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Three and Out: TCU’s Ground Game Gives It a Chance



The Cowboys open Big 12 play with an early test as No. 16-ranked TCU comes to Stillwater looking for its first win inside Boone Pickens Stadium since joining the conference.

Both teams are a perfect 3-0 and both control their own destiny in the Big 12 title race and more. Let’s take a look at three numbers that will go a long way toward deciding this game.


Through three weeks, the Horned Frogs lead the nation converting 65.8 percent of its third-down attempts. On the other side of the all, its defense leads the Big 12 allowing a stingy 26.2-percent conversion rate on opponent’s third downs. Oklahoma State is converting 56.4 percent on third downs (fifth nationally) but allowing 43.1 percent third-down conversion on defense. That number is inflated by a poor showing in the season opener where it allowed Tulsa to convert 61.5 percent of its third downs. Since then, Cowboy opponents have only converted six in two games.

Needless to say, winning the battle for third downs is going to be an emphasis for both teams. On one side, Rudolph has probably the best group of weapons to throw the ball to in third-and-long in the country with guys like Marcell Ateman and James Washington among others. But Hill’s playmakers are nothing to scoff at. Senior Desmon White is TCU’s leading receiver but KaVontae Turpin is his best bet, having hauled in all 12 of his targets through three weeks.

It comes down to which team makes plays on the money down on either side of the ball and which defense will create the most havoc. That brings us to our next number to watch.


Oklahoma State ranks first in the nation with a 64.7-percent success rate on passing downs according to Football Study Hall. “Passing downs” are: second-down-and-8 or more, third-down-and-5 or more and fourth-down-and-5 or more. TCU’s defense is ranked 40th allowing a 25-percent success rate in the same situations.

The good news is that Oklahoma State hasn’t allowed a single sack in a passing down this year. A lot of that can be attributed to Rudolph’s elusiveness in the pocket and his ability to keep his eyes downfield and make a play. He’s posted the highest passer rating under pressure and gets the ball out the quickest among top draft-eligible QBs according to Pro Football Focus.

Still, TCU has a way of putting pressure on QBs without committing a lot of numbers to that cause. It’s recorded eight sacks so far but that will be an even bigger emphasis against Mason Rudolph.


The Horned Frogs have been proficient in the running game which has helped them on offense in the above two categories. TCU is averaging 230.3 yards per game, tied for first in the Big 12 with Kansas State. Its balanced scoring — 10 TDs passing to 8 TDs rushing — has also helped take some of the burden off of Kenny Hill’s shoulders in the passing game.

Another advantage of an effective ground game is the ability to chew up clock, therefore keeping OSU’s high-powered offense off the field. TCU ranks behind only Texas among Big 12 teams in time of possession. With senior running back Kyle Hicks a game-time decision, look for an increase workload for sophomore Darius Anderson who leads the Frogs in rushing — 262 yards on 6.2 yards per carry and 3 TDs.

Hill himself has the ability to break free and scamper for a first down if you don’t account for him. That can present a unique challenge for OSU’s defense. Against a mobile QB in Chad President it gave up the aforementioned way-too-many third downs. You can be sure containment of Hill has been a point of emphasis by Glenn Spencer and his staff this week.

But Mike Gundy’s group has been decent so far against the run, allowing just 129.3 yards per game on 3.2 per carry. It hasn’t seen the level and style of rushing attack TCU presents, but Gundy’s confident in his defense and happy with what he’s seen through three games.

“They’ve played well,” Gundy said. “They’re stopping the run. They’ve minimized giving up big plays. There’s times I wish that we would have tackled better and we need to improve in those areas. But overall, they’ve slowed people down and gotten our offense back on the field.”


On defense, Oklahoma State needs to control TCU’s running game and make Kenny Hill beat you with his arm. Hill seems to be an improved decision maker so far this year but if the Cowboy defense can get him behind the sticks — or its offense can get him behind on the scoreboard early — he’ll be forced to try and win this one in the air, possibly force the issue.

Accomplish that and win those battles on third downs and for turnovers and OSU has a pretty good shot to win this one comfortably. Let TCU control the ground game and convert third downs and things get more dicey.

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