The Kansas Jayhawks (2-2, 0-1) and TCU Horned Frogs (2-1) have put together a unique rivalry over the past few years. From 2014-16 TCU won each matchup, yet KU was within one score each time. Two years ago the Horned Frogs embarrassed the Jayhawks on national television. Last season Kansas’ only conference win of the season came over TCU.
This time around both programs are looking to bounce back from disappointing Week 4 performances, and they’ve shown through the first few weeks of the season that they’re both difficult teams to predict week to week.
Kansas followed a beatdown over Boston College with a close yet disappointing loss to West Virginia last week. TCU followed a similar script, dominating Purdue two weeks ago and then struggling in defeat to SMU. These two unpredictable teams are setting up for an exciting meeting in Fort Worth.
KU’s offense took an obvious step back last week compared to the win over Boston College, but it was still leagues better than it was for the first two games of the season. Confidence for senior quarterback Carter Stanley in both himself and the offensive play calling has affected that significantly. If he goes 19-of-25 for 275 yards and three touchdowns it’s hard to be upset if you’re the Jayhawks. Expect him to hand or pitch the ball more this week to sophomore running back Pooka Williams Jr., who coach Les Miles has talked about throughout the last couple of weeks as someone they want to get the ball to more. Williams, fellow running back Khalil Herbert and junior wide receiver Andrew Parchment have set themselves apart as the best playmakers for the Kansas offense this year.
The KU front seven has shown incremental improvements through the first quarter of the season, which was on display in last week’s loss. West Virginia ran the ball for nearly 200 yards, however it was held to just four yards per carry. TCU likes to run the ball (and needs to), so that group is going to have to be at their best yet to slow them down. For what it’s worth, the Jayhawks are holding their opponents to 4.1 yards per rush this season, while the Horned Frogs are averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Kansas’ defense hasn’t taken the ball away much at all in 2019, with two interceptions in the season opener accounting for all of its takeaways.
TCU’s offense is reliant on its running back, to say the least. Two weeks ago in their win over Purdue the Horned Frogs rushed 58 times for 346 yards. Last week TCU followed that up with 236 yards rushing on 42 attempts, while freshman quarterback Max Duggan completed less than 50% of his passes. Duggan didn’t turn the ball over (three touchdowns without an interception) but his first few games haven’t proven that he can move the ball downfield reliably. Of course, Duggan does have one of the best wide receivers in the country at his disposal in Jalen Reagor. Back to the ground game, Darius Anderson is the leader for a talented running backs group, rushing nine yards per carry this year with 368 total yards and four scores.
Defense is traditionally a point of emphasis for TCU, but the Horned Frogs weren’t able to keep the SMU Mustangs off the board last week, allowing 41 points. In their last 38 games the Horned Frogs have only allowed 41 or more points two times; last week and last season against Oklahoma. The passing game is what tore their defense up the most last week, as SMU averaged 8.5 yards per pass attempt. However, two weeks ago against Purdue the opposing passing game struggled far more, with TCU holding the Boilermakers to 6.2 yards per attempt and it picked off two passes. Run defense is a strength though, which isn’t a good matchup for KU’s stable of running backs.
Can they stop the run? It’s a simple point, but it will be the deciding factor in how competitive this game is. If the Horned Frogs are ripping off six yards on each carry through the game then it’ll be a long day for the Jayhawks. However, if Kansas can control the control game, not even completely stop it, and force Duggan into more passing situations, it will help KU stay close. Junior linebacker Dru Prox has become the steadiest part of the KU defense so far this season and he’ll be responsible for leading the tackling charge all Saturday against the TCU stable of tailbacks. Other contributors like junior Kyron Johnson and freshman Gavin Potter will need to step their games up as well if the Jayhawks want to control the ground game.
Can the depth hold up? Two starters missed last week’s game versus SMU, and while Ar’Darius Washington played well in his first career start, it’s hard to know if an inexperienced player (or group of players) can stay productive week after week. Offensively, all-Big 12 lineman Lucas Niang got banged up last Saturday, which would be a massive loss for the Frogs on offense. If he’s unable to go there will be even more pressure on Duggan and the running backs to make plays without help. And there are receiver injuries for TCU too, as HornedFrogsBlitz points out in the previous link. TCU is talented, but it will need to rely on its depth to come up in big moments this Saturday.
Williams. Again, Williams has been talked about constantly as someone the Jayhawks need to get the ball to more. It’s a smart plan, given both how effective he’s been so far this year (296 rushing yards in three games) and the element of explosion that he hasn’t fully showed off yet. KU doesn’t put up a ton of points regularly, but under the right circumstances its capable of doing so. The easiest way to see this game turning into a shootout involves Stanley being smart with the ball and getting it downfield in chunks to the likes of Parchment and senior wide receiver Daylon Charlot, as well as Williams being able to make plays in space. Kansas should try to mix up the ways in which he gets the ball, expanding to screens and misdirection runs as opposed to a heavy load of Miles’ beloved toss plays.
Reagor. Last week he had a mere two catches for two yards, which is inexcusable. He’s one of the best talents in the country, let alone the Big 12, so he needs to be a bigger part of TCU’s air attack. TCU’s running game stacks up against any in the Big 12, it’s that good. If the Horned Frogs can get even “OK” production through the air their offense will give the Jayhawks a ton of problems. But Kansas’ defense can hang around if your offense is one-dimensional, so Duggan needs to find ways to get Reagor the ball as much as possible.
A note on picks against the spread: Admittedly, this is a bad record to start the year. However, the year is young and KU was a mere half point away last week (horseshoes, hand grenades, etc.). This week’s line started at KU +21, so there are a lot of people backing the Jayhawks in Week 4, not just us.