It's hard to compare these Frogs to TCU teams of the past because they're just so damn good. But I think there is precedence here. The Utes have done better than any Mountain West team against TCU and own a 3-1 record since their arrival in 2005. That just isn't luck. There is an obvious trend that suggests the Utes have their number.
Now does that mean much for Saturday's game? Not quite. The Frogs are capable of beating Utah. They did it in Kyle Whittingham's first season and had them on the ropes last year. But I think it also shows the Utes are capable of going toe-to-toe with them and that's what they'll need to do if they have any chance Saturday.
What better way to get an idea of what to expect this weekend than by looking at the past three meetings (all Utah victories) and comparing them to TCU's output each year.
The game most remember. Utah trailed 10-0 and 10-3 at the half before rallying and winning 13-10 in the final minute. It was a loss the Frogs suggested should not have happened and you know they still aren't over it. But how did Utah manage to win that game? It wasn't just because TCU missed a couple crucial field goals deep in the Utes' territory.
For starters, let's take a look at the defensive statistics, since that has always been the Frogs' strongest point under Gary Patterson.
Last season, TCU once again had one of the best defenses in the country. They ranked second in points given up per game at 10.9 (we'll round that up to 11).
Looking deeper, though, the Frogs ranked second (behind USC) in yards given up at 215 per game. This is actually better than their current total - if you can believe it.
Utah, in their win, had 275 total yards. That's pretty significant when you realize just how well TCU kept offenses in check. That 275 total yards was the most TCU gave up in all but two games (Oklahoma and BYU). This shows the Utes did just enough on offense to keep the game from turning into a total Frogs blowout (10-0 in any case against Utah that year would've been considered a blowout).
What won the game for the Utes, however, was their defense. Last year, like this year, TCU averaged 35-points (this year it's 37, but you get the point). They also averaged 417 yards per game, which put them in the top-half of the country. They're doing a bit better this season at 458.
In their loss to Utah, though, they were actually held just one-point below their season average. Surprising, isn't it? Of course, most those yards came in the first half - when the Frogs scored all their points and that can't be ignored. The Utes' defense struggled early, calmed down and shut TCU out for the remainder of the game. In fact, the Frogs really only rolled Utah on their first two possessions. After that, their gameplan was good enough to get them into field goal range, but hardly good enough for gimmie-points. They also failed to break the plane on their lone touchdown, though that's neither here nor there.
On the offensive end for the Utes, they struggled compared to their season average. They did put up 37-points per game in 2008, yet only scored 13 and averaged 405-yards on the year, though only 275 against the Frogs. We knew, though, TCU's defense would control Utah's offense just enough to make the game extremely close. They did.
It was on the defensive end where the Utes really put a dent into the Frog offense. I stated earlier they averaged 35-points per game and Utah held them only to 10. I don't expect a similar performance, but they should hold them well below their 37-point average this season.
Beyond that, the Utes' defense gave up 17-points per game on average, which is actually worse than this year's total (16 points per game). Utah is also doing about as well as they did last season in how many yards per game they give up. In 2008, it was 296, this season it is 299 - so a three yard difference). TCU did manage 416 in their loss to Utah, but I went over their unusually high production earlier.
In last year's game, it was really a mix of offensive and defensive performance that led Utah to the victory. It's not correct to suggest they completely shut TCU down - they didn't. However, they played better all around than any team the Frogs faced outside of Oklahoma (who really poured it on them).
What's interesting is how similar this season really is to last season's in terms of statistics. The defensive numbers aren't all that off and the offensive numbers for both teams are only slightly different. Maybe this TCU team isn't really leaps and bounds better than last year's. Though we know Utah isn't quite near the level they were in 2008 and that handicaps them a bit. It also means the Frogs don't need to be extremely better than last season to beat Utah.
But it does tell us maybe the Utes have a better shot than originally thought.
I think 2007 will mirror this week's game more than last year's contest. I say this not only because it's on the road, but I don't see another 13-10 decision. It won't be that low scoring. Which is an interesting position to take due to the fact Utah's offense is worse this season than last and TCU's defense is probably just as good and even then, the Utes only managed 13-points...at home.
The Utes won that game in 2007, 27-20. It was a close contest that came down to an onside kick that was overturned due to a TCU player touching the ball before it went ten yards.
