Frogs final test comes against familiar foe

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    This season, like every one of the past nine, Gary Patterson stressed the importance of playing one game at a time. With a Fiesta Bowl matchup looming against No. 6 ranked Boise State, Patterson might have trouble keeping the team focused on their final opponent.

    Admitted or not, there will be an emotional drop off for this game. TCU wrapped up their regular season and hoped Texas A&M, Auburn or Nebraska gave them a shot at a championship. It never came. The consolation prize from the BCS was a rematch against a non-BCS opponent from last year, and Coach P will need his team fired up to avoid disappointment in the desert.

    Last year in the Poinsettia Bowl, the Boise State Broncos rushed out to a 13-0 start before the Horned Frogs defense showed up to play in the second half for a 17-16 win. This year, Boise is again capable of taking advantage of a TCU team if they play with its head or heart elsewhere. In fact, with Boise’s quarterback Kellen Moore playing like a Heisman candidate (invited or not), the Broncos will be a bigger offensive threat this year.

    Moore has thrown only three interceptions this year and helped keep the Broncos undefeated, thanks to Moore’s 39 touchdowns. He stepped up in a huge way this year and it allowed the Broncos to get away from some of their trickery.

    The bad news: TCU can’t win this game if they don’t keep Kellen Moore in check.

    The good news: In Moore’s last two seasons, his only loss came at the hands of Gary Patterson’s defense, which is ranked first in total defense this year.

    Moore was frustrated in last year’s game, but he lacked ground support. Boise running back Jeremy Avery was a decent runner a year ago, but the backfield belonged to Ian Johnson, who was a longtime, solid starter, but lacked the burst to make game-changing plays. Johnson now plays running back for the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL.

    This year, Avery has blossomed into a true threat. He has rushed for over 1,100 yards and has ripped off a run of more than 20 yards in seven contests this year. In addition, Boise has a solid second option in tailback Doug Martin. Martin has over 700 rushing yards and a gaudy 14 rushing touchdowns. Although four touchdowns came in the finale at New Mexico State, Martin certainly doesn’t need directions to the endzone.

    A major reason behind the Frog’s victory last year was shutting down the run game. They held Boise to just 28 rushing yards. Keeping the Broncos under 80 yards rushing would go a long way towards taking a victory this year.

    The 2009-10 edition of the Broncos is a much more balanced offensive attack. Last year, the Broncos completed at least 10 passes to 10 different receivers. This year, they only have six receivers with more than 10 passes. The focus has mainly been on two wideouts this year, Titus Young and Austin Pettis.

    Young leads the corps with 71 catches for 969 yards, but Pettis leads in touchdowns, 14 to 10. Pettis has 62 catches for 850 yards, but might not be ready in time for the Fiesta Bowl. He fractured a bone in his lower leg against Nevada in November and hasn’t played since. He is questionable for the game, but his situation should clear up this month.

    If Pettis can’t play, it would be a huge relief for the Horned Frogs defense. Boise’s next leading receiver behind Pettis has nearly 500 less yards. It would allow TCU to lock down Young with help or even double coverage defensively, so long as the Frogs run defense plays like they have all year.

    Much like last year, TCU will be hard-pressed to get consistent pressure on Moore. His veteran instincts are very good, and he rarely puts himself in position to make mistakes. The Boise offensive line has made the job that much easier by allowing an NCAA-low five sacks on the year.

    TCU benefited from Boise’s inability to capitalize on TCU miscues during the first half last year. Don’t expect the same problem this year. Boise should come out sharp, and the Horned Frog offensive coordinators will be counted on to determine if Frogs open the game as well as they did at BYU or as poorly as they did at New Mexico.

    Offensively, the Horned Frogs have benefited from Dalton’s improvements this season – 22 TD passes compared to 11, while keeping interceptions steady at five – and a running game that has allowed TCU to dictate tempo all year. It’s safe to say Patterson won’t be looking for a shootout, but this offense could keep up in one.

    The run game is led by three running backs and Dalton. Joseph Turner received the most carries and has been most productive with 732 yards and 11 TDs, but Matthew Tucker and Ed Wesley have both been explosive.

    Dalton has changed games with his running ability – 522 yards and 3 scores – one category in which he beats Moore, who is not a threat carrying the ball.

    Jeremy Kerley leads the pack with 467 yards and two TDs, but Young, Antoine Hicks and Bart Johnson will all receive attention.

    Dalton has improved his progression and can be counted on to throw nearly any pass.

    TCU’s biggest issue offensively has been turnovers. The Frogs have given the ball away 20 times this season. They are tied for No. 41 in turnover margin. If they give Boise State additional drives, especially with a short field, the Frogs could be looking up at the Broncos on the scoreboard.

    But the Frogs offense could surprise many nationally. TCU actually ranks ahead of Boise State in total offense yards per game by about nine yards, by averaging 60 more yards rushing per contest.

    Defensively, the Broncos have been stout, ranked No. 13 in total defense.

    However, Boise State is susceptible to the run. They rank No. 39 in rush defense, and obviously would need to improve to keep the Horned Frog backfield in check. TCU ranks No. 5 overall in rushing offense.

    When Dalton drops back, Boise has a playmaking pass rusher in defensive end Ryan Winterswyk. He has 8.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss, but the rest of the Bronco defensive line has trouble getting to the quarterback. As a unit, the team is tied for No. 72 in the country in sacks.

    Even without consistent pressure, Boise ranks No. 2 in turnover margin.

    On the special teams front, the Frogs are great when they are catching the ball and questionable when they’re kicking it.

    TCU ranks No. 1 in kick returns and No. 21 in punt returns, whereas Boise ranks No. 5 and No. 37, respectively.

    Kicker Ross Evans has had a good year overall, converting 14 of 17 field goals and 60 of 62 extra points, but his misses have been worrisome. He missed field goals at Clemson, against Utah and early in the game against New Mexico. The Frogs record was obviously unharmed by the misses, but all three were significant at the time.

    On the Broncos side, Kyle Brotzman has hit on 17 of 23 field goals and missed one extra point. Brotzman missed a 38-yarder in the Poinsettia Bowl last December that would have made the difference for Boise.

    Overall, Boise definitely has BCS credentials, but the Horned Frogs seem to have the key numbers in their favor.

    The Broncos are by no means an easy team, and they will make TCU pay for mistakes. However, this year’s Frog offense has eight position players who can hurt you in different ways and keep each other fresh. The defense has seen the Boise offense before and should be ready for any tricks, but Moore has taken his magic to a new level this year. If Boise State wins this game, it will be on his arm.

    If Patterson has this team properly prepared on the X’s and O’s and he and the team leaders have the team mentally ready to play, TCU is certainly a national championship-caliber team.

    Whether that team shows up in Glendale, Ariz. is another story.

    I believe they will, and after a slow start will control the ball in a 28-20 victory.

    Josh Davis is a junior news-editorial journalism major from Highland Park.

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