This is the fourth 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 Wisconsin has the ball. You can find my answers to MWC's questions about Wisconsin's offense here including my prediction for the game.
B5Q: Tell us about the 4-2-5 defense. I've seen a couple really good breakdowns of the system, but why is it so successful at TCU?
MWC: The basic premise of the 4-2-5 defense is that by adding another safety you are increasing the amount of speed on the field as well as the flexibility of your personnel. The defense was designed to stop the run with the use of leverage and the amount of players you can get to the point of attack. At this point of it's existence there is very little blitzing out of the 4-2-5 and the front four is relied upon to create it's own pressure in passing situations and to occupy multiple blockers freeing the linebackers in running situations. To me the most unique characteristics of this defense are that the back 7 is split down the middle and called as two separate defenses, and that all defendesr are taught to maintain lane integrity very similar to kickoff coverage which creates the leverage I spoke of earlier. It is so successful at TCU because it is Gary Patterson's brain child and he has had 13 plus years to tinker with it and learn all of it's intricacies. Patterson originally installed it while he was the defensive coordinator at New Mexico because he was playing with less talented personnel than his opposition and he needed an edge. Since moving to the fertile recruiting ground of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex the defense has really taken off and now with a golden ticket that is BCS AQ status coming in 2012 the sky is the limit for Gary Patteron's 4-2-5 defense. For those B5Q readers who fancy themselves X's and O's guys and would like a more in-depth primer on TCU's 4-2-5 here is some required reading: Multiplicity But Simplicity: Why the 4-2-5 Defense by Gary Patterson,Inside the 4-2-5 Defense by Shakin' the Southland of SB Nation, Gary Patterson: Innovator or Sideshow? by The Tortilla Retort, and for those of you that are not as football savvy and need humor to be interjected into your sports articles in order for you to follow along check out TCU's Rise To BCS Power And Dominating Defense Somewhat Mythbusted For The Lay Person by Spencer Hall of SB Nation's EBSBS.
B5Q: I have a ton of respect for the TCU defense and I keep hearing about how the players are not big, but they are very fast. With that said, you are supposed to run right at speed and that's where Wisconsin's offense thrives. Is this the worst possible matchup for the Frogs' D?
MWC: I hate to argue your every point when you are just innocently setting up a question but in the past month I have set a precedent for it so why stop now? The whole "not big, but very fast" statement about the TCU defenders is one that drives me absolutely bonkers because it is a complete misconception that is perpetuated everyday on ESPN by jack wagons like Craig James and Mark May. Let's take a quick look at the heights and weights of the starting defenders at Wisconsin and TCU as listed by Rivals and do a position by position size comparison:
Wisconsin DT's: 6-4 284, 6-3 290, TCU DT's: 6-2 308, 6-1 310, DT Edge: TCU.
Wisconsin LB's: 6-2 223, 6-1 231, 6-0 234, TCU LB's: 6-3 245, 6-2 237, LB Edge: TCU.
Wisconsin CB's 5-9 190, 5-10 190, TCU CB's: 5-10 185, 6-2 201. CB Edge: TCU.
Wisconsin S's: 5-9 205, 6-0 204, TCU S's: 6-1 214, 6-1 212, 6-0 195, S Edge: TCU.
Wisconsin DE's: 6-4 250, 6-6 292, TCU DE's: 6-2 255, 6-2 263, Edge: Wisconsin.
So only at the defensive end position are the Badgers bigger than the Frogs, and in TCU's defense we have a 6-6, 272 pound defensive end that can't crack the rotation at end, so while Patterson is recruiting guys that are faster he isn't exactly looking for small guys either. What makes TCU's defense smaller than your typical 4-3 is that in the 4-2-5 you take away one linebacker and replace him with a smaller and faster safety, so the difference really comes down to one player. As far as this being the worst possible matchup for the Frogs I would have to say yes, the only team I would least rather see TCU face this season is Alabama. The type of offenses that always seem to give TCU the most trouble are ones ones with elite quarterbacks that can stretch the field deep like the Sam Bradford-led Oklahoma Sooners and ones with big backs, efficient quarterbacks, and big athletic tight ends that are constantly open on play-action. BYU was one of these offenses in the era of Harvey Unga, Max Hall, and Dennis Pitta, and Wisconsin seems to fit this bill as well with John Clay, Scott Tolzien, and Lance Kendricks. This is not to say that the 4-2-5 cannot stop a power run attack because in 2005 TCU went into Norman, OK and held Adrian Peterson to a paltry 63 yards rushing on 22 attempts for an average of 2.9 yards per carry, remember that Patterson designed the 4-2-5 to stop the run.
B5Q: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the TCU defense?
MWC: The strengths of this defense are sideline-to-sideline pursuit and the pass rush of the four down-lineman. The weaknesses are interior run defense and deep ball coverage. One of the biggest reasons that the interior run defense is a weakness right now is because 6-1, 310 pound starting nose tackle Kelly Griffin has been out since October 23rd when he suffered a broken ankle against Air Force. Griffin is built like a fire-hydrant and consistently commands a double-team, and to say he has been missed would be a drastic understatement because the Frogs don't have anyone that can match his sheer size in the middle. Griffin has been practicing with the team but has been deemed a game-time decision by Patterson, and even if he does get cleared to play the question then becomes how many plays can he go and how effective will he be. If he can go even 10 plays or so and get in on the majority of first down plays it would make a world of difference for the Frogs so keep an eye out for #69 on Saturday.
B5Q: Who are the playmakers on the TCU defense? Which player might surprise?
MWC: The top 3 impact players on the TCU defense are linebacker Tank Carder, safety Tejay Johnson, and defensive end Wayne Daniels. All 3 have been named All-Americans and all 3 are veteran team leaders, Johnson and Carder are defensive team captains. An under-the-radar player to keep an eye on is red-shirt freshman defensive end Stansly Maponga who has shown all the characteristics of a defensive terror in his debut year. Something tells me that Maponga is going to put Tolzien on his back more than once on Saturday.
B5Q: OK, it's finally game week. Give us your prediction, including score, offensive MVP and defensive MVP.
MWC: As I've said before I think the game will be won or lost based on how the TCU offense performs against the UW defense and that if the Frogs can get out to an early lead that it should be TCU's to lose. Dalton and company have had a long time to think about what happened last year in the Fiesta Bowl and there is no way in hell they let that happen again, this team is focused and hungry. I predict that Dalton is going to come out hot and spread the ball around at will for quick and early scores on short fields thanks to Jeremy Kerley. I feel that TCU's defense will come to a stalemate of sorts with the Wisconsin offense, of course the Badger run offense will get theirs but I predict that TCU will bend but not break, coming up with just enough stops to keep the Frogs comfortably in front. The x-factor of this game will be Jeremy Kerley who should be a thorn in the side of the Badger defense and special teams all day long, look for at least two field-position flipping returns and at least one offensive TD from Kerley. TCU 38 Wisconsin 27. Offensive MVP: Andy Dalton, 21-27, 289 yds 2 TD's. Defensive MVP: CB Greg McCoy, INT for TD .I had a dream last week that McCoy returned an interception 80 plus yards for a touchdown on Wisconsin's opening drive so I am going with that.