The No. 24 Horned Frogs and No. 8 Brigham Young University Cougars will face off tonight in a battle for an early lead in the Mountain West Conference championship race.
Currently, the Frogs, Cougars and the University of Utah Utes sit atop the standings with undefeated conference records. TCU has the lone loss of the three, coming against non-conference opponent University of Oklahoma.
The three teams combined have won six of the nine championships, not including a three-way tie between BYU, Utah and Colorado State University in the conference’s inaugural 1999 season. The champion has finished with a flawless conference record in each of the past four seasons, including the Frogs’ 2005 unblemished run in their first Mountain West campaign.
“You can’t play in a BCS game without winning your league,” head coach Gary Patterson said. “Our kids understand that this is a measuring stick to size up where we are in the Mountain West.”
The Cougars, the highest ranked opponent to visit Fort Worth in 15 years, come into Amon Carter Stadium with the nation’s No. 8 passing attack. Junior Max Hall calls the signals at quarterback.
As a sophomore, Hall led the conference with 296 passing yards per game. His 3,848 yards through the air was the nation’s best among sophomores. The mark was also a conference record for sophomores.
Hall’s 307.5 passing yards per game ranks him at No. 7 in the nation for 2008. He has compiled 1,845 yards and 20 touchdowns this season.
“When we saw them at the end of last season, he was playing with a lot of confidence,” Patterson said. “He understands their scheme and he gets the ball out quick. When you watch him on film from the end zone, he throws the ball without a receiver in the picture. He has the ball heading directly at a defensive back and all of a sudden, before the ball gets there, a receiver pops in with the catch.”
The TCU pass defense has proved to be a chink in the armor of the nation’s best defense in recent weeks. Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford threw for a career-high 411 yards against the Frogs, and Colorado State dropped two deep balls that could have led to touchdowns in the Frogs’ 13-7 win Saturday.
“The key for us is to understand and stop what they do,” Patterson said. “You aren’t going to stop the passing game. You just have to control it.”
Whether sophomore quarterback Andy Dalton will play is a game-time decision, director of athletic media relations Mark Cohen said. Dalton has missed the last two games due to injury, but has practiced this week with a knee brace seemingly without problems.
Junior quarterback Marcus Jackson has taken advantage of his two games in the starting role, rushing for 185 yards and two touchdowns and throwing for another 281 yards and one touchdown. He garnered conference offensive co-player of the week honors following a 41-7 win over San Diego State University.
The Cougars have taken the last two meetings from the Frogs en route to their two most recent conference titles. They are outscoring opponents 227-61, including a two-game stretch in which they outscored the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Wyoming 103-0.