Team Alert

Toyota Keys to the Mercari Texas Bowl: TCU Horned Frogs

John Harris
Houston Texans Analyst & College Football Expert
Football with Friends Podcast

The TCU Horned Frogs were a bit of a mystery heading into the 2020 season. They had a handful of star players at key positions - Max Duggan at quarterback (although he wasn’t healthy to start the year), Trevon Moehrig and Ar’Darius Washington and First Team All-Big 12 linebacker Garret Wallow. However, the Horned Frogs needed to rely on some incoming youth on offense and speed and athleticism on the defensive side of the ball.

By November/December, it all really came together in a win over Oklahoma State that assured Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs a winning season if they could beat Louisiana Tech in the finale. The 52-10 whitewash of the Bulldogs capped a three game winning streak and a closing stretch in which TCU won five of its last six. 

TCU is coming to Houston with a ton of confidence. Lat’s take a look at TCU’s Keys to the Game against Arkansas.

2020 Schedule (6-4)
L, Iowa State 37-34
W, @ Texas 33-31
L, Kansas State 21-14
L, Oklahoma 33-14
W, @ Baylor 33-23
W, Texas Tech 34-18
L, @ West Virginia 24-6
W, @ Kansas 59-23
W, Oklahoma State 29-22
W, La. Tech 52-10

TCU OFFENSE (in 2020 regular season)

  • Rushing Yards Per game - 214.7 ypg (1st in the Big 12)
  • Passing Yards Per game - 196.3 ypg (8th)
  • Total offense per game - 411.0 ypg (7th)
  • Turnovers lost - 14 (5 INT, 9 Fumbles lost)

Projected TCU starting offense for the Mercari Texas Bowl
QB - Max Duggan (led the Horned Frogs in passing and rushing in 2020)
RB - Zach Evans (54 rush attempts, 415 yards, four touchdowns)
RB - Darwin Barlow (73 rush attempts, 428 yards, four touchdowns)
WR - Quentin Johnston (22 receptions, 487 yards, two touchdowns)
WR - Taye Barber (31 receptions, 318 yards, two touchdowns)
TE - Carter Ware/Pro Wells (13 receptions, 195 yards, three touchdowns)
LT - T.J. Storment
LG - John Lanz
C - Coy McMillan
RG - Blake Hickey
RT - Esteban Avila

Other Key Offensive pieces
WR - Derius Davis (15 receptions, 209 yards, one touchdown)
WR - Blair Conwright (17 receptions, 207 yards, one touchdown)
WR - Mikel Barkley (seven receptions, 33 yards)
RB - Emari Demercado (46 rush attempts, 199 yards)
RB - Kendre Miller (54 rush attempts, 388 yards, two touchdowns)

Keys to winning for the Horned Frog offense

  1. Chip on their shoulders - Playing in a bowl game can be seen as a reward for some or drudgery by others. TCU is playing its best football of the year at the end of the season and that could bode very well heading into a matchup with a SEC team. Furthermore, for this offense, not one Horned Frog was named to the 1st or 2nd All-Big 12 Team at season’s end. It’s not the most dynamic offense in the world, but the run game produced well over 200 yards per game on the ground. As such, if this offensive unit brings that NRG Stadium-sized chip on its shoulders to NRG Stadium, it’s going to be a motivated offensive unit to say the least.

  2. Handle 42 - One of the more unsung players in the nation is Arkansas defensive tackle #42 Jonathan Mitchell. TCU does a number of different things in the run game so it doesn’t have to be a full-on, bare knuckled brawl against Marshall all game long. But, there will be times when the Horned Frog interior must move him off the ball to keep the run game moving smoothly. If Marshall stonewalls the TCU interior, Arkansas linebackers Grant Morgan (1st team All-SEC) and Bumper Pool (2nd team All-SEC) will run to the football unabated all night long. That can’t happen if TCU plans on rushing near its season average of 214 yards per game.

  3. Deep to Q - Both teams have dynamic, BIG downfield threats and, for the Horned Frogs, it’s freshman Quentin Johnston. Against La. Tech, TCU quarterback Max Duggan hauled off and threw it as far as he could on a go route to Johnston. The freshman star was interfered with during the play, fought it off, kept his eyes on the throw and made a sterling catch which turned into a touchdown to give TCU a 17-0 lead. Arkansas defensive backs have been up and down in coverage all year and they’re going to struggle with Johnston’s size and length. That’s something TCU’s offensive coaching staff and Duggan must exploit in the passing game.

TCU DEFENSE (in 2020 regular season)

  • Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 127.5 ypg (4th in the Big 12)
  • Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 223.4 ypg (5th)
  • Total offense Allowed per game - 350.9 ypg (4th)
  • Turnovers generated - 12 (8 INT, 4 Fumble recoveries - TCU is -2 in TO margin)

Projected TCU starting defense for the Mercari Texas Bowl
DE - Ochaun Mathis (2nd Team All-Big 12)
DT - Terrell Cooper
DT - George Ellis
DE - Khari Coleman (Co-Freshman Defensive Player of the Year)
MLB - Dee Winters
SLB - Garret Wallow (1st Team All-Big 12)
CB - C.J. Ceasar
S - La’Kendrick Van Zandt 
S - Ar’Darius Washington
S - Trevon Moehrig (1st Team All-Big 12)
CB - Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson (1st Team All-Big 12)

Other Key Defensive pieces
CB - Kee’yon Stewart
S - Nook Bradford

Keys to winning for the Horned Frogs defense

  1. THT - The TCU Horned Frog defense has faced its share of great receivers in 2020, but TCU star cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, in particular, will need to be at his best when facing Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks. This is the type of matchup that a star like Hodges-Tomlinson, the nephew of TCU great LaDainian Tomlinson, desires. The TCU star cornerback is a glue factory, in the mold of former TCU All-American defensive back Jason Verrett, sticking to receivers of all shapes, sizes and speeds. Hodges-Tomlinson is only 5-9, 177 lb., but he’s quick and tough at the catch point. Regardless of Burks’ size (6-3, 232), THT will be TNT all night long against one of the most physically gifted receivers in the nation.

  2. Run, Forrest, Run - One of my favorite movies is Forrest Gump and one of Gump’s greatest assets was the ability to run for days and his speed. The TCU linebackers are like Gump in that they can run all day long, led by Garret Wallow - 2x 1st team All-Big 12 honoree. The way that Wallow and Dee Winters can fly to the ball makes things tough for any running game because they can run behind zone blocks or they can run to a point on the frontside and make tackles before blocks can develop. They don’t allow interior blockers to get hats on them because of their speed. That can disrupt the Arkansas run game for sure.

  3. O - The O stands for Ochaun Mathis, 2nd Team All-Big 12 defensive end. Mathis finished a half a sack away from being tied for the conference lead in sacks. He had 9.0 on the season and it seems as though he’s just scratching the surface of his prodigious talent. He’s long and extremely difficult to get hands on, in either the run and pass game, so he’ll certainly be a focus of the Arkansas run game/pass protection in this matchup.