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TCU Preview: Frogs Have a Lot in Common With Bears

December 24, 2018
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At the Cheez-It Bowl Cal will be facing an opponent it has never seen in TCU, but in a lot of ways the Bears could be looking in the mirror.

The Horned Frogs (6-6) are on their third starting quarterback and the one who started the season opener has left the program. They endured a three-game losing streak in the middle of the year that nearly totally derailed their season, and when they had success it was because of a strong defense.

Does that sound familiar?

The Bears (7-5) could be described much the same way as the two teams head into the bowl game in Phoenix on Wednesday.

Of course, there are differences, too. While Cal’s Justin Wilcox is winding up his second year as head coach of the Bears, TCU’s Gary Patterson has been on the job for 18 seasons, and on the TCU staff for 21.

Wilcox is a head coach in a bowl for the first time. This will be Patterson’s 16th bowl appearance as a head coach.

Cal has had its share of injuries this year, but nothing approaching TCU’s total. The Horned Frogs have lost 26 players to season ending injuries and at least 40 players have missed game time. Patterson says that at one time he counted seven safeties unavailable because of injury. Does Cal even have seven safeties?

Given the strength of the respective defenses and the background of each head coach, look for a low scoring game at Chase Field.

A closer look at TCU.

Offense

Fifth-year senior quarterback Grayson Muehlstein (above) will be making just his second career start. His first was against Oklahoma State in the regular season finale, when he directed the Horned Frogs to a 31-24 victory to secure bowl eligibility, something that looked beyond the their reach when they were 3-5.

Shawn Robinson started the first seven games at quarterback.. He injured his shoulder against Iowa State in the fifth game but tried to carry on. Against Texas Tech the next week he threw three interceptions, and was pulled in favor of Mike Collins against Oklahoma a week later and underwent surgery.

.After losses to the Sooners and Kansas, TCU knocked off K-State but lost to West Virginia and in the next-to-last game against Baylor Collins went down and was replaced by Muehlstein. The third-stringer finished off that victory and directed a bowl-saving win over Oklahoma State.

Muehlstein went 11 of 15 for 137 yards passing with one TD against Baylor, and 16 of 25 for 180 yards passing with two TDs against the Cowboys.

“He just needs to take it one play at a time,” Patterson said just before the team left Fort Worth for Phoenix on Saturday. “Throw it to the right person, hand it to the right guy.and try to win the ballgame. He doesn’t need to worry about trying to be historical.”

Wilcox said he noticed that TCU did not simplify its offense for Muehlstein.”The schemes look the same,” Wilcox said. “He’s a good football player, runs their offense well. He throws the ball well, can make some plays with his feet.”

The Horned Frogs main offensive weapon is versatile Jalen Reagor, who is primarily a wide receiver, but can be found all over the field.

“He is a really productive player,” Wilcox said. “They try to get him the ball in a number of different ways. He runs the entire route tree. Returns. He is a very explosive player.”

Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter said the Bears have seen his kind before. “They use him in a lot of the same ways as Colorado uses (Laviska) Shenault,” DeRuyter said. “He’s normally number one guy (wideout)  on the field. But they are going to put him in the slot, they are going to put him in the backfield, they are going to wildcat him. I don’t blame them. He’s a special talent and they are going to find ways to get him the ball.”

He leads the team with 72 receptions for 1,061 yards and 9 touchdowns. He has carried the ball ten times for 161 yards, most of them coming on an 83-yard TD jaunt.

“We are going to have to keep an eye on him,” said outside linebacker Alex Funches.

But the Bears cannot concentrate on Reagor at the expense of ignoring everybody else. “We have to have some things within the game plan that can mitigate some of what he does,” Wilcox said. “But you can’t go into the game and play the entire game 2-on-1 on him. They have some other good players, too. We’ve got to be able to win some 1-on-1s and we’ve got to be able to help him with the coverage.”

True freshman Taye Barber is second on the team with 30 catches and is only the second true TCU freshman to catch at least one pass in every game since Patterson took over.

One of the more significant injuries was to running back Darius Anderson, who missed the last game and is not expected to play in the bowl game.” Our starting tailback is gone but Sewo [Olonilua] is back,” Patterson said. “So you have one of our two starting tailbacks.”

Anderson totaled with 598 rushing yards and three touchdowns in 11 games, including seven starts. His highlight was a 93-yard TD run against Ohio State, the longest in TCU history.

Olonilua has 441 yards on 103 carries, and at 6-3, 231 pounds is a load to bring down.

Like Cal’s offensive line, the Horned Frogs  have been hit by injuries to the unit.

Only right tackle Luis Niang, a junior who is thinking about declaring for the 2019 NFL draft, has started all 12 games.

