Bowl Season

TEXAS CHRISTIAN (12-0) VS WISCONSIN (11-1)
BCS vs. BCS Pasadena, Calif.
Rose Bowl
Jan. 1
5 p.m.
ESPN

Thomas Fincher of spitbloodtcu.com was nice enough to answer some questions. Really good stuff here.

 

BS: TCU football is obviously in a good place nationally, but how big is it to get a BCS win against a BCS powerful team Wisconsin?

Thomas Fincher: Beating a program like Wisconsin would be huge for TCU.  We still have to fight the stigma of being a small school that just beats up on “Little Sisters of the Poor” to steal a line from E. Gordon Gee.  I think I can speak for pretty much any TCU fan when I say that we are thrilled not to be facing Boise again, because we can’t gain much respect from beating another non-AQ team.  It will be very interesting to see how the Frogs match up against a VERY physical, big Wisconsin team, especially when we are on defense.  Going out to Pasadena, probably the Mecca of college football, and leaving with a victory would go a long way for this program in years to come, but even just being there has been great for national exposure.  TCU has come a long way under Gary Patterson, and a Rose Bowl victory would be the most significant event for TCU football in almost 75 years.  So yes, this game is a pretty big deal to us.  Not to mention it would be really nice to watch people like Jim Delany and E. Gordon Gee eat crow all offseason if we take down their biggest powerhouse. 

 

BS: What are your thoughts on the Horned Frogs relocating to the Big East?

Thomas Fincher: In a way, it’s kind of bittersweet, but in the grand scheme of things it’s the smarter, more logical move.  We’ve always been such an opponent to the BCS system and all of the garbage that it creates, and I feel like TCU and Boise State have been the face of the anti-BCS movement for a few years now, but like they say “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”.  The move won’t change my views towards the BCS, but it will be nice to not have to go undefeated to have any shot at a BCS appearance.  I think now you’ll see more September matchups between TCU and other regional powers (if they’ll schedule us) because we know that it won’t be the demise of our season’s goal if we lose that game.  It should help recruiting as well, and if the early indicators are a sign of things to come, I’d say the caliber of players we will get moving forward will be a step above what we’ve had in the past.  I’m sure Coach Patterson will still be turning 200 pound high school RB’s into defensive freaks of nature every once in a while, but I don’t think we will have to rely as heavily on recruiting athletes and transitioning them into positions they are unfamiliar with. 

Also, with Utah and BYU leaving, who were basically the lynchpins of the MWC (as much as I hate to give them credit for anything) the choice became pretty obvious that we needed to get out if the option was there.  The additions of Boise State, Nevada, Fresno and Hawaii are nice, but it’s not enough to make staying in the MWC a better option than heading to the Big East where a guaranteed BCS conference awaits us.  Some people have complained about the travel, that logistically it doesn’t make sense for TCU to be in the Big East,  but realistically, it’s not much different than the current travel we endure in the MWC, and with the additions of Hawaii and 2 other schools in the pacific time zone, it just gets worse.  Let’s also not forget the potential this has to help a TCU basketball program that has been a disaster roughly over the past decade or so.  Sure, we will get destroyed for a couple of years by most of the 50 teams that make up the Big East basketball conference, but it should help with recruiting the DFW Metroplex as well, which is a very fertile basketball recruiting ground.  Hopefully within a few years we can be competitive in basketball as well, and I’m sure baseball won’t take any hits going to the Big East, either. 

 

BS: The offense averaged over 43 points per game. How good is QB Andy Dalton and who are his top weapons, both at the RB and at the WR positions?

Thomas Fincher: Dalton has been a blessing for TCU, and his name is littered all over the record books for the Frogs to show it.  However, despite all of the good that Dalton has done, it’s the state of Texas, and no matter how good your quarterback is, people always think there is a better one somewhere on the roster, and Dalton has received a lot of criticism for his play in big games.  He has been prone to interceptions in big contests, but people forget that he put us in position to win the Fiesta Bowl twice last year, once with a drop in the endzone and also with his final pass bouncing off of a facemask and resulting in the game-sealing interception.  I hate the term “game manager”, and that’s how Dalton began his career, but over the past couple of seasons he has emerged into quite a playmaker both through the air and on the ground.  This season, for example, he struggled passing against Oregon State throwing 2 picks, but pretty much won the game on the ground for the Frogs with 2 rushing TD’s and over 70 yards.  Against Utah and Baylor, he basically played flawless football through the air with over 600 yards and 5 TD’s and no INT’s.  He’s incredibly versatile, which is shocking when you see his glowing red hair and freckles, and might execute the zone read play better than any quarterback in the country.  He’s a 5th year senior, so experience should really benefit him in front of the Rose Bowl crowd, and I think he’ll go out a winner with a legendary performance (ok, so maybe not Vince Young Rose Bowl numbers, but solid nonetheless). 

