By Steve Lansdale
The Texas Longhorns kick off the Big 12 portion of the schedule against a familiar foe when the TCU Horned Frogs come to town. TCU will be playing away from home for the third straight week, but this will be the first trip of more than 40 miles from its campus. The Frogs played Ohio State last week in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas and the week before at SMU.
TCU has won the last four meetings with UT, and is 3-0 in Austin since joining the Big 12. The Frogs’ four-game winning streak over Texas ties its longest in the series between the school; the Longhorns lead the series, 62-25-1.
So what should be known about TCU, beyond what appears on stat sheets and in press releases?
Quarterback Shawn Robinson can run and throw … when asked to do one at a time. Robinson is a big (6-2, 228 pounds) with excellent speed and a cannon of an arm. He has completed 57 of 93 passes this season (61.3 percent) for 644 passing yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions. Let him stand and set his feet in the pocket, and he can pick apart a defense. Let him run, and make sure a linebacker gets to him before he trucks some poor defensive back.
Defenses want him to run … and throw on the run. Give him time in the pocket and he can pick apart a defense, and force him to take off and he can wreak havoc on undersized defensive backs who try to slow him down. But get him to throw on the run, and Robinson is beatable. All three of his interceptions this season have come when he tried to throw on the run. That’s not a pioneering theory — many passers struggle throwing on the run — but it is a recipe for slowing an impressive player.
Texas needs to apply relentless pressure, as four of the five starting offensive linemen from last season are gone. That’s not to suggest the Frogs no longer can block — they can. But much of the success in an offensive line comes from the timing and chemistry that only can be fine-tuned by playing together.
TCU still rolls out massive linemen — the starting offensive tackles average 6-foot-7 and 335 pounds — but they still are getting used to each other. SMU got into the backfield more than once a couple of weeks ago, forcing Robinson to run or throw more quickly than he would have wanted to, and the Ohio State defense came crashed the TCU backfield with some regularity: TCU has allowed eight sacks, while its vaunted defense has mustered just three. Nobody is suggesting the Frogs can not block, but while there is talent, the offensive line is a group that still is growing together. If UT defensive coordinator Todd Orlando can dial up some exotic fronts and disguise what his defense is doing, the Longhorns should have some success.
TCU has the same defense it always meaning relatively anonymous and completely stingy. This bunch isn’t like the Michigan defense that could have three first-team All-America players. The TCU defense is a reflection of head coach, in the sense that Gary Patterson and most of his players could walk down the street almost anywhere outside of Fort Worth and nobody would know who they are. Through three games, TCU is allowing its opponents just 19.67 points and 317.7 yards per game — relatively modest totals in the current pass-happy offensive philosophies most teams employ. Even in Fort Worth, they enjoy a measure of anonymity, and that plays right into the atmosphere and culture Patterson wants for his team.
The Longhorns have to win the battle of field position. That, of course, is a goal for every team in every game, but against a team like TCU, the chance of victory goes up when the Frogs have a long field, because they are a well-coached team that keeps mistakes at a minimum.
Finally, KaVontae Turpin is to be avoided at all costs. Texas needs to be extra-careful with him when he’s in the game on offense, and by all means, do not kick to Turpin. To the eyeball test, he doesn’t look like much — TCU lists him at a generous 5-9, 157 pounds — but he is a lethal weapon who already has scored on offense and special teams; in years past, he also ran and threw to reach the end zone.
Every team has fast players, but Turpin is a different kind of fast, as there are few, if any, who can go from a standstill to top speed as quickly as he can. Coaches often talk about players who can “put one foot in the ground,” change directions and take off … and Turpin is that guy. Based on his size, some worry about him getting hurt, but then as the saying goes, “you can’t hurt what you can’t catch.” Kick the ball 20 rows up in the stands, if need be, but keep it away from No. 25, and considerable weapon is suddenly removed from the Frogs’ arsenal.