Though TCU football has won its last four matchups against Baylor, quarterback uncertainties and defensive issues could plague the Frogs on Saturday.
Baylor enters the game 8-0 and ranked No. 11 in the AP top 25 poll.
The re-emergence of Baylor has created a revamp of the rivalry between the two schools, one that dates back to the 19th century. The rivalry was most toxic between 2013-15 when the games were won by an average of just over four points.
As of late, the intensity has not been as present, with Baylor’s football program struggling after having sexual assault scandals emerge in 2016.
“I think it’s calmed down here for the last three or four years,” head coach Gary Patterson said. “I expect it will pick back up.”
Entering their biggest game of the year, the Frogs will face serious questions as to who will start at quarterback Saturday.
After facing the nightmare of losing three quarterbacks to injury in 2018, TCU football felt confident that their one-two punch with graduate transfer Alex Delton and first-year Max Duggan would work out in 2019.
After starting in the first two games for TCU, Delton saw minimal time from there, throwing 22 passes in the next six games. Patterson confirmed on Tuesday that Delton had officially left the team.
“I really felt bad for him,” Patterson said. “He’s kind of been frustrated. He kind of went through it at Kansas State with Skylar [Thompson], and I think he just kind of got to a point where it was time for him to step away.”
While Delton has been the back-up to Duggan for most of the season, it looked like the Frogs may have needed to turn to the fifth-year senior on Saturday against Baylor. Duggan suffered a finger injury in TCU’s 34-27 loss to Oklahoma State last Saturday.
“I think Max will play,” Patterson said. “You guys should stop listening to Twitter.”
If Duggan cannot play, the Frogs will have to move into uncharted waters. Redshirt first-year Justin Rodgers, the highest-rated recruit in the Patterson era, announced last Thursday that he plans to transfer from the program.
Sophomore Michael Collins, who started in four games for TCU in 2018, was also banged up against Oklahoma State on Saturday. Patterson said that Collins will most likely not be available this weekend.
TCU’s last resort rests in Ohio State transfer Matthew Baldwin, who came to TCU in the spring. The redshirt freshman was granted eligibility to play for TCU this fall by the NCAA in September. Baldwin showed signs of potential with 246 yards in Ohio State’s spring game earlier this year, but the Lake Travis product has never seen time in an NCAA game.
The uncertainties at signal-caller could make it hard for TCU on Saturday, as they face a Baylor team that leads the Big 12 in scoring defense with 18.5 points given up per game. While the Frogs average 441.8 yards per game, the Bears have given up just 341.1 on average this season.
Defensive lineman James Lynch has undoubtedly been the capstone of Baylor’s defense this year. The junior leads the Big 12 with 8.5 sacks on the year, a mark that ranks ninth nationally. He set a Baylor record with 3.0 sacks against Kansas State in October, earning him the Bednarik Award National Player of the Week.
A key for whoever plays under center for TCU will be to rely on receiver Jalen Reagor and tight end Pro Wells, both of whom have both emerged as automatic targets.
For Reagor, the first four games of the season came as a struggle. The junior caught just 11 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown during that time. Since then, the Waxahachie High School product has exploded for 337 yards on 21 catches and three scores.
Wells’ impact has been different, but just as stark. His 6-foot-4, 257-pound size has made him one of TCU’s best red-zone targets. Though the redshirt sophomore has 12 catches on the year, five of them have been for touchdowns. He had a career-high four catches for 52 yards last Saturday against the Pokes.
On defense, the Frogs will have to stop Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer, who ranks fourth in the Big 12 with an average of 267.9 passing yards per game. His pass efficiency ranks second in the conference, only behind Heisman Trophy candidate Jalen Hurts for Oklahoma.
“[Brewer’s] been a competitor from the beginning,” Patterson said.
Brewer’s success has stemmed from his one-two punch of receivers Denzel Mims and Tyquan Thornton. The two wideouts rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Big 12 with over 70 receiving yards per game each.
As TCU prepares for Brewer, Patterson is confident in his secondary that allowed 158 passing yards a week ago in Stillwater, especially his safeties.
“[Ar’Darius Washington] and Tre Moehrig both have been making a lot of plays,” Patterson said.
Washington and Moehrig have combined for seven interceptions on the season.
Kickoff on Saturday at Amon G. Carter Stadium is set for 11 a.m.