When asked to give a scouting report on No. 17 TCU this week, Virginia Coach Mike London began by detailing the impressive 12-year run Horned Frogs Coach Gary Patterson has had in Fort Worth. He then started describing Patterson’s signature 4-2-5 defense and the number of offensive weapons TCU has at its disposal this year.
By the end of the answer, even London conceded he was “going on and on about them.” Then again, it was probably warranted. No. 17 TCU is Virginia’s toughest nonconference test this year, and according to the current polls might be the most difficult game on the Cavaliers’ schedule this season.
“Obviously we have to play our best game,” London said this week.
Virginia hasn’t beaten a team this highly ranked away from Scott Stadium since defeating No. 14 Virginia Tech in 1994. How can they pull off another upset? After the jump we take a look at what you should be aware of heading into Saturday’s noon kickoff.
Will Virginia’s defense rebound?
The Cavaliers are coming off an embarrassing 56-20 loss at Georgia Tech that was worse than the score even indicated. But Virginia’s defense is out to prove all the big plays it allowed against the Yellow Jackets was merely the function of an unorthodox triple-option offense.
After a rough outing at Georgia Tech, Virginia’s young secondary might face the biggest spotlight going against TCU quarterback Casey Pachall, who is currently the nation’s most efficient passer. He has completed 33 of his 39 passes with five touchdowns and no interceptions through two games.
Virginia did catch a lucky break this week when the Horned Frogs announced leading rusher Waymon James would miss the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury in TCU’s 20-6 victory over Kansas. But the Horned Frogs still have senior tailback Matthew Tucker, who gained more than 700 yards on the ground in 2011.
Key player(s): Running backs Perry Jones and Kevin Parks
Virginia’s run game has been slowed considerably this year with teams bringing extra players near the line of scrimmage, and the result has been an offense that hasn’t been as good as advertised thus far. The strategy won’t change facing TCU’s 4-2-5 defense, but the Cavaliers need to establish the ground game for the sake of quarterback Michael Rocco and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s pro-style offense.
Lazor is at his best when he can dial up play--action passes, and that means Jones and Parks need to find some holes. Much of the onus falls on an offensive line that has struggled with injuries and inconsistency on the interior, and they will have their hands full against a TCU defense that hasn’t allowed a touchdown yet this year.
Under London, Virginia is 4-0 when either Jones or Parks rushes for more than 100 yards.
The turnover battle
TCU’s win over Kansas in its inaugural Big 12 conference game was closer than expected largely because the Horned Frogs turned over the ball four times, including three fumbles in the red zone. Virginia, meanwhile, hasn’t forced a turnover on defense yet this year and Rocco is coming off a two-interception performance at Georgia Tech. A repeat showing could land Rocco on the bench in favor of redshirt sophomore Phillip Sims, who led two touchdown drives in mop-up duty last week.
Notable numbers: TCU has won 27 of its past 28 games at Amon Carter Stadium, and is currently on a national-best 10-game winning streak.
My sense is that though TCU might be better than Georgia Tech this year, its more traditional offense and defense make this a better matchup for Virginia. And after falling flat last week, expect the Cavaliers to come out firing as two-touchdown underdogs.
But there’s a reason Patterson and TCU are 49-5 since 2008. It’s an elite program, and in front of a home crowd the Horned Frogs should prevail.
My prediction: TCU 38, Virginia 24.
What do you think? Can the Cavaliers shock TCU? Or will Virginia return to .500 after a 2-0 start? Vote in the poll below and let me know how things will play out Saturday in the comments section.