Five storylines for TCU vs. Texas on Thursday:
1. Back in the mix
As it currently stands, ESPN has Texas projected to play in the Cotton Bowl.
A win against TCU probably would not change that. A loss very well might.
In other words, with two weeks left, multiple scenarios still abound for the No. 15 Longhorns.
For Texas to move beyond the Cotton Bowl and possibly into a BCS at-large position, it would need not only to beat TCU but also Kansas State. Provided Oklahoma wins out, this scenario would have the Sooners as Big 12 champs and Texas as the No. 2 team. Typically the No. 2 team from the Big 12 is given an at-large BCS spot. That didn’t happen last year, because the No. 2 team was not a traditional power with a huge following, Kansas State. Texas has the following and will have the ranking to merit an at-large BCS bid.
Now if the stars align for the Longhorns there is also a chance to win the Big 12. For that to happen Texas needs to win out and for Oklahoma State to upset Oklahoma. This could set up a four-way tie atop the Big 12. In such a case the record against each other is used as the tiebreaker. Texas and KSU would have a 2-1 record against the other three teams. Oklahoma and OSU would have 1-2 records. Therefore, OU and OSU would be the first cast out of the tiebreaker. Then the head-to-head matchup between Texas and KSU is used as a tiebreaker. Texas, by virtue of beating KSU, would win the tiebreaker and represent the Big 12 in the Fiesta Bowl.
If OU beats OSU there is still a chance for Texas to win the Big 12. In this scenario, Texas has to win out and OU has to lose to TCU. That sets ups a three-way tie between KSU, Texas and OU. Each would have 1-1 records against the others so the Big 12 then moves to the BCS standings to determine the conference winner. Texas most likely would have the highest BCS ranking at that point.
Of course, Texas could lose to TCU. If that happens, the Longhorns bring in the possibility that they could fall as far as the Holiday Bowl yet again. If Texas drops the final two games and TCU wins its final two games, the Horned Frogs would finish ahead of Texas in the Big 12 standings by virtue of their win over Texas.
If the Big 12 only sends one team to the BCS, then Texas would be fourth in line for a bowl. That means Holiday Bowl. It’s unlikely this could happen. But five weeks ago it was unlikely Texas had a chance to win the Big 12 after losing two straight conference games.
2. Defensive turnaround
TCU has had trouble scoring at times. Overall the Horned Frogs do average 31.5 points per game. But that stat has been inflated by two overtime games, a game against Baylor (the 119th-ranked defense in FBS) and 56 points against Grambling.
In conference games against Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Kansas State, TCU has been held to 23, 14 and 10.
None of those defenses have been as good as Texas’ over the past three games. In that time span Texas has allowed opponents just 1.24 points per drive. The next best is Oklahoma State at 1.63 points per drive. TCU has allowed 1.88 points per drive.
Texas’ defense ranks first in four major statistical categories since Oct. 27 -- points per game (15.3), yards per game (330.3), passing yards per game (167) and passing touchdowns (2).
So the defense clearly has been better. But it is still not great. Texas is still on pace to allow more yards than any other Longhorns defense in program history. Texas is on pace to allow 5,584 yards. The previous high was 4.825 in 2007.
3. Quarterback issues
All summer Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro talked with TCU quarterback Casey Pachall about finally playing against each other in college. But Pachall, a longtime friend of Vaccaro’s from Brownwood, Texas, left the school after a DWI in October.
"It’s sad we can’t play each other," Vaccaro said.
For TCU the loss of Pachall has meant a dramatic drop in the offense’s pass production.
With Pachall, the passing offense had a 68.5 completion percentage, 11 touchdowns to one interception and 179.5 pass efficiency rating. Without Pachall the completion percentage has dipped to 56.3, there have been 14 touchdowns against nine interceptions and the pass efficiency rating is down to 126.7.
4. Avoiding the rush
Texas quarterback David Ash has proved to be an elusive catch for opposing defenses. The sophomore has been sacked only seven times. And his ability to extend plays has allowed Texas to get out of several third and sticky situations.
Keeping Ash upright might be a tad more difficult this week than it has been against the likes of Iowa State, Texas Tech, Kansas and Baylor.
TCU features two of the top pass rushers in the conference in Stansly Maponga and Devonte Fields. Fields, a freshman, has eight sacks and leads the Big 12 in tackles for loss with 15.5. He averages 1.5 per game and is tied for 12th nationally in that category. Maponga, who missed two games with a foot injury, is not quite as dominant but does have three sacks and three quarterback hurries.
With Donald Hawkins healthy, Texas should be able to use a rotation of three tackles to stay fresh on the outside edge. Running back Johnathan Gray also said the backs have been working on chipping this week in practice in order to help give Ash some time.
Texas coach Mack Brown said blocking is the one area Gray needs the most work, so Texas might lean more on Joe Bergeron if Texas is forced into throw situations.
5. Play action
TCU will try to inch its safeties into the box to stop the run. Texas Tech also tried to do this against Texas, and the Longhorns went over the top with passes of 54 and 75 yards to Mike Davis. The first set up a touchdown. The second scored a touchdown.
But it hasn’t been only Texas Tech that has had issues stopping Davis of late. In the month of November, Davis leads FBS with an average of 23.1 yards per catch is fourth with six catches of 30 or more yards and eighth in receiving yards per game with 121.3.
What has made all that possible is that Texas has been able to balance pass and run, meaning safeties have had to come up and Davis can go over the top. TCU has a middle of the pack pass defense. Jason Verrett is first overall in the Big 12 in passes defended per game at 1.7. He also has five picks. Kevin White is not quite as prolific at the other cornerback spot.
Texas should make more of an effort to get Marquise Goodwin involved against TCU in order to stretch out those two cornerbacks. And if TCU insists on playing one-on-one defense on both those corners, Texas co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin has proven he is more than willing to take some shots down the field.
Typically, Harsin said, he likes to try and take two shots down the field a quarter. Without safeties to guard against those shots, Texas might try a few more.