TCU vs. Oregon State - Saturday, September 4 - 4:45, ESPN HD
Under head coach Gary Patterson, TCU has branded itself as a defense-first team. From an outsiders perspective, it's easy to see that Patterson likes to recruit the speediest athletes he can find--many of them high school quarterbacks--convert them to defensive players, and coach them up.
Defensive end Jerry Hughes, who was drafted in the first round last year by the Indianapolis Colts, came to TCU as a running back.
But while TCU is known more for their defense than their offense, co-offensive coordinators Jarrett Anderson and Justin Fuente have a group of players who could steal thunder from Patterson's defense this season.
The offense begins and ends with fourth-year starting quarterback Andy Dalton, who has done everything possible to earn himself a spot in the Heisman trophy conversation, but isn't getting much attention. He's thrown for over 2,200 yards in each of his first three seasons as a Horned Frog, and has maintained a very high completion percentage (61.6 last year, 60.2 career). The high completion percentage is exactly what Patterson wants out of his signal caller: someone who can manage the game, take care of the ball, operate in the spread offense, and allow the defense to work. Dalton is not one to take big risks.
When you think of Oregon State's running game you immediately think of Jacquizz Rodgers. With TCU it's different, because they possess a stable of young backs who can carry the ball. Their leading rusher from a year ago, Joseph Turner (147/754), is gone, but two other players who were in the rotation return: sophomores Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker.
Wesley ran for 638 yards on 101 carries as a redshirt freshman a year ago, but his best asset may be as a slotback. He pulled in eight catches and turned them into 170 yards last year, scoring three touchdowns. Tucker, on the other hand, is the hard nosed, between the tackles back: he ran for 676 yards on 105 carries last season as a true freshman. While these two are the frontrunners, they're not the only two backs you'll see on Saturday. Be prepared to see names like Waymon James, Aundre Dean, Jarcell Fort, Jai Cavness, and Ethan Grant.
If you thought there was depth at running back, you'll find more of the same at the receiver positions. TCU returns four starters from last year, with Ryan Christian (24/284) being the only player lost. Six of the receivers are seniors.
While senior Jeremy Kerley led the team in receiving yards last season (44/532), it wasn't by a large margin because TCU loves to spread the ball around in their offense. Six players caught over 18 passes last season, all of them picking up over 240 yards each. Kerley could be compared to James Rodgers, as he's used on sweeps and is their leading return man, but also operates their seldom used "Wild Frog" formation and runs a lot of short routes.
Senior Jimmy Young (33/517) and junior Antoine Hicks (23/478) are also threats, as are seniors Bart Johnson and Curtis Clay. This receiving group appears to be versatile and interchangeable, and ready to improve from a year ago, when QB Andy Dalton set the TCU record for passing yards (2,756).
Tight end Evan Frosch returns for his senior season, and Luke Shivers should start as a junior at fullback. Problem is, there simply aren't enough touches to go around in the Horned Frog offense, so they'll be primarily used on blocking assignments.
The offensive line returns four players, headlined by 6-3, 350 pound senior left tackle Marcus Cannon. The only position that isn't shored up is right tackle, where Jeff Olson was projected to start in spring practice. However, he's been sidelined this fall with mononucleosis and won't play against the Beavers. That means Zach Roth (6-6, 316) will start in his place.
This is a unit that placed six in the nation last season when it came to protecting the quarterback-- Dalton was sacked less than once per game (.92). Oregon State possesses one of the best interior defensive linemen in the country in Stephen Paea, but OSU will also need a healthy Taylor Henry (sprained ankle on Friday) and a feisty Gabe Miller and Kevin Frahm in order to get to Dalton. The OSU defensive front will be going up against a TCU group that stands in at an average of 6-3 and weight 317. Big boys, I'll say!
This offense had a very good season a year ago, and returns most of the pieces. They were seventh nationally in total offense in 2009 (456.7 yds) and averaged 39 points per game. Stopping this group will be a very tall order.
--Jake | (firstname.lastname@example.org)