The second season in the Big 12 has been a learning experience for TCU, and linebacker Marcus Mallet said this week that there is no such thing as an easy game in the Horned Frogs’ new conference.
“I feel like, moving into the Big 12 from the Mountain West, you just have to come prepared, week in and week out,” Mallet said. “Not taking away from the Mountain West, but I feel like you have to come with your mind right every week [in this league].”
TCU (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) hopes to be prepared as it heads to Stillwater to face Oklahoma State (4-1, 1-1 Big 12) Saturday at 11 a.m. on Fox. Playing formidable opponents like the Cowboys every week has been an adjustment compared to an easier schedule in the Mountain West, but head coach Gary Patterson said that has come as no surprise.
“I’ve been watching these teams play for a long time, and I’ve played quite a few of them,” he said. “When you’re recruiting against them, you know who they have, what they do, how they do things and what their style is.”
The Frogs now have to compete against Big 12 teams on the field as well as on the recruiting trail. This means it is important that they show they can win against such competition in both of those arenas. Beating the Cowboys, the preseason favorite for the conference title, will help TCU in both regards.
In order to achieve this, TCU will have to put together a complete game offensively against an Oklahoma State defense that has allowed just 20 points per game. The first step for the Frogs will be limiting penalties. TCU is ranked No. 73 in the country in penalty yardage per game per game (52.5).
“The penalties kill us,” said offensive tackle James Dunbar. “We just need to be more disciplined and execute more, and we’ll be successful.”
Flags have consistently put the Frogs in long yardage situations, which has contributed to a low conversion rate on third down: 29.1 percent, ranking 112th in the nation. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have the No. 25 third down defense in the country.
Converting third downs would allow TCU to maintain possession and keep the ball out of the hands of Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh and an explosive Cowboys offense that scores an average of 38 points per game. Walsh has completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 1209 yards and nine touchdowns.
Walsh also has mobility that adds another dimension to the Oklahoma State attack. His speed has allowed the Cowboys to run more read option plays and run the ball effectively. Walsh leads the team in rushing yards and has also run for three scores. The Cowboys can expect TCU’s linebackers to blitz in order to disrupt that strategy.
“What linebacker doesn’t like to blitz and have that chance to get a sack?” Mallet said with a smile. He and linebacker Paul Dawson, who led the team with 17 tackles against Kansas last week, will be charged with containing Walsh and forcing him to put the ball in the air against a talented TCU secondary. The Frogs lead the conference in interceptions this season with 10.
Forcing turnovers and sustaining drives will give the Frogs a much better chance to pull off the upset on the road and get more than .500 for the first time this season. The chances will be even higher if Oklahoma State underestimates TCU.
“Reading the paper, we’re a ‘trap game,’” Patterson said, laughing. “In 16 years, I haven’t ever been a trap game.”
The Frogs had too much weight in the Mountain West for teams to overlook them, but this week, they hope they will be able to sneak up on the Cowboys.