Football: Third Thursday matchup pits Cougars against Frogs in Provo

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    The Frogs might be back, but head coach Gary Patterson’s team will be put to the test against the conference’s best on a short week of rest. Coming off a possible season-changing 37-0 win against New Mexico on Saturday, the 5-4 Frogs head to Provo, Utah, for a Thursday night showdown with the Brigham Young Cougars. The TCU defense hopes to exact revenge on an offense that has had its way with the Frogs in the past two seasons. Here is a breakdown of the probable starters for Thursday’s game between TCU and BYU.

    QUARTERBACK

    TCU: Andy Dalton, redshirt freshman

    BYU: Max Hall, sophomore

    Advantage: BYU

    Again, Dalton was able to grow up a little bit more against New Mexico on Saturday. Instead of making bad decisions on broken plays, the redshirt freshman showed poise and maturity, making something out of nothing when going outside the pocket. Hall is coming off a career game against a dreadful Colorado State team, going for 355 yards and three touchdowns. He comes in averaging more than 310 yards through the air, but goes against a secondary that has an added punch with Stephen Hodge in the starting lineup.

    RUNNING BACK

    TCU: Aaron Brown, junior

    BYU: Harvey Unga, redshirt freshman

    Advantage: BYU

    Although sophomore Joseph Turner did a terrific job filling in for Brown on Saturday, the Frogs will need Turner to complement Brown on Thursday if the Frogs are to come away from Provo, Utah, with a win. With opponents only finding the end zone seven times on the ground this season against the Cougars, the backs are faced with even more pressure to break through and have a big game. Unga is the Cougars’ everything man, averaging more than 150 total yards a game. He’s coming off a sub par 51-yard performance on the ground against Colorado State, so it should be interesting to see if he can bounce back against a TCU rush defense that only gave up 28 total rushing yards against New Mexico.

    WIDE RECEIVERS and TIGHT END

    TCU: Ervin Dickerson, Marcus Brock, Donald Massey, Derek Moore, Quinton Cunigan (TE)

    BYU: Austin Collie, Michael Reed, Matt Allen, Bryce Mahuika, Dennis Pitta (TE)

    Advantage: BYU

    Dalton was able to connect with receivers such as Dickerson and Moore for gains of more than 20 yards, a very encouraging sign. The BYU defense does not tend to give up a lot of passing plays for big gains, so the offense will have to pick its spots. The Cougars’ passing game revolves around its ability to get the tight end and running back heavily involved on passing downs. Pitta might be one of the best up-and-coming tight ends in the country and at 6 feet 5 inches , he creates a bevy of matchup problems. Collie is the group’s playmaker at five touchdowns including his 45-yard hookup Saturday.

    OFFENSIVE LINE

    TCU: Matty Lindner, Blake Schlueter, Giles Montgomery, Marshall Newhouse, Nic Richmond

    BYU: Dallas Reynolds, Garrett Reden, Sete Aulai, Travis Bright, David Oswald

    Advantage: TCU

    Another exceptional performance from the boys up front, especially with Brown out of the lineup. The unit came up huge for Turner and did not allow New Mexico to lay anything more than a finger on Dalton all game. The commitment to the blocking game, even when the play was considered busted, makes Dalton’s job of creating something outside the pocket that much easier. Averaging a little more than three yards a carry against the conference’s worst in Colorado State is just embarrassing for a BYU line heavy on experience. Hall and Unga could have ugly days against TCU’s fast defense if the line is not ready to commit for 60 minutes.

    DEFENSIVE LINE

    TCU: Tommy Blake, Chase Ortiz, Cody Moore, Jerry Hughes

    BYU: Ian Dulan, Eathyn Manumaleuna, Jan Jorgensen

    Advantage: TCU

    Though his numbers were not eye-popping, Blake’s presence alone raised the line’s game to another level. Blake will need a little extra something in his matchup across the line with Oswald, a 6-foot-8-inch, 325-pound junior at right tackle. At seven sacks, needless to say Jorgenson has been on a tear for the Cougars. Considering the rest of his linemates are not on par with Jorgenson, expect TCU to key in on the right end with double-team blocking.

    LINEBACKERS

    TCU: Jason Phillips, David Hawthorne

    BYU: David Nixon, Markell Staffieri, Kelly Poppinga, Bryan Kehl

    Advantage: Even

    Even with Hawthorne playing on a limited basis, Phillips and company kept the linebackers afloat during the rout, with 13 combined tackles among Phillips, Daryl Washington and Robert Henson. Unga is the guy to stop and it falls on the linebackers to hit him in the mouth repeatedly. Loaded with experience and size, BYU’s linebackers represent four of the team’s top six tacklers. Adjustments will have to be made on BYU’s part if the Frogs rotate Brown and Turner, with two very running styles, in and out of Thursday’s game.

    SECONDARY

    TCU: Brian Bonner, David Roach, Stephen Hodge, Nick Sanders, Rafael Priest

    BYU: Ben Criddle, Kayle Buchanan, Quinn Gooch, Corby Hodgkiss

    Advantage: TCU

    Hodge’s recent surge of great play has helped the team and returned a swagger that had been missing for quite some time. It has also allowed Patterson to move Bonner and Roach around in order to get the most out of them at the weak and free safety positions – a move long overdue. Props to Priest for the nice endzone dive on the touchdown. Gooch leads the BYU unit with three interceptions on the year. Hodgkiss and Buchanan are no pushovers either as both have a knack to break up the pass. Dickerson and company better be ready.

    SPECIAL TEAMS

    TCU: Chris Manfredini, Derek Wash, Donald Massey, Brian Bonner

    BYU: Mitch Payne, C.J. Santiago, Bryce Mahuika, Austin Collie

    Advantage: TCU

    Even on a night where the special teams unit did not make a big play, it is hard not to appreciate how much passion and sheer will this group has to make a play every time out. Manfredini continues to be close to automatic, and it is just another day at the office for Wash, booming long punt after long punt. With BYU’s offense being as good as it has been, Payne has not had many opportunities this season, going four for five on field-goal attempts. Mahuika and Collie are big-time threats in the kick-return game, with returns of 53 and 61 yards, respectively, this season.

    HEAD COACHES

    TCU: Gary Patterson, seventh season (59-24, 36-18 in conference)

    BYU: Bronco Mendenhall, third season (23-10, 17-3 in conference)

    Advantage: Even

    Whatever was said by Patterson and his coaching staff during the 16-day break was gold – pure gold. It looks as if the team has accepted the challenge put in front of them by Patterson, especially with a bowl bid now in their grasp. Aside from having the coolest name in the Mountain West Conference, Mendenhall has the Cougars in position to defend the conference championship if the team can win two out of three games against TCU, Wyoming and Utah in the coming weeks. But do not think the Frogs have forgotten about how former quarterback John Beck and the Cougars torched the Frogs in Fort Worth last season. This should be fun.