Dalton has a plethora of weapons at his disposal, and the balance of the TCU offense has given teams fits all season and could pose a serious problem for the Badgers as well.  Sophomore Ed Wesley is the leading rusher with over 1,000 yards rushing and 11 TD’s, but he is by no means the only rushing threat we have.  Matthew Tucker, another sophomore, has almost 700 yards and 7 TD’s, but recently his role has been diminished somewhat with the emergence of redshirt freshman Waymon James, who ended the regular season with almost 500 yards and 5 TD’s.  All three of these backs have different running styles, with Wesley being the agile, shifty speed back, Tucker is the big, power back and more of a straight ahead rusher, and James is a Maurice Jones Drew type, who is little, but runs like a greased up bowling ball.  As mentioned earlier, Dalton is also a rushing threat with over 400 yards and 5 TD’s. 

Receiver is another very deep position for TCU, led by the do-it-all Jeremy Kerley, who has over 500 yards receiving, 10 TD’s receiving, 2 rushing, and also, 1 passing.  Kerley will line up just about anywhere, out wide, slot, as the running back, and as the quarterback.  He’s also one of the top punt returners in the country, so Wisconsin would be wise to kick away from him.  Joining Kerley in passing game are Josh Boyce, a redshirt freshman who has emerged as the big play threat for TCU averaging 18 yards per catch with 6 TD’s, including a backbreaking 93 yarder against Utah.  Bart Johnson and Jimmy Young, both seniors, have been solid for TCU throughout their careers.  In fact, I think Bart Johnson has caught a pass in something like 34 games in a row.  Young, who used to be the go-to guy and a 1,000 yard receiver for TCU a couple of years ago, has been a model citizen despite taking on a smaller role in the TCU offense.  Good to know we don’t have any T.O./Randy Moss personalities at receiver.

BS: The defense is number 1 in the country giving up 11 points a game. What is the key to their success against the powerful Wisconsin rushing attack and who are the units key players?

Thomas Fincher: Honestly, I can’t remember the last time TCU faced an offense similar to Wisconsin’s (at least not a successful one).  They have a powerful offensive line and a stable of backs that wore down defenses routinely over the course of the season.  I’d say the key to success for TCU’s defense would be forcing 2nd and longs.  If they can stuff the run on first down and force Wisconsin into passing downs, then our opportunistic defense will have chances to thrive.  Although we are not as big as Wisconsin, our defense is very physical, but also very agile and hopefully can fill the running lanes and make tackles to keep their backs from getting to the second level.  Play action is a large part of Wisconsin’s offense as well, and another key is for our corners (who are often left on an island in Patterson’s 4-2-5 scheme) to not bite on the play fakes and stay with their receivers.  Wisconsin uses the tight end as well as anyone in the country, so hopefully our athleticism at linebacker will be able to keep All American tight end Lance Kendricks in check. 

Last season, everyone knew the key players on TCU’s defense- first round pick DE Jerry Hughes and second round LB Daryl Washington.  This season the players are a little more anonymous, but just as affective.  The pass rush is led by Wayne Daniels, former bookend to Hughes, who leads the team with 6.5 sacks.  Linebackers Tank Carder and Tanner Brock will need to be sure tacklers against the Wisconsin backfield for TCU to contain their ground game.  Brock, a sophomore and first year starter, is the team’s leading tackler with 97.  Some think Carder may actually be better than Daryl Washington, who now starts for the Arizona Cardinals.  I think they are very similar, but Carder is just a junior, so the jury is still out.  The secondary is anchored by Thorpe Award finalist and All American Tejay Johnson, the senior free safety, who leads the team with 3 interceptions and also 3 forced fumbles, and is the quarterback of the defense (sorry for the terrible cliché, but it had to be done).  Cornerbacks Jason Teague and Greg McCoy are as fast and athletic as they come, and I don’t anticipate them being burned much by a Wisconsin receiving corps that hasn’t exactly been a focal point of their offense.  McCoy, a junior, was susceptible to the big play early this year, but has come along nicely down the stretch (except for him mentally checking out of the 4th quarter against SDSU).  He is also one of the fastest players on the team, and a very dangerous kick returner.  Teague, the less heralded senior, has been outstanding this season.  He has a pick 6 this season, but since then you’ve rarely heard his name, because passes are rarely completed on him, and he leads the team with 9 passes defensed. 