Austin Myers, who started eight games -- four at left tackle and four at left guard -- is out for this one. Cordel Iwuagwu is listed as the starting left guard. Iwuagwu hasn’t played since Sept. 22 against Texas, but could return.

One big plus for the line has been the emergence of 6-8, 314-pound Anthony McKinney, a JC transfer who has started the last eight games at left tackle. “He is really special,” said Funches.

One problem for the Frogs has been turnovers. Despite having a plus-six turnover margin in their last two games they finished with a cumulative minus six for the year, 105th in the country.

Defense

This is the team’s strength. Injuries were a factor here, too, yet the Frogs wound up among the country’s best.

Five starters, including 2017 Freshman All-American Ross Blacklock, who was lost for the season in Fall Camp, have missed significant time.

But TCU was first in the Big 12 in total defense (344.4 yards per game), passing defense (202.6 ypg) and pass efficiency defense (121.7) and second in scoring defense (24.3 ppg) and, rushing defense (141.8 ypg).

“They are really good,” Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin said. “They don’t necessarily pressure a lot, that’s not their deal. They play really well as an entire team and they don’t get themselves out of position. They don’t miss a lot of tackles when they’re in space. They don’t let guys run free. They don’t give up those explosive plays. …. They are very disciplined.”

Cal offensive guard Ryan Gibson knows the Bears are in for a battle. “They are all pretty athletic,” he said. “When you look at defensive personnel, none of them are really big but they are long and athletic. It’s not just big guys hogging up the middle. There is a lot of twisting and stunting and moving, we have to stay square and not let them take advantage of us.”

The key performers on defense are ends Ben Banogu (6-4, 249) and L.J. Collier (6-4, 276), both were first team All Big-12.

“They both are guys that play with high motors,” Patterson said. “They  are a little bit different players. One (Collier) is more of a speed guy, one (Banogu) is more of a power guy. They are guys that like to play the game.

“L.J came from a small school and really nobody recruited him. He has turned into being a good player. Ben is a guy that transferred here, nobody really recruited out of high school and he turned into a really good player also. KInd of typical TCU guys. Nobody knows that much about and both like to be coached and they play hard. Anytime you like to do that, coaches are happy.”

In this day of “situation substitution” where defensive players tend to specialize in what down and distance circumstances they face, these two seldom leave the field.

“They are every down type players,” Baldwin said. “They  can do things well against the run and then turn around on 3rd-and-7, 3rd-and-8 and and present issues on their pass rush. They’re complete.”

Preseason All-Conference linebacker Ty Summers has been in and out of the lineup with an injury and missed the season finale. He might make it back for the bowl games. “He’s practiced some, but he’s … the way it’s been going this year, I’d tell you the day before the game who’s ready, who’s not,” Patterson said.

Senior middle linebacker Arico Evans leads the team in tackles with 75.and junior Jeff Gladney is a shutdown corner.

Special teams

Much like Cal’s Steven Coutts, the TCU punters are effective despite unimpressive yardage averages on their kicks. The Frogs have used two punters. Adam Nunez has pinned an opponent inside its own 10-yard line eight times in his last eight games. In a crucial point in the season finale, he stuck Oklahoma State to its own four. Andrew David, who has a long punt of 55 yards, has three punts that wound up inside the 14.

The Frogs also divide the place-kicking duties. Cole Bunce (4-for-6) and Johnathon Song (8-for-11) are a combined 12-for-19. Bunce had a pair of 41-yarders against Oklahoma.

KaVontae Turpin, who had a 99-yard kickoff return and a 78-yard punt return was dismissed from the team in October following a run-in with the law. Reagor can be a dynamic return man but is used in the role sparingly.

 

Noteworthy

 

Entering the season, Meuhlstein and Cal’s Chase Forrest were the only fifth-year scholarship quarterbacks in a Power-5 conference who had never started a game and were still at their original school. Now the distinction belongs to Forrest.

This is TCU’s 34th bowl appearance and the Frogs are 16-16-1 in the previous 33. This game will send them above or below .500.

Patterson’s 18 years of head coaching experience are more than the combined tenures of the 11 other FBS coaches in the state of Texas. This according to the TCU sports information department.

TCU played five ranked teams this year, including Oklahoma, Number 1 at the time.

TCU has allowed just 291.5 yards per game in its last two contests.

The press box at TCU’s home field, Amon G. Carter Stadium, is named in honor of former Sports Illustrated writer and novelist Dan Jenkins, one of the school’s most famous grads.  “I’m beyond flattered and truly grateful to those who made it happen,” Jenkins said. “After all, they could have sold it to Taco Bell.”





 


 

Discussion from...

TCU Preview: Frogs Have a Lot in Common With Bears

upsetof86
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Pure and simple. We need to win.
upsetof86
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I'm going to add that as this is Texas vs California football, the stakes are much higher than any of "you" Californians realize. We...must...win...period.
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