TCU Vs. Louisiana Tech, Poinsettia Bowl 2011: Frogs May Win, But La Tech Wins Too

BOISE, ID - NOVEMBER 12: Casey Pachall #4 of the TCU Horned Frogs calls for the snap during the game against the Boise State Broncos at Bronco Stadium on November 12, 2011 in Boise, Idaho. (Photo by Otto Kitsinger III/Getty Images)

Louisiana Tech rides an underrated defense and coaching stability to San Diego. To pull an upset of the mighty TCU Horned Frogs, however, they will probably need a nice game from a California local, quarterback Colby Cameron.

NOTE: Confused? See the quick glossary at the bottom.

The coaching carousel has been cruising along at a high speed in recent weeks, but (knock on wood) there does appear to be one clear winner through all the moves: Louisiana Tech. Head coach Sonny Dykes put a high-quality product on the field this season -- he got by on offense with an ultra-young quarterback, and his defense was one of the most underrated in the country -- but his name has been mostly missing from the rumor mill. If he is still the Bulldogs' coach about a month from now, Louisiana Tech becomes the de facto power program in the Western Athletic Conference in the near and semi-distant future.

Team Record AP Rank 2011 F/+ Rk 2011 Off.
F/+ Rk
2011 Def.
F/+ Rk
2011 S.T.
F/+ Rk
TCU 10-2 16 15 18 31 18
Louisiana Tech 8-4 NR 46 71 18 32
Team Pace Rk Covariance Rk MACtion Rk Schizophrenia Rk
TCU 79 43 15 9
Louisiana Tech 12 99 116 113

Neither the Horned Frogs nor the Bulldogs played at an incredibly impressive level in September, but they have both improved significantly since then.

Louisiana Tech began the season 1-3, with one-possession losses to Southern Miss, Houston and Mississippi State and a surprising blowout loss to Hawaii at home. But beginning with their October 8 trip to Idaho, they turned things around dramatically. They won their final seven games of the season, including a 27-7 road romp over Ole Miss; granted, it was Ole MIss, but still. TCU, meanwhile, followed up one of their best seasons ever with an iffy ride through September. They gave up 50 points for the first time since 2005 in a season-opening road loss to Baylor, showed early defensive glitches against Louisiana-Monroe and Portland State, and lost a shootout to SMU. But since then, they have begun to once again resemble TCU. They allowed more than 20 points just twice in their final seven games, never scored fewer than 27, and upset Boise State on the road to win the Mountain West title. Over the final two months of the season (once people stopped paying attention to them), the Horned Frogs played at basically as high a level as they had established in recent years.

When TCU Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
TCU Offense 18 13 27 27 18 22 17
Louisiana Tech Defense 18 19 35 31 15 21 21
Team Std. Downs
Run %
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
Run %
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
TCU Offense 64.3% 34 41.9% 10
Louisiana Tech Defense 51.8% 36 25.6% 3
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

The numbers suggest that Louisiana Tech's defense is highly underrated; of course, the numbers also suggest that TCU's is the second-best offense they have faced this year (behind Houston). The Bulldogs actually shut Houston down for three quarters (they led 34-7 midway through the third quarter, and allowed just 141 yards in Houston's first ten drives, before an epic collapse led to a 35-34 loss), but TCU presents a different set of challenges, namely a deep stable of running backs and an exciting quarterback.

TCU plays an interesting brand of football -- they throw more than average on standard downs and run quite a bit more than average on passing downs. Typically teams do this to protect an limited (or sometimes inexperienced) quarterback, but sophomore signal caller Casey Pachall is far from limited. He completed 68 percent of his passes for 2,715 yards (8.6 per pass), 24 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 2011. Nearly two-thirds of his passes went to Josh Boyce (85 targets, 56 catches, 932 yards) and possession receivers Skye Dawson (56, 41, 415) and Antoine Hicks (51, 33, 347), who's suspended for this game. This unit raised its game on passing downs as well. A trio of running backs -- Waymon James, Matthew Tucker, Ed Wesley -- combined for 27 carries and 180 yards per game (with a plus-27. Adj. POE) as well. The Frogs are deep, diverse and entertaining.

