TCU football travels to Phoenix next week to claim their bowl-swag bags before taking on their second squad of Bears in 2018. It’s been over a month since TCU last stepped on the gridiron and hogtied the Cowboys of Oklahoma State. The Frogs are still considerably banged up from this season, where the injury bug seemed more like the bubonic plague. Senior Grayson Muehlstein is the signal caller and the lone healthy passer on the depth chart with any game experience. Hope for an improved offensive attack as Coach Gary Patterson and offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie utilize the extra time to craft a game plan to highlight Muehlstein’s strengths.
The Big 12 conference is famous for its high-flying and quick-scoring offenses. Oklahoma and West Virginia combined for 115 points to finish the regular season. The PAC-12 also tends to gravitate toward track-meet style games where deep fades are as common as inside runs. No Rambo firefights in this game. Both teams sucked on offense this season. The Golden Bears finished last in yards and points in the PAC-12. The Horned Frogs weren’t last in their conference but bettered only the Kansas teams. The sticking point for TCU’s attack is red zone scoring, in which they ranked among the lowest of all NCAA squads. Both teams are bottom feeders for points, which makes every opportunity precious.
Defense in the Desert
Both the Bears and Frogs are bad at scoring points. The power of deduction leads to assuming they’re good at stopping points or they wouldn’t have made bowl games. Defense is what Patterson is known for. This season wasn’t fun, but the Frog D endured and was statistically the best in their conference. Cal also plays excellent defense, edging the Frogs in most statistical categories. The Bear secondary hawked 17 interceptions this season and rarely allowed an opponent more than 100 rushing yards. Also, Cal has a more impressive signature win on the season, beating the PAC-12 champion Washington Huskies in a 12-10 slugfest. Field position is precious in this bout. Good punting could be the difference in how this contest develops, as both offenses try to play keep-away to avoid turnovers.
Cal and TCU have never played before, but there is familiarity. Cal’s head coach Justin Wilcox is the former defensive coordinator for the Boise State Broncos. He successfully locked down Patterson’s 2010 team to only 10 points in the Fiesta Bowl on the way to a Bronco victory. Wilcox is in his second year on the job in Berkeley and missed bowl eligibility by one game last year. The Bears’ signature victory against the Huskies came against Wilcox’s former boss from Boise State, Chris Petersen. The most concerning part of the matchup: Wilcox and his penchant for beating people he knows well. Patterson and Wilcox have not faced off in many years, but the two have plenty of history. Get used to seeing Wilcox’s defense. The Frogs have a non-conference home-and-home scheduled against the Golden Bears for the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
This is the third consecutive bowl season the Frogs face a West Coast opponent. The last two were thrill rides. Last year’s Alamo Bowl was exciting but beating Stanford with fourth quarter heroics was calm yoga compared to the 38-point comeback against Oregon in 2016 (led by a backup senior quarterback). For better or worse, bowls have a tendency to defy expectations. No one knows how a game will pan out when teams haven’t taken the field in a month, but that’s half the fun.
Basketball Heats Up
Men’s hoops returned home after tearing up Dallas and Los Angeles to face the Indiana State Sycamores. Did you know that’s where Larry Bird played? I didn’t. Don’t care, either, because he definitely wasn’t there on Sunday. The Sycamores came into Schollmaier Arena as the hottest three-point shooting team in the country. They left frustrated. The Trees averaged nearly 50 percent beyond the arc before the game but hit less than 20 percent against the Froggies. Conversely, the TCU offense looked less like the Frogs lately and more like dragons dropping fireballs from the sky. Junior Jaylen Fisher sunk four long balls and finished with 14 points. Fisher has drained 14 threes in the last three games. Indiana State and TCU traded early buckets in this contest before TCU forged ahead, thanks to excellent shooting from the field and opportunistic defense. The Sycamores couldn’t get shots to fall their way, and TCU took away spot-up shooting attempts to force more passes that were turned over regularly. The hidden stat among all the offense is 20 turnovers for ISU and only 10 for TCU. Coach Jamie Dixon had this game comfortably in hand by the end of the first half. The guard trio of Fisher, Alex Robinson, and Desmond Bane dominated with their range and smooth transition to the forwards. The three amigos combined for 51 points, with Robinson showing out with 20 on his own. TCU dropped 90 in this runaway that allowed Dixon to showcase the Frogs’ depth, clearing the bench to play valuable development minutes near the end.
Going to Get Lei’d
Dixon’s boys will board a plane to Hawaii this week to travel to compete in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic tournament. TCU will face the Charlotte 49ers on Saturday in the first round of the eight-team tournament. The Frogs should be among the favorites to take home the trophy and could possibly meet up again with the Sycamores, who will start on the opposite side of the bracket. Don’t be surprised if TCU’s recent offensive uptick lands the purple bunch back in the Top 25 rankings before the weekend is over.