Cavaliers visit Horned Frogs, hope to upset strong foe
After last week’s deflating 56-20 defeat, team must remedy mistakes, face formidable No. 17 TCU
The Virginia football team travels to Fort Worth this Saturday in hopes of upsetting No. 17 TCU in front of a national audience. On paper, the Horned Frogs (2-0, 1-0 Big 12) are the toughest challenge the Cavaliers (2-1, 0-1 ACC) have faced in the still-young 2012 college football season.
Virginia will try to erase the embarrassment of last week’s 56-20 loss to Georgia Tech by playing a more focused brand of football against a formidable TCU team only two years removed from a Rose Bowl victory.
“Our coaches tell us about their experience down there and how their stadium is packed,” Virginia sophomore wide receiver E.J. Scott said. “It’s just a great opportunity to go play a big team at their house, and I’m excited to bounce back.”
Virginia looked completely out of sorts against the Yellow Jackets. The Cavalier defense had no answers for the vaunted triple option as they allowed 594 total yards and scoring plays of more than 70 yards on back-to-back drives.
“You go in each week wanting to win each game no matter the offensive style that they play in, but we just got to forget about this past week,” sophomore safety Anthony Harris said.
Despite implementing a more conventional offensive scheme, the balanced Horned Frog offense can easily put up points and give defensive coordinators headaches.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” Virginia coach Mike London said of TCU. “It’s an offense that obviously provides a lot of problems.”
The Horned Frogs boast a top-20 passing offense with 305.5 yards per game and a top-30 scoring offense with 38 points per game. Quarterback Casey Pachall has thrown for 536 yards and five touchdowns in two games and has posted a quarterback rating of 242.4. In 2011 he set TCU’s single-season marks for completions (228), completion percentage (66.5) and passing yards (2,921).
Ordinarily Pachall would be supported by the more-than-competent duo of running backs junior Waymon James and senior Matthew Tucker, who have combined for 268 yards in two games and each appear on the Doak Walker Award watch list. But TCU announced Wednesday that James is out of commission with a season-ending knee injury. The TCU offense is still potent even without James’ assistance.
“They pride themselves on being able to throw the ball, but also having the type of runners that can do well themselves,” London said.
The calling card of TCU football is not its offense, however, but its defense. The Horned Frogs annually rank near the top in the FBS in total defense and have allowed a total of six points during the first two games of the season, the fewest points yielded in the nation so far in 2012.
“They’re very aggressive and very athletic up front, and their safeties are involved in a lot of play making,” London said. “They pose us a lot of problems.”
This demanding matchup could not have come at a worse time for the Virginia offense, a unit that floundered miserably against Georgia Tech. Junior quarterback Michael Rocco completed only 15 passes for 143 yards and threw two interceptions before eventually being pulled for junior Phillip Sims. The team’s confidence, however, still resides in Rocco.
“I think there’s no controversy, there’s no quarterback controversy with us,” London said. “It is what it is. Michael is our starting quarterback.”
Though the quarterback position continues to garner the lion’s share of the headlines, the Cavaliers must improve upon a disappointing running game to stand a chance against TCU. Before the season, Virginia’s three-headed monster of senior Perry Jones and sophomores Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson was predicted to be the most dynamic aspect of the offense. But the backs have not been able to meet the lofty standards they set in 2011. Through the first three games, a Cavalier running game that ranked fifth in the ACC last year has averaged only 104.7 yards per game, ranking 109th in all of FBS. Jones in particular has struggled mightily, running for just 81 yards on 27 carries for the entire year. Richardson has missed the majority of the first three games with a leg injury. He has ceded his playing time to sophomore Khalek Shepherd.
“It’s an ongoing process when you have a running game,” London said. “We have to address it with personnel.”
Saturday’s contest will prove a difficult test for the Cavaliers. The Virginia players have a great deal of respect for TCU, and they expect a hard-fought game.
“I admire them because they’re a hard-working team,” sophomore fullback Zachary Swanson, a Texas native, said of TCU. “I like their coaching staff, and I like the way their players play the game.”
Kickoff is slated for noon Saturday in Fort Worth. ESPN will broadcast the contest nationally.