Early Analysis: TCU vs. Texas

Johnathan Gray

TCU at No. 15 Texas
Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST ESPN
Line: Texas -7

For the fifth straight year the Texas Longhorns will play on Thanksgiving night, but in 2012 there’s a bit of a twist: The opponent is no longer longtime rival Texas A&M but instead Big XII newbie TCU. While the opponent has changed, the stakes are still high. With two games left in the regular season, a victory Thursday means that Texas could be in play for its first 10-in season since 2009, while TCU could finish its inaugural Big XII season with eight wins. Given the Horned Frogs' youth and all the off-the-field drama that they’ve ensued, it would make for a nice first year in the conference for Gary Patterson’s club.

So who will have the edge on Thanksgiving night in Austin? Let’s take a look:

For TCU to Win: The Horned Frogs need to figure out a way to run the ball.

Looking at TCU’s offense the past few weeks, the simple truth is that the Horned Frogs have actually gotten pretty solid play out of quarterback Trevone Boykin (more on him coming). The problem is that TCU hasn’t really run the ball enough to help him out. The Horned Frogs are ranked just 73rd nationally in rushing offense and are coming off an embarrassing 96-yard performance two weeks ago against Kansas State.

That’s the bad news.

Now to the good news, which is that TCU is going against a below-average Texas defense. The Longhorns rank just 100th nationally in rushing defense, allowing just over 200 yards per game.

At the same time…

For Texas to Win: The Longhorns need to simply keep playing defense the way that they have.

That’s because as bad as the Longhorns were in the middle of season, they have been significantly better over the last few games. In their last three outings, Texas has given up an average of just 15 points per game, which is far and away its best three-game stretch of the season (especially when you remember that in the previous three games, UT had given up more than 50 points per game).

Granted, part of Texas’ success is the inferior competition that the Longhorns have played – Kansas, Texas Tech and Iowa State are hardly the cream of the Big XII crop – and part of it is that the Longhorns are simply healthier now than they have been in weeks.

Whatever the case, Texas is playing good football on the defensive side of the ball. If it continues Friday, UT will get the win.

Key Player, TCU: Well, it has to be the quarterback Boykin, doesn’t it?

We mentioned Boykin earlier, but he’s worth repeating here. The simple truth is that he’s neither been good nor bad and has been partially to blame for the Horned Frogs’ four losses in the last six games. But he's hardly their only problem as well.

For example, if you were to take out Boykin’s first start against Iowa State (when he was thrown into the starting role just days before that game), Boykin has actually been decent, with a respectable 12-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Then again, he hasn’t completed more than 60 percent of his passes in any of his last four starts either.

Like so many young quarterbacks, Boykin has simply been inconsistent through his last few starts. For the Horned Frogs to win in Austin, consistency will be key for the young quarterback.

Key Player, Texas: We’ll go with freshman running back Johnathan Gray, who has quietly emerged as one of the Big XII’s best running backs in the last few weeks. Gray has rushed for at least 75 yards in his last three games and more than 100 yards in two of his last three.

Not bad for a kid who was playing high school ball a year ago.

With a week off to rest and recuperate, look for Gray to only run stronger and harder against TCU.

Key Stat: One, which is the number of times that TCU has played Texas since the two schools left the Southwest Conference in 1995. That was a 34-13 win for the Longhorns at Darrell Royal Stadium in 2007.

So why haven’t those two teams played in so long? Well, only the folks at each school know, but many suspect that the Longhorns have been hesitant to schedule the Horned Frogs. After all, they have little to gain by playing them.

Regardless, it all leads to this: How big is the chip on TCU’s shoulder from getting shunned by the Longhorns all these years? And more importantly, is it a big enough chip to pull off the upset on Thursday?

We’ll find out soon enough.