On Oct. 4, 2014, TCU football forced one of the most important incompletions in the history of the program.
Facing a fourth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners squad with national championship aspirations, the Frogs forced Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight’s potential game-winning touchdown pass incomplete, giving TCU a 37-33 win in front of its home crowd at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
The victory propelled the Frogs to one of their best seasons ever, as they went on to finish 12-1, just missing the inaugural College Football Playoff and routing Ole Miss 42-3 in the Peach Bowl.
Almost exactly seven years later, TCU faces another undefeated, fourth-ranked Oklahoma team with a chance to make a statement. Not only have the Frogs not defeated a top five opponent since that game, but they are 0-7 against the Sooners during that span.
As TCU is heading on the trajectory of a fourth-straight season of mediocrity, a win over the Sooners could be the momentum the Frogs need to salvage their 2021 season.
Even with three of TCU’s key offensive contributors (Max Duggan, Zach Evans and Quentin Johnston) listed as “questionable” for the game, Texas A&M’s win over No. 1 Alabama last Saturday is more than enough proof that the Frogs could play spoiler to the Sooners’ playoff hopes this weekend.
With that in mind, here are three keys to TCU shocking both Oklahoma and the nation on Saturday:
1. Make the quarterback uncomfortable
Following Oklahoma’s thrilling win in the Red River Rivalry last weekend, in which they switched quarterbacks midway through, head coach Lincoln Riley refused to name a starting quarterback heading into this Saturday.
Thanks to some investigative reporting by the OU Daily, Oklahoma’s student-produced newspaper, it is looking like true freshman Caleb Williams will be at the helm for the Frogs’ clash with the Sooners.
Last Saturday, Williams entered the game for Oklahoma late in the first half and threw for 212 yards and two touchdowns (along with a 66-yard touchdown run), leading the Sooners to a 55-48 comeback win over the Texas Longhorns.
One thing that made the first-year effective last weekend was the protection he saw in the pocket combined with his ability to extend plays with his legs. Williams was not sacked in the game, while boasting a time to throw of 3.1 seconds.
In comparison, Duggan was sacked twice in each of TCU’s two losses this season, averaging just 2.88 seconds to throw in those games.
Even if Oklahoma does have home field advantage, there will be no better opportunity for a team to get Williams off his rocker than his first-career start, and the Frogs need to capitalize on that.
This will not come naturally for TCU, as they rank ninth in the Big 12 with just six sacks on the season, with zero of those coming from the interior defensive line.
Nevertheless, the return of defensive end Khari Coleman (seven quarterback pressures in two games played) provides a big boost to the TCU pass rush, especially given the amount of double teams defensive end Ochaun Mathis has seen to start the season.
Though the Longhorns did not get to Williams last Saturday, the Sooners have given up a whopping 12 sacks already this season, meaning they are more than vulnerable to a rejuvenated TCU defensive line.
With the Sooners averaging 286 yards per game through the air (2nd in the Big 12), a lack of pressure on Williams could result in a long day at the office for the TCU secondary come Saturday night.
2. Get the air attack going
The mantra for the TCU offense since the departure of quarterback Kenny Hill after the 2017 season has been “establish the run.”
This has not been with the wrong intentions, as the Frogs have struggled to find consistency at quarterback during that time while boasting quality running backs like Darius Anderson, Sewo Olonilua, Zach Evans and Kendre Miller.
A reliance on the run game alone is not going to work for TCU on Saturday, though, as Oklahoma ranks eighth nationally in run defense, giving up just 86.8 yards per game on the ground.
Even against Heisman candidate Bijan Robinson, the Sooners got the job done defensively, holding the superstar to just 39 yards and 4.8 yards per carry in the second half.
Even if Duggan is out, TCU will have to pass the ball at a higher-than-preferred volume to put up enough points to keep up with Oklahoma’s high-flying offensive attack.
Currently, the Frogs rank ninth in the Big 12 in pass attempts per game with 24.2. In their blowout win over Texas Tech, they attempted just 10 passes, a career-low for Duggan.
Defensively, the Sooners rank dead last in the Big 12 in pass defense, giving up 268.5 passing yards per game. Whether it is Duggan, Matthew Downing or Oklahoma transfer Chandler Morris dropping back to pass for TCU, this will have to be a chink in Oklahoma’s armor that the Frogs hit if they want to find an offensive rhythm in the game.
Per usual, protecting the passer will be key for TCU. Though the Frogs’ offensive line produced a strong showing in Lubbock (zero sacks, 3.57 seconds to throw for Duggan), Oklahoma’s Nik Bonitto represents one of the most dangerous pass rushers in the conference.
Bonitto ranks fifth in the Big 12 with four sacks this year (as many as TCU’s entire defensive line), boasting 29 total quarterback pressures on the year. For perspective, defensive end Dylan Horton leads the Frogs with only 15 quarterback pressures on the year, and only two TCU players (Horton, Mathis) have more than eight.
Protection for the quarterback and an efficient passing game will open up running lanes for the TCU running back corp, giving the Frogs a more balanced offense that will give them a chance of topping the Sooners.
3. Win the turnover battle
Oklahoma is a perfect 6-0 this season, despite five of its games being decided by one score. In five of these games, the Sooners either won or tied the turnover battle.
Only in Oklahoma’s near-death experience with Texas did the Sooners fail to force more turnovers than they gave up (2-1), as they came closer to losing than they had since October of last year.
With Oklahoma having only won a turnover battle once by more than one this entire year during a 76-0 win over Western Carolina University (3-0), it is clear the Sooners struggle to take care of the ball, which has given nearly every team that has lined up against them this season a chance to compete.
In TCU’s loss to Texas, the team’s carelessness with the football (three turnovers committed, one forced) gave away its chance at winning what ended up being a close game.
Of the Frogs’ six turnovers given away this year (four fumbles, two interceptions), four have come in on avoidable premises – missed blocks on the blind side, a muffed punt, a dropped handoff.
Especially given the talent advantage the Sooners have over the Frogs, winning the turnover battle will be a key factor in the Frogs giving themselves more opportunities to create distance between themselves and Oklahoma and steal the game.
TCU kicks off against Oklahoma in Norman this Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on ABC.