TCU vs. BYU: Keys to the game
BCS bids on the line for both TCU and BYU on Saturday
FORT WORTH, Texas -- TCU coach Gary Patterson and BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall spent part of this week talking about what a big opportunity Saturday's game provided to showcase their programs and the Mountain West Conference.
ESPN's "College GameDay" will be in Provo, Utah, for the matchup, and media coverage for both schools has increased as the week has progressed.
But the time for hype is nearly over. TCU, No. 8 in the BCS standings, wants to keep its hopes alive for BCS bowl bid. And No. 16 BYU hopes to get the inside track on its third MWC title in four seasons.
Since TCU is ranked No. 8, let's look at eight things to watch in Saturday's game.
- Running game
- TCU's defense vs. BYU's passing offense
- Special teams
- Third-down conversions
- Fast starts
- Jerry Hughes
- Role reversal
Both TCU and BYU have quarterbacks that are in their third season as starters. BYU senior Max Hall is fourth in the country in passing efficiency and third in passing yards, one of only three FBS quarterbacks to throw for more than 2,000 yards. TCU junior Andy Dalton has thrown for just over half of Hall's total yards, but he's 16th in the nation in passing efficiency. And Dalton's ability to run is one of his biggest assets.
Both quarterbacks have a greater understanding of their offenses after starting so many games in their respective systems. Patterson said experience has made both of them effective.
"You can do it in practice, but you have to be able to do it in a ballgame," Patterson said. "Both of those guys have been able to do that. They both have my respect because they both play very well, they both lead their teams and they are both highly competitive. They are fun to watch."
TCU is 11th in the nation in rushing offense at 225 yards per game. They do it mainly with Dalton in the zone-read and senior Joseph Turner in the backfield. Turner has at least one touchdown in five of TCU's six games. There's no question that the Frogs will attempt to establish superiority on the ground behind an offensive line that starts just one senior, left tackle Marshall Newhouse.
While BYU's offense is predicated more on the pass, the Cougars will also try to get the ground game going. A good rushing game will only make the passing game more effective. And BYU has junior Harvey Unga, who leads the Mountain West Conference in rushing at 95.83 yards per game, good enough for 24th in the nation. He was held to 53 yards on 14 carries last year in TCU's 32-7 win in Fort Worth.
TCU's defense is eighth in the country against the run, holding opponents to just under 82 yards per game on the ground. Even that total is a bit inflated because Air Force's triple option ran for 229 yards against TCU.
We talked about the running games for both teams, but BYU has hurt defenses through the air. Hall knows how to read defenses, get the ball out quick and use all his receivers to move his team down the field.
TCU, though, has one of the stingiest defenses in all of college football. The Frogs are fourth in the nation in total defense and ninth against the pass. The reason: They get pressure on the quarterback. TCU is tied for sixth among all FBS defenses with 3.33 sacks per game (20 on the season).
But they have not faced an aerial attack like this one this season. BYU is 11th overall in passing offense at 306 yards per game. The most total yards on offense TCU has allowed in one game this season was 309 at Clemson.
TCU got to Hall last year, sacking him four times before halftime to build a big lead. When Patterson was asked about the BCS standings Tuesday, his answer revealed what was really on his mind.
"I've been too busy trying to figure out how to stop Max Hall and that offense that I haven't had time to worry about it," Patterson said.
TCU's Jeremy Kerley has given TCU a distinct special-teams advantage this season. He has two punt returns for touchdowns in the past three games, including a 69-yard scamper against Colorado State that was the top play of the day on ESPN's "SportsCenter."
Kerley is fifth in the nation in punt return yard average. He'll go against the seventh-best punt return defense, which should make for an interesting matchup.
Kerley is also 19th on kickoffs. His ability to break the big play, and also put the Frogs in good field position, could have a direct impact on the outcome of the game.
BYU sophomore O'Neill Chambers is 10th in the country in kickoff returns at 30.89 yards per game and had a 97-yard return against UNLV two weeks ago in the fourth quarter (he did not score a touchdown).
No one is better at converting third downs than BYU. The Cougars have a 64 percent success rate (59-for-92) on third downs.
But Max Hall and the Cougars offense haven't faced a defense quite as good at stopping third downs at TCU. The Horned Frogs are fifth in the nation in third down defense, as opponents convert against the Frogs just 27 percent of the time.
The key to TCU's success is limiting yards on first and second down to force teams into third-and-long situations. BYU has made a habit of putting itself in manageable third-down yardage this season. That will be an interesting matchup to watch.
One trend of this game the past three seasons is the team that wins gets a quick start. In 2008, TCU jumped out to a 23-0 lead at the half thanks to a sterling defensive performance and never looked back in a 32-7 win.
In 2007 in Provo, BYU grabbed a 14-3 lead and eventually led 17-9 at the half on the way to a 27-22 victory. The Cougars also took control early in 2006, taking a 17-3 lead in the third quarter. BYU won that game 31-7 in Fort Worth.
He's worth watching in every game, but especially when the spotlight is brightest. The senior pass rushing defensive end was a consensus All-American in 2008 with 15 sacks. He had four of those in TCU's victory over BYU.
Hughes, considered by many a likely first-round pick in the NFL draft, has eight sacks this season, tied for fourth in the nation. Hughes is third on the team in tackles with 31. He also leads the defense with 9.5 tackles for loss.
He will be going against an offensive line that has some young guards and tackles (the only senior starting on the line is the center, R.J. Willing).
Last year, BYU arrived in Fort Worth undefeated and No. 8 in the BCS standings, hoping to beat a Top 25 TCU team to continue its quest for a BCS bowl and a Mountain West Conference title. But a one-loss TCU team crushed BYU from the opening kickoff, and Utah ended up winning the MWC and a BCS bowl.
So this time TCU, No. 8, travels on the road to face No. 16 BYU. Could the Cougars turn the tables?
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall says revenge isn't really on his team's mind. But there's no doubt they remember what happened last year. Gary Patterson won't have to remind his team of that fact, not to mention that BYU beat TCU the week after the Frogs gained national attention by beating a top-20 Texas Tech team in 2006.
Richard Durrett covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.