BS: If you could choose one player to have a breakout performance in the bowl game, who would it be?

 

Thomas Fincher: I would have to say junior WR Antoine Hicks.  Hicks was our big play threat in the receiving game last season, and arguably our best receiver, but his production has fallen severely with only 171 yards and 2 receiving TD’s.  To steal a quote from Mike Tyson, Hicks “faded off into Bolivian”.  He came down with a case of the drops in the Fiesta Bowl last year (such as the potential TD that bounced off his knee or the ball off his facemask mentioned earlier), and hasn’t really recovered.  He dropped a few balls early on this season as well, and the emergence of Josh Boyce has relegated Hicks to the bench.  However, he’s incredibly talented and if Wisconsin doesn’t pay attention to him he could come up with some huge catches in the Rose Bowl.  I wouldn’t say I expect a breakout game from Hicks, but if it happens, I wouldn’t be surprised either.  More than anything,  I want him to have a big game so his confidence is restored going into next season where he will no doubt be towards the top of our depth chart at receiver.  Hicks presents a size mismatch with most defensive backs and could get some targets in the red zone if he’s on the field, but I think if Hicks has a big play it will come in a 4 or 5 WR set where Hicks is presented with a mismatch, either on a linebacker or nickel back.  If Hicks can make an impact in the Rose Bowl, it would be a great redemption story for a guy who has become a non-factor in our offense since last season. 

 

Thanks so much to Mr. Fincher. Check him out at spitbloodtcu.com

John Veldhuis, of buckys5thquarter.com was nice enough to answer some questions about the Badgers


BS: Wisconsin started out pretty well record-wise, but played some close games with mediocre team. What changed after that Michigan State loss?

John Veldhuis: I think the players realized that they could have won that game, and that they were getting awfully close to repeating some of the mistakes other highly ranked Wisconsin teams had made. A lot of the team leaders were on the roster in 2008, a year where the Badgers failed to live up to their pre-season expectations, and I dont think they wanted to fall into the same cycle of disappointment. It didn't get any easier after Michigan State- the Badgers had a rivalry game with Minnesota coming up as well as the crucial games with Ohio State and Iowa, and I think the senior leadership and coach Bielema made sure the team took something positive out of the game, and re-focused everyone for the next game.
 
BS: The offense has been remarkable, especially in the rushing game. What do they need to do to continue that success against a stingy TCU defense and who are the key players?

John Veldhuis: Well the Wisconsin running backs are helped temendously by the offensive line, which is lead by All-Americans Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt. The Badgers need to win the war in the trenches and use their size to dominate the TCU defensive line in order to keep trucking along against the Horned Frogs.
 
BS: The defense also had a pretty good year. What makes them so successfull and who are some players to watch?

John Veldhuis: Well, as you're aware, the Wisconsin defense isn't flashy but is very tough. Defensive end J.J. Watt is the leader of the defense, and if he is having a good game then the Badgers will probably win. The defense is successful also because they may bend during a drive but they don't break. They have a tendency to make the big plays when they need to, and they have a track record of coming up big in the fourth quarter, whether it's blocking extra points or forcing an interception.
 
BS: If you could choose one player to have a breakout performance in the bowl game, who would it be?

John Veldhuis: One player I think should have a breakout game is running back John Clay. He definitely has some name recognition because of his success last year, but he is back to full health after sustaining some knee injuries, and if he is going to leave for the NFL because of how much competition there is on the Wisconsin depth chart, he needs to have a good game in order to increase his draft stock.

Thanks a lot to John Veldhuis. Check him out at buckys5thquarter.com.

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