Louisiana Tech has succeeded defensively by severely limiting teams' big-play abilities. They leverage teams into passing downs, then tee off. Senior ends Matt Broha and Christian Lacey have been phenomenal, combining for 16 sacks, 14 quarterback hurries and 20.5 tackles for loss. Combined with stellar cornerback play from Terry Carter and Dave Clark (combined: four interceptions, 13 passes broken up) and some incredible sideline-to-sideline work from linebacker Adrien Cole (96.0 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss), and one gets the impression that Louisiana Tech very much as the athletic ability to keep up with the Horned Frogs. One should probably be able to figure out which unit is going to win this battle by whether TCU's early rushes are gaining two yards or six. If Tech can minimize the effectiveness of the TCU running game, they could tee off on Pachall on passing downs and stay in this game to the very end.

When Louisiana Tech Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Louisiana Tech Offense 71 88 81 92 98 86 97
TCU Defense 31 26 46 23 34 5 70
Team Std. Downs
S&P+ Rk
Rk Pass. Downs
S&P+ Rk
Rk
Louisiana Tech Offense 57.6% 88 32.4% 104
TCU Defense 59.9% 20 35.2% 66
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

Louisiana Tech's defense will have to do some damage for the Bulldogs to win this game, as the offense is facing an uphill battle. Colby Cameron replaced freshman quarterback Nick Isham midway through the season, and while the offense improved overall, it is still probably too inefficient to move the ball effectively against TCU. Cameron managed to be both more aggressive than Isham (14.5 yards per completion for Cameron, just 9.4 for Isham) and protect the ball better (a 1.6% interception rate for Cameron, 2.7% for Isham); the move was great for No. 2 receiver Taulib Ikharo as well -- he emerged as an interesting threat for Tech over the last month, catching 16 passes for 205 yards in the final two games. Taulib (77 targets, 49 catches, 503 yards) and Quinton Patton (116, 73, 1,110) have created a nice 1-2 punch for the Tech passing game, but pressure will be on them to produce, as running back Lennon Creer (198 carries, 838 yards, minus-8.0 Adj. POE) will miss the game because of academics. Tech was already a pass-first team with Creer; they will likely be doubly so without him.

It might be just as well that Creer is out -- against a ridiculous TCU front line, Tech probably wasn't going to be able to run the ball anyway. The Horned Frogs struggled against the pass this year, much more than in recent seasons, but their run defense was as good as ever. TCU's 4-2-5 defense has never been big on tackles for loss -- they are 57th in the country with just 70 on the season -- but ... good luck gaining more than two or three yards against them on the ground. They swarm, and quickly. This battle will likely be decided by the tag team match of Patton and Ikharo versus corners Greg McCoy (26.5 tackles, six passes defended) and Jason Verrett (46.5 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, five passes defended). If Tech can move the ball through the air, especially on standard downs, they will give themselves a chance.

The Verdict

TCU by 7.9.

Thanks to stellar defense and decent special teams, Louisiana Tech has a chance in this one, but their margin for error is small. If they can minimize the effectiveness of TCU's run game and take advantage of occasional glitches in the TCU secondary, they could stay much closer than most are predicting. But the best time to take advantage of TCU is early in the game, and without a fast start, they will probably wear down. This is one of the more high-quality matchups in the early bowl schedule, and as I said at the start, Louisiana Tech is already a bit of a winner in this one. But TCU still holds the edge and should head off to the Big 12 next year riding an eight-game winning streak.

--------------------

A Quick Glossary

Covariance: This tells us whether a team tends to play up or down to their level of competition. A higher ranking means a team was more likely to play well against bad teams while struggling (relatively speaking) against good ones. (So in a way, lower rankings are better.) For more, go here.

F/+ Rankings: The official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

Pace: This is calculated by going beyond simply who runs the most plays. Teams that pass more are naturally inclined to run more plays (since there are more clock stoppages involved), so what we do here is project how many plays a team would typically be expected to run given their run-pass ratio, then compare their actual plays to expectations. Teams, then, are ranked in order from the most plays above the expected pace, to the least.

Passing Downs: Second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more.

PPP: An explosiveness measure derived from determining the point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game.

S&P+: Think of this as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

Schizophrenia: This measures how steady a team's performances are throughout the course of a full season. Teams with a higher ranking tend to be extremely unpredictable from week to week. For more, go here.

Standard Downs: First downs, second-and-6 or less, third-and-4 or less.

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

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