This is the third of a four part series in which we exchange five questions with Ben Findley, who covers TCU for SBNation's Mountain West Connection. This week we take a look at when TCU has the ball. You can find my answers to MWC's questions about Wisconsin's defense here. The series concludes next Thursday when we look at when Wisconsin has the ball.
B5Q: There are still a lot of people completely unfamiliar with TCU. What kind of offense do the Horned Frogs run? It is a pass-first or run-first offense and what makes it so successful?
MWC: The best way to classify TCU's offense is as a "spread multiple" offense. Meaning that we use the basic principles of the spread to get guys in space but we employ a multitude of formations such as the pistol, two-back sets, no-back sets, I-formation, and even a little wild-frog. A common misconception when you mention a "spread" offense is that it refers to a pass-heavy attack like say Texas Tech in the Mike Leach era, but on the contrary a "spread" offense can often be a run-heavy attack like the Oregon Ducks. In my mind the term "spread" indicates the desire of the team to "spread" the field horizontally to get their playmakers into space and to then "spread" the ball around within that space. The Frogs are a run-first team that ranks 7th in the nation in rushing offense this season with 261 rushing ypg. The run game is balanced out with an efficient passing attack that is 5th in the nation in passing efficiency with an average of 230 ypg. The TCU offense is tied for 4th in scoring with Wisconsin, each averaging 43.33 points per game. In my opinion the success of the offense comes down to the players, this year's squad is the deepest, most talented, and experienced offensive unit in the Gary Patterson era. Much like Wisconsin, at TCU it starts with the hogmollies up front, TCU has a big and nasty offensive line that includes 4 seniors and 2 All-Americans, including Riminington Award winner Jake Kirkpatrick. They open up massive holes in the run game and have kept Andy Dalton's back clean all season, allowing only 9 sacks, which puts him in a position to distribute the ball to our playmakers at receiver, of which we have many. If you are looking for a comprehensive breakdown of the TCU depth chart and bio's of each player check out my preseason offensive preview.
B5Q: Andy Dalton has flown under the radar for years now. He threw for 2628 yards and 26 touchdowns this season. How come he doesn’t get the recognition that Boise State’s Kellen Moore gets?
MWC: Two words, ginger hate. But seriously, I think Dalton gets lost in the shuffle because he isn't "sexy" enough, he doesn't put up gaudy numbers like Kellen Moore or have elite athleticism like a Cam Newton or Colin Kaepernik. He is just a gritty leader who wins football games and is a bit of a "jack of all trades but master of none." For those of you who are not familiar with Andy Dalton and his style of play, if I had to describe him in 10 words or less I would call him "a poor man's Tim Tebow, with a quicker release." Dalton's importance to this team cannot be understated, he is the "straw that stirs the drink" and the unquestioned leader of this team -- the Frogs go as he goes. I would go as far as to call him the x-factor in this game. If he starts off hot like he did at Utah, I think this is the Frogs game to lose, however if he starts out with some "big-game jitters" and throws multiple interceptions as he did in the Fiesta Bowl and in the season opener against Oregon State then it will an uphill climb for TCU.
B5Q: Who else do the Badgers need to be worried about when facing the TCU offense?
MWC: Sophomore Ed Wesley has established himself as a star-caliber running back this season and when it's all said and done he could be the best rusher to come through Fort Worth since LaDanian Tomlinson. Wesley has averaged 6.6 yards per carry while rushing for 1,065 yards this year, making him the first Frog to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season since Robert Merrill in 2003. On paper Wesley is about as unintimidating as it gets, he cuts an unassuming figure at 5-9, 200 pounds, he was given a paltry two-star ranking by Rivals coming out of high school, and only garnered offers from UTEP and La Tech. But on the field it's a whole different story, he has fantastic field vision and awareness that when combined with his ankle -agility makes him a dangerous runner between the tackles who always seems to move the chains with one more twist of the body.
B5Q: I already know you think this game will be won or lost in the matchup between the TCU offense and Wisconsin defense. Why do you lean that way?
MWC: All anyone in the media wants to talk about is how will the TCU defense possibly hold up for four quarters against the vaunted Wisconsin power run game, and while this is a valid question, the answer comes on the other other side of the ball. You obviously aren't going to completely stop an offense like the Badgers because with their big backs and talented offensive line "three yards and a cloud of dust" is a very attainable goal that will burn clock and tire out a defense quickly, but it is only effective with a lead. This is why the best defense for the Frogs will be a good offense, not only will it keep the ball out of the hands of the Badgers and keep our defenders fresh, but getting a sizeable lead should take the Badgers out of their gameplan offensively and force them into more passing situations. I also feel this is the matchup that will determine the game because I haven't heard or read much to this point that makes me think that our offense can't put up a big number on your defense. I've heard your coach refer to your defense as the "Bad News Bears," meaning one star (JJ Watt) and bunch of no-names, and I continue to hear that your defense can be susceptible in the secondary which will play right into the strengths of our offense. So to me the real question of this game should not be how is TCU going to stop Wisconsin but instead how is Wisconsin going to stop TCU?
B5Q: Tell us about Jeremy Kerley. Kick coverage is UW’s biggest weakness. Is Kerley going to be the difference in this game?
MWC: All-American return man Jeremy Kerley's ability to change directions and make people miss is jaw-dropping, his most notorious return to date was against CSU last season and was an instant #1 on SportsCenter's Top Ten Plays. In addition to his natural athletic ability, what really makes Kerley dangerous on returns is that his blockers know that he can take it to the house on any given play so they go balls out and fly around with reckless abandon making some of the most viscous hits you have ever witnessed, helmetless or not. Even if Kerley can't take one to the house in the Rose Bowl he should be able to put TCU in excellent field position all day, which is half the battle. In addition to his special teams contributions, Kerley leads the Frogs in receptions with 50 and is at his most dangerous on bubble-screens and wide receiver sweeps.