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November 2, 2012

Friday Night 20: Previewing TCU vs. West Virginia

TCU travels to West Virginia Saturday -- literally. The Horned Frogs are bussing down to Morgantown from Pittsburgh early Saturday morning after having travel plans interrupted due to Hurricane Sandy.

Still, conditions should at least be playable with highs in the 40s and partly cloudy skies for TCU's 2 p.m. kickoff with the Mountaineers.

With that, here's your 20 pre-game notes, thoughts and observations leading up to Saturday's game:

1. Stansly Maponga will play Saturday, but Gary Patterson isn't making any promises as to how effective the junior defensive end will be. Maponga injured his right foot just before halftime against Baylor, missed the rest of the game and hasn't played since. Freshman Devonte' Fields was able to pressure Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege two weeks ago, but last week, against Oklahoma State, Fields didn't make much of an impact. Why? It's simple: The Cowboys only had one premier end to focus on. Don't get me wrong - Jon Koontz has filled in nicely for Maponga, but he's not the same potential double-team threat. Maponga is, and whether he's healthy enough to go all out against West Virginia (which I doubt he is) his presence alone should make a difference.


2. That said, pressuring Geno Smith might not mean much if the Frogs' linebackers can't cover receivers - namely, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey - over the middle. OSU's Wes Lunt was able to exploit TCU in that aspect last week, especially in the second half. After Jaden Oberkrom missed his second field goal attempt, which would have given TCU a 17-16 lead, Lunt came back out and on the first play of the possession he found Blake Jackson over the middle about 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Jackson then took off, with a wide open field in front of him, 46 yards down to the TCU 34. The Cowboys would go on to score a touchdown, extending their lead to two possessions. Looking back at the replay, Kenny Cain either was drawn too far in by the tight end running to the flats, or he flat-out whiffed Jackson, who ran right by him for the catch.

3. Maybe Marcus Mallett will help. The sophomore linebacker started the second half against OSU in place of Joel Hasley. Patterson said Wednesday that Mallett will see more action against the Mountaineers.

4. Let's not forget Smith was essentially the "Halfway Heisman." Two weeks of not-so-inhuman play don't completely cancel out what Smith was able to do before dropping games to Texas Tech and Kansas State. Nor does it mean we won't be able to re-kindle some of that play Saturday against the Frogs.

5. Sam Carter's first response when asked about Smith: "He doesn't turn the ball over."

Well, he does, but not very often, his only two interceptions coming against Kansas State, seven games into the Mountaineer's season. And, in case the last three weeks made you forget, Smith is still completing a nation-high 74.3 percent of his passes.

6. My opinion: Bailey is the best receiver in the Big 12. So, yeah, that means he's the best receiver on his own team. As dangerous and versatile of a player Austin is, from a pure receiver standpoint, taking Austin's special teams threat out of the picture, Bailey has been more productive. Check out their stats.

Bailey: 59 catches, 800 yards, 14 touchdowns, 13.6 ypc.
Austin: 74 catches, 788 yards, nine touchdowns, 10.6 ypc.

7. As the stats show, the biggest difference between the Smith and Austin (and admittedly there's not much) is clearly Bailey's deep threat compared to Austin, who has 15 more receptions but 12 fewer yards and five fewer touchdowns.

8. If you're still looking for something positive from the Frogs' loss to Oklahoma State, go check out the replay of Elisha Olabode's interception return for touchdown. It was amazing how quick he was able to read Lunt's eyes and pursue the receiver. If you watch the play, Olabode started out full speed to the far side of the field, tracking the receiver in motion, then reverted his path back toward the running back in the flats before meeting Lunt's pass. On top of that, he had the cognizance to catch the ball on the run and head straight into the endzone without missing a beat.

9. And, really, that's been the story of Olabode's season so far. More and more, he's developing that ball-hawking intuition most great safeties have. He's been involved in six turnovers - three interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery - and he's second on the team with 42 tackles.

10. How does No. 1 sound, Kansas State fans? Could happen if the Wildcats take care of Oklahoma State and LSU beats Alabama at home.

11. Gutsy, gutsy guy, Jake Knott is. Iowa State's senior linebacker played through a shoulder injury against Baylor, collecting 11 tackles and forcing a fumble that led to a touchdown, which earned him Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors.

The problem?

Knott's season - and career - is over after he was forced into having surgery to repair the shoulder. It was an emotional week in Ames, and if you've followed Knott through his career - or at least saw how effective he was against TCU - you'd understand why. Best wishes to him.

12. Matthew Tucker remains a game-time decision with the ankle injury that's hampered him most of the season. Tucker had seven carries for 32 yards against the Cowboys.

13. "You're only as good as your last kick."

Had to see that one coming from Patterson after his true freshman kicker, Oberkrom, missed both field goal attempts last week. Oberkrom was 6-for-6 against Texas Tech the week before.

14. As good as Oberkrom has been, his fellow true freshman, punter Ethan Perry, may be doing even better at his position, averaging 47.2 yards a punt, good for sixth in the country and best in the Big 12.

Perry's yardages at OSU: 57, 34, 42, 55, 56, 48, 38, 52.

The only bad part of that for TCU? He went out there eight times.

15. Patterson's being patient.

Or at least as patient as Gary Patterson can be. He knows his team is young, and he realizes it's been a bit snakebitten by injuries, defections, etc.

"I wasn't very happy [after the OSU loss], but then I watched the whole thing coming home on my Ipad, on both sides of the ball and on special teams, and one of the things I saw on defense was even in the fourth quarter, even on the final drive, they're throwing their bodies all over the place," Patterson said of his team.

16. Brandon Carter should be back on the field Saturday. The sophomore receiver didn't play against OSU. He got banged up against Texas Tech, but Patterson hinted during his Tuesday presser that there might have been some off-the-field issues Carter was dealing with that interfered with his prep for the Cowboys.

17. Trevone Boykin has to respond to pressure better than he has. He's done a good job at getting outside the pocket and avoiding sacks every now and then, but he has to start converting that elusiveness into first downs. Part of that means knowing his strengths and not being hesitant to take off and run for yardage.

"He's got to know when you've got a wall of people coming at you, you got to understand you can't put the ball in there," Patterson said. "You've got to go find a different answer."

18. The Frogs were gassed after last week's game, so much so that Patterson gave them Sunday off.

"I wasn't being nice," he said. "We needed rest. We had guys in Oklahoma State game that are a lot faster that got ran by who earlier in the season that would not have happened."

19. With Boykin presumably healthy, the issue of who to play behind him might not be an issue anymore. But it was brought up Tuesday before it was announced Boykin would play.

One thing Patterson wouldn't do is take off the redshirt of true freshman Tyler Matthews, who likely will be the Frogs' quarterback of the future.

"I don't know if I would with only a couple ballgames left," Patterson said. "I think you got to find a different answer. Again, it's about the whole program and it's about the future."

20. A month ago, West Virginia would have seemed like TCU's toughest test of the season. Now, the Mountaineers are still pretty dang tough, but they might be the Frogs' best chance at a win the rest of the year. The Big 12's two best teams -- Kansas State and Oklahoma -- are coming to Fort Worth, and TCU heads to Austin to face an inconsistent, yet talented, Texas team Thanksgiving night.


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