Cheez-It Bowl – TCU Horned Frogs v California Golden Bears

Cheez-It Bowl

TCU

Offense

Passing: The Horned Frogs struggle a bit away from home. They actually average more yards per attempt and slightly more yards, however that’s about it. They have half the touchdowns scored through the air — and almost double the interceptions. They’ve really struggled away from home going 2-4, while they have done the opposite (going 4-2) at home.

Rushing: TCU’s rushing statistics are almost the same across the board for home and road games. Almost, and that one “tiny” difference isn’t, in fact, so little — they more than double their touchdowns on the road. Unlike most teams with differences like this, TCU is a carbon copy of their stats for both splits — including carries. So the fact that they have converted so many more times on the road is somewhat baffling.

Defense

Passing: TCU has serious struggles when it comes to passing defense on the road. They have one of the biggest yardage splits of any team I’ve covered and this season. They allow a full 100-yards of passing offense more on the road. They allow the opponents QB rating to improve almost 30 points. In addition, while the touchdown numbers are really similar — they have three times (ok, 2.5 times if were being exact) more interceptions at home. They also a full 1.5 yards more per attempt, even if Cal can’t score through the air; I think you have to be concerned about substantial yardage gains against. Opposing teams seem to have begun to recognize this — averaging 7 additional passing attempts on the road.

Rushing: Strangely, TCU’s copycat offensive statistics almost happen again on the defensive end. Although, on the defensive end they allow 0.7 yards per carry less at home.  This obviously leads to a bit of a yardage split (~40 better at home) but without having an impact on touchdowns scored — this is something you can live with.

Cal:

Offense

Passing: The Golden Bears look remarkably different in the passing game away from Memorial Stadium. They average a full yard more per attempt away from home, although the attempts are pretty similar regardless of venue. They’ve managed to be more responsible with the football throwing for the same number of touchdowns. However, they’ve done it in two less road games, with basically the same number of interceptions (adjusted for the two less games).

Rushing: Cal’s rushing game is more efficient on the road, even despite playing 2 games less on the road. They scored 7 touchdowns on the road (in 5 games), compared to 5 touchdowns (in 7 games). And it doesn’t stop there, the Golden Bears add an additional yard per carry on the road. Unlike most teams, they actually run less on the road than at home, although only by 3 attempts per game. Game Flow and time of possession might become important factors two because both teams have rushing strengths.

Defense

Passing: The bears have faced almost the exact same number of attempts at home and on the road. They’ve faced 2 less attempts at home but have allowed 250 more yards against. They also allow more than 1.5 yards less per attempt than at home. The interception numbers are about the same when accounting for the extra games played at home.

Rushing: The Cal rushing defense has been night and day with home and road games. Luckily for the bears, that strength is on the road. They are allowing almost a full yard less per carry along with the fact that they are averaging less than half a rushing touchdown allowed per game on the road.

The Game

The game is played at the Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona with kickoff at 6 PM PST/9:00 PM EST). The neutrals are expecting at least 40 points to be scored, and indicate Cal to be slight favorites.

Keys to a win for each side

TCU:

  • Stay Balanced. I’m sure frequent readers think this is a cop-out, but I really do think this is the single most important thing a team can do. The moment you become one sided, the any (good) defensive coordinator will sell out to stop whatever you are best at. They should be able to cause serious harm to your game plan if they are given the ability to dictate what you do. This also keeps the Cal defense (who have been better on the road) honest rather than honing in.
  • Establish the Run. Away from home, this has been an insane source of points for the Horned Frogs — and because of the first key, will help them in the passing game. This will also help to relieve some of the pressure from the Grayson Muehlstein — who is the 3rd quarterback to start for the Frogs.
  • Shorten the passing game. TCU’s issues haven’t come from lack of movement with the passing game, they’ve come from interceptions almost exclusively. If TCU can establish the run, it will provide opportunities for screen passes, quick routes, and some play action options. Then, TCU just needs to remember to find the easy pass, if they start giving away interceptions — it’s likely game over. This is especially important considering they are onto their 3rd string QB, they just need to move the ball. First downs are only 10 yards away, they only need that, so they need to keep their expectations (and the long ball) in check.

Cal:

    • Embrace the Road. I have no idea what Justin Wilcox has managed to do to make Cal so much scarier on the road. But, I don’t need to understand it — especially if he can keep it up. Keep sprinkling that magic, and I think they’ve got a great chance to let Chase Garbers a shot to leave his mark against the Frogs 3rd string.
    • Run, Before Gun. With the defensive struggles the Frogs have faced this year, most people seem to think Cal should go to the pass. However, even at home the Frogs have given up substantially more yardage on the ground. If Patrick Laird can get going on the ground, TCU will have to sell out to slow him down. Then, it’s time for Chase Garbers to release the offense for some big play potential.
    • Take over the game. The Bears are one of the few teams that does better in all facets on the road. If they can take over this game, they can ramp up the pressure on the 5th year senior QB for TCU and ask serious questions regarding his decision making. I think if they can get out ahead, TCU will try to chase the game and that will cause some turnovers.

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