil Bennett's side of the ball took an early blow.

On a 38-yard pass from Casey Pachall to Josh Boyce, Baylor cornerback Tyler Stephenson fell down behind the play and looked to be in serious pain.

Trainers attended to him for a couple minutes before helping him off the field. He was unable to put any weight on his left leg.

Stephenson, a sophomore, is the Bears' starting corner. Sophomore K.J. Morton is behind him on the depth chart.

On the play after Stephenson's injury, TCU's Matthew Tucker ran for a 4-yard touchdown and put the Horned Frogs up, 13-7 with 5:46 to play in the first quarter.

TCU ready for motivated Baylor

August, 30, 2011
TCU receiver Josh Boyce knows how badly Baylor wants to take down the Horned Frogs on Friday night.

He and Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III played together in high school, and the two traded texts throughout the summer about the season opener for both teams. Baylor was embarrassed 45-10 last season, and Griffin was totally stymied in the game, going 16-of-28 for 164 yards while gaining just 21 on the ground.

"We know there will be a lot of motivation from them," Boyce said.

[+] EnlargeAntoine Hicks and Ed Wesley
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe Horned Frogs trounced the Bears 45-10 in last season's meeting in Fort Worth.
TCU should be just as motivated. The No. 14 Horned Frogs are going into their final season in the Mountain West with their share of doubters, after losing Andy Dalton and several other key players to graduation. This is the first time since the 2006 season that TCU will play a game without Dalton, who guided TCU to 25 straight regular-season wins.

In fact, TCU has the second-longest winning streak in the nation at 13 games and the longest road winning streak in the nation at 11 going into the opener. But the Horned Frogs face a doozy of a challenge to open the season. Not only will they be facing what should be an improved Baylor team on the road, they then have to travel to Air Force, which always presents a challenge because of its unique ground attack.

"For us, like any team, the first game of the season is always the toughest -- especially when you go in with a new quarterback," coach Gary Patterson said Tuesday. "We have quite a challenge ahead of us in the first two weeks. We've been talking about it since January as a football team: What do we need to do to get where we need to get to? Now that time is getting a lot closer."

Casey Pachall takes over for Dalton at quarterback. Though he missed a few days during fall camp with a sore shoulder, Pachall is ready to take over on offense. But he will not be expected to do everything. TCU has a talented backfield, with Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Waymon James. There is talent at receiver, too, with Boyce, Antoine Hicks and Skye Dawson, and several true freshmen who could make an impact as well.

The biggest question is on the offensive line, where there are four new starters. When asked how that group has come together, Patterson said, "We'll see. Like anything else, you find out at your first ball game. We've lost four tackles to NFL camps in the last two years and we have younger guys there. That question will be answered against a really good front in Baylor."

Indeed, Patterson praised the hire of new Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett and expects to see a much different group than the one from last season. Still, TCU has owned this series of late. TCU has won the last three meetings against Baylor, the longest string since a run of eight straight victories from 1964-71.

Once again, the TCU defense should be good even with several new starters. All-American Tank Carder returns at linebacker, and he was among the players who helped contain Griffin last season.

"I’m pretty confident they’re going to come out with a chip on their shoulder," Carder said. "They’re going to be ready to go."

So will TCU.