With a 1-3 record, the Horned Frogs are looking for a win, and if it could be against rival Baylor, that would make it all the more satisfying.
“Baylor, down the road; like Texas and Texas Tech, it’s always a rivalry in-state,” head coach Gary Patterson said. “[You’ve] got to get ready to go play.”
The rivalry has been about even over the last eight years, with the Frogs winning five of their eight matchups with the Bears since joining the Big 12. A year ago, No. 13 Baylor edged out TCU 29-23 in a triple overtime thriller.
This year, both teams enter the game in the midst of mediocre seasons.
The Horned Frogs sit at 1-3 after the 33-14 loss to Oklahoma while Baylor is just 1-2, with only a win over 0-5 Kansas to its name.
“They’re not used to losing,” Patterson said of his players. “You’re 1-3, so how do you fix that? So we’re trying to find the best ways to get back on the horse.”
In light of that, here are three ways TCU can “get back on the horse” and back into the winner’s circle this Saturday:
1. Establish the run
Led by Terrel Bernard, Baylor’s linebacker core has wreaked havoc on opposing offenses in 2020. The Bears have three linebackers that rank in the top ten of the Big 12 in tackles per game.
Bernard ranks first in that category, averaging 13.3 tackles per game (42 total). The junior has also been effective getting to the quarterback, totaling 3.5 sacks on the year.
Alongside Bernard, linebackers Jalen Pitre and Dillon Doyle have combined for 16 more tackles per game.
In the secondary, defensive back JT Woods has provided a safety net for the Bears, recording a conference-high two interceptions and a pass breakup thus far.
The reliable nature of Baylor’s linebackers combined with Woods’s prowess in coverage have put the Bears at fourth overall in the Big 12 in total defense, giving up just 367.3 yards per game. Where they stand out is their pass defense, which ranks third in the conference.
Baylor struggles to defend the run, though, allowing 154 yards on the ground per game. Coming off one of its worst rushing performances in recent history (25 carries for 75 yards), TCU will need to establish the run early to keep the Bears on their toes and open up opportunities for quarterback Max Duggan through the air.
To do this, the Frogs will need to lean on running backs Kendre Miller and Darwin Barlow, who have proven to be efficient on the ground with 5.5 and 4.8 yards per carry, respectively.
2. Find the end zone
Scoring, especially early in games, has been a significant struggle for TCU this season. The Frogs rank second-to-last in the conference in scoring offense, putting up an average of 23.8 points per game with 12 total touchdowns scored.
This struggle to put up significant points has largely been due to slow starts, as TCU has scored seven points in the first half of each of their three losses. In their one win, the Frogs nearly matched their game average with 20 points in the first half alone against No. 9 Texas.
On top of that, despite the Frogs leading the nation in red zone scoring percentage (1.250), they have eight attempts this season in the red zone.
“I think offensively we’ve been able to move the ball through and through, but we’ve got to play in the red zone,” Patterson said.
With Baylor averaging 28 points a game in their three games played in 2020, it will be crucial for the Frogs to find the red zone earlier and more frequently if they want to leave Waco with a win.
3. Prevent big plays
In each of TCU’s losses this year, a handful of specific defensive lapses significantly changed the outcome of the game.
The Frogs have given up 17 plays of 32 or more yards this season.
“Defensively, you’ve got to cut out the big plays. You do that, you’ve got a chance,” Patterson said. “Ninety-five percent of the time, the plays we’re playing, we’re playing really well; but you can’t give up those three to five plays a ballgame.”
The electricity of running back Trestan Ebner represents a threat in this area for Baylor. In the Bears’ season opener against Kansas, the senior returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, earning Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week.
Ebner also scored that day on a 35-yard pass from quarterback Charlie Brewer.
The Frogs will need to contain Ebner and the rest of the Bears to prevent them from gaining the momentum from big plays that their previous opponents have so often done this season.
TCU and Baylor are set to face off Saturday at McLane Stadium in Waco. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m., and the game will be aired on ESPN2.