It's hard to say if the Frogs would have tied the game up had the onside kick actually worked, but it certainly would have made things interesting. Regardless, though, the Utes left Fort Worth with a huge win (their fourth straight of the season) and it really set the tone for what would come to follow (a 13-0 campaign a year later).
I do believe this year's Utes are better than their 2007 counterparts and statistics tend to back that up. But it's also clear TCU is far better than they were that year and the statistics soundly make that point.
For the Frogs, they struggled a bit on the offensive end two years ago. They only managed 27-points per game (10-points less than this season) and scored seven points less than that average against Utah. Their total yards per game was at 388, which wasn't entirely bad, but again not near the level of this year's total. Utah held them to 285.
Yet it was on the defensive side of the ball that really hurt TCU overall. They did manage a respectable 19-points given up per game and they only allowed 320-yards per game. But compared to this year, there is a clear distinction. I mean, allowing almost 100 less yards per game is huge. It could be the difference between multiple scores.
Even though their defense in 2007 has a hard time living up to this year's squad, they were capable of keeping Utah's offense well below their season average in yards and they managed to do better than their season average in yards given up. The Utes only had 227 that night - 92 short of their season average.
The interesting thing about this game is that nearly across the board, TCU played better than Utah.
They had more total yards (227 for Utah, 285 for TCU), more first downs and fewer penalties. Where the Utes really won the game was in turnovers and time of possession. The Frogs had four turnovers to Utah's one and the Utes held onto the ball for nearly 37-minutes. TCU only had it for 23-minutes. When you're chewing up clock like that and running the ball just enough (Utah had 107 yards on the ground), you're going to be in position to win the game.
And that's exactly what the Utes did. It wasn't a particularly pretty victory, but they managed to win and improved their record to 5-3 on the season.
Probably the most baffling of Utah's wins because this wasn't a very good Utes team and the game was shockingly not all that close. Utah steamrolled TCU 20-7 in a defensive battle that really made the difference between a disastrous second year for Whittingham and a fairly tolerable season.
The 2006 Frogs were actually pretty good. I'd say one of the best defensive teams TCU has fielded. In fact, that defense was very similar to this year's in the sense they really knew how to shut opponents down.
They gave up only about 13-points per game, which was fifth best in the nation that year and they ranked fourth in yards given up (249). Their offense, though, wasn't nearly as good. They were only slightly better than Utah in both points per game and yards per game. This probably leveled the playing field just a bit, because the Utes' defense had some problems.
In 2006, they gave up 20 points and 327 total yards per game - the worst average of the Whittingham era. Utah's defense wasn't entirely bad, but it wasn't really good, either. With TCU's offense not near the level it would become the next three years, Utah did benefit from its low rate of success.
The Frogs were held well below their season average in points and yards. TCU averaged 404-yards that season and the Utes held them only to 309. On the other side of the ball, they really pounded the Frogs' defense. It was, without question, the most dominant performance either team has had in this series in the Mountain West era.
Utah had 354 total yards, which was the second most given up by the TCU defense that year (BYU, their other loss, managed 395). The Utes also forced four turnovers, which dictated the flow in Utah's favor even more.
In the end, the Utes pretty much had their way with TCU. It wasn't quite the blowout the Frogs saw a week prior against the Cougars, but it was close. Which is remarkable because while on its own, the win doesn't look entirely out of place, in the context of the season, you see just how poor the Utes looked for a good portion of it. It is, in fact, a win that was sandwiched in between a 36-3 loss to Boise State and then a 31-15 loss to Wyoming.
The bottom line is that in the last two meetings, things have been extremely close. It's come down to one or two plays, yet it seems Utah has had the advantage, even though TCU might have looked a bit better statistically. I can't explain that entirely and I won't try to because some things are better left unexplained. What I do know is that the Utes have the winning mindset against the Frogs. This much is proven with their ability to overcome losing the statistical sheet and winning the game.
What has kept Utah in position to win every one of these games has been their defense. It was that defense in 2008 that pushed TCU back just far enough to where their two crucial field goals weren't a given. It was that defense in 2007 that forced four turnovers and preserved a huge and season-defining win on the road.
If Utah is going to win this week, it will take a solid defensive effort and a little push on the offensive end.
With history really backing up the Utes' chances, I think it would be very unwise to suggest they can't win this game.