Know Your Opponent: TCU’s defense presents unique challenges

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K-State and TCU team captains meet at midfield for the coin toss before last year's game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Oct. 19, 2019. The Wildcats defeated the Horned Frogs in their last meeting 24-17. (File photo by Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

The Wildcats travel to Fort Worth, Texas, this weekend to take on the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G Carter Stadium. This is the 14th meeting between the two teams.

TCU leads the all-time series 7-6, but the series is tied 4-4 since 2012 — when the Horned Frogs joined the Big 12 Conference.

TCU head coach Gary Patterson came to TCU in 1998 and was promoted to head coach in 2000. Patterson played safety and linebacker at Kansas State in 1980 and 1981.

After their opener against SMU was postponed, TCU is 1-1 with an opening loss to Iowa State and 33-31 a win at Texas last weekend.

As a former defensive coordinator, Patterson is known for stout 4-2-5 defenses. Their defense typically features four down lineman, two linebackers and five defensive backs. Patterson has a reputation for showing a lot of disguised pre-snap looks and running man defense and this year is no different.

They use junior strong safety La’Kendrick Van Zandt to cover a slot receiver or as a blitzer off the edge. Against Texas, they also used a linebacker as a “spy” on the quarterback. A spy sits behind the line on pass plays and is charged with corralling a scrambling quarterback.

On offense, sophomore quarterback Max Duggan is a dual-threat weapon. This season, he’s attempted 49 passes and 28 rushes. They use him in both designed quarterback run plays and option plays. He leads the team in rushing yards on the season.

Out of mostly shotgun 10 personnel — that is, one running back, no tight ends and four receivers — they are fairly balanced between the run and the pass. They average 3.4 yards per rush attempt.

They use speedy receivers in motion from the slot to the backfield to enhance their run threat using jet sweep-type action to run outside the tackle. Those receivers are also used as a decoy to open up the middle of the defense for Duggan.

Unless they are in short yardage situations, they avoid using a tight end. They will pull offensive linemen to lead their rusher through the hole.

In the pass game, Duggan’s favorite target is junior wide receiver Taye Barber, who has 12 catches for 133 yards and one touchdown through two games this year.

KEY MATCHUPS

Will Will will his team to a win?

After senior quarterback Skylar Thompson left the game against Texas Tech with an injury, freshman Will Howard took over and led K-State to a win. Thompson’s status is up in the air for this week, although head coach Chris Klieman seemed optimistic he could play.

K-State relied on some inspired play from Thompson in close games throughout his career, and this week will likely be no different. If Thompson cannot play, it will be up to the true freshman to fill his shoes in clutch situations.

Preparing Howard for Patterson’s complex defense, but not overwhelming him with information, will be hard to balance for K-State’s coaching staff, but it will be essential to his play this week.

Contain the run

The defensive secondary took a spot in this section the past two weeks because of questions about their health. That is still a question for the defense, but the front seven — the tackles, ends and linebackers — will take the spotlight this week.

K-State’s front seven need to find a way to neutralize Duggan in the run game. If the quarterback rushing threat is taken away, K-State’s defense can be very successful against the Horned Frogs.

Learning experience

One of the good things for K-State is the emergence of new faces on the field.

True freshman running back Deuce Vaughn and transfer senior tight end Briley Moore made huge plays on offense, including two long strikes to help ice the Texas Tech win.

On defense, sophomore defensive back Ekow Boye-Doe and freshman safety TJ Smith are more than serviceable stop-gaps on the back end. Sophomore defensive tackle Jaylen Pickle has done will in limited snaps backing up K-State’s starting linemen.

K-State will also need to see continued growth and development from these new contributors in this game. The development of young players will not only help this year, but carry over in depth for future seasons.

PREDICTION: This is a hard game to predict because of the questions about K-State’s quarterbacks. K-State’s defense will keep the Wildcats in it and I predict the Wildcats to win 28-24.

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Hi! I'm Nathan Enserro, a graduate student from Olathe, Kansas, working on a Masters in Mass Communication. I graduated in spring 2020 with a Bachelor's of Science in strategic communications from K-State. This is my fourth year covering K-State sports for the Collegian.