Mandatory Credit: Photo by Manny Flores/CSM/Shutterstock (13487530au) nd .TCU Horned Frogs wide receiver Derius Davis (11) reaches for the ball as TCU Horned Frogs wide receiver Quentin Johnston (1) catches a deep pass for a touchdown durning a NCAA Football game between the Kansas State Wildcats and TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas NCAA Football Kansas State vs TCU, Fort Worth, USA – 22 Oct 2022
No. 3 TCU Horned Frogs (12-0, 9-0 Big 12) vs. No. 10 Kansas State Wildcats (9-3, 7-2 Big 12)
Game Time: Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
TV/Radio: ABC/SiriusXM 84
What’s at stake:
First-year head coaches in college football generally arrive with low expectations and typically make pleas for patience to a fan base frustrated by the failings of the previous regime. Winning is desired, but hardly expected in year one. While head coach Sonny Dykes knew he was inheriting a solid foundation of talent at TCU, it was hard to reasonably expect the Frogs to compete for a Big 12 title or a College Football Playoff berth in year one. The general consensus was that TCU would make a bowl game and potentially compete for more in years to come.
Three months later, the Frogs are 12-0 and heading into the Dr Pepper Big 12 Championship with one goal in mind; beat Kansas State and head to either Glendale, Arizona, or Atlanta, Georgia, for a College Football Playoff semifinal on New Year’s Eve.
When TCU has the ball:
The Horned Frogs have been an offensive juggernaut all season, ranking fourth nationally, averaging 41.3 points per game. Quarterback Max Duggan is the straw that stirs the drink for TCU, passing for more than 3,000 yards this season while completing 29 touchdowns and being intercepted just three times. It’s easy to forget that Duggan was never expected to be the team’s starter this season, but he’s taken the reins of TCU’s offense and taken the Big 12 by storm this season.
Duggan is expected to have his top target and future-NFL wide receiver Quentin Johnston back from injury for Saturday’s Big 12 Championship. Johnston missed the Horned Frogs’ season finale against Iowa State but managed to put up 764 yards receiving and five touchdowns over 10 games played this season.
The Frogs also boast an impressive duo of running backs with Emari Demercado and Kendre Miller, who have combined for over 1,700 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns.
Everyone got involved when the Frogs came back from double digits to top Kansas State 38-28 during the regular season. Duggan’s three touchdowns led the way, including a 55-yard strike to Quentin Johnston that put the Frogs ahead for good. Kendre Miller was a machine on the ground for TCU as well, finding the end zone twice while racking up 153 yards on 5.3 per carry.
Kansas State boasts the top-ranked defense in the Big 12, allowing just 19.4 points per game. The Wildcats have put up solid numbers against both the run and the pass, so TCU will need a balanced attack if they hope to match the impressive performance they put forth back on Oct. 23.
When Kansas State has the ball:
Kansas State led the Horned Frogs 28-17 at halftime of their matchup in Fort Worth back in October; they did so despite starting quarterback Adrian Martinez departing in the first quarter with an injury. Will Howard stepped up when the Wildcats needed him and continued to be a force whenever needed for Kansas State as the season rolled on. Howard has passed for 12 touchdowns this season with just two interceptions, and Kansas State is 4-1 in games he’s played.
Howard will start again Saturday in the Big 12 Championship, but Martinez could factor in the game in a packaged role, according to Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman. “We’ve got to have a package or something for Adrian,” he said, “just because of the unique skill set that he does have.”
The most unique factor in the Wildcats’ offense is 5’6” running back Deuce Vaughn, who is used heavily by Kansas State as both a runner and a receiver. Vaughn’s agility and small frame make him a nightmare for defenses, as evidenced by his performance against TCU earlier this season when he finished with 121 yards from scrimmage while averaging 6.9 yards per carry. Vaughn posted a ridiculous 229 yards of offense last weekend against rival Kansas.
TCU took advantage of Kansas State in their first meeting after Will Howard exited the game with an injury, intercepting third-string quarterback Jake Rubley twice in the second half while not allowing a point after the break. If the Frogs want to top K-State again, it would do them wonders to get off to a better start in the first half on defense.
Key players to watch for the Horned Frogs:
QB Max Duggan
Duggan is the driving force behind everything TCU does offensively. He will need to avoid turnovers and consistently put the Frogs in positions to score in what could end up a shootout Saturday afternoon.
WR Quentin Johnston
TCU’s highest-projected pick in next spring’s NFL Draft, Quentin Johnston’s return to the lineup provides Max Duggan with a do-it-all threat at receiver. At 6’4”, Johnston is a threat to pull down a jump ball over almost any defensive back, has the speed to win matchups deep, and despite his large frame, the agility and elusiveness to win matchups in the slot.
CB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson
It was Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson’s interception late against Kansas State that helped seal the game in the first matchup between these two. The senior also picked up a massive interception in the win on the road at Texas and can turn the tides Saturday if he forces another turnover in what figures to be a back-and-forth offensive shootout.
The Bottom Line
TCU needed an impressive comeback to top Kansas State back in October and has had a knack for winning games in come-from-behind fashion all season. Undoubtedly, Kansas State feels as if that game would have ended differently without injuries to both Adrian Martinez and Will Howard. Both quarterbacks will be healthy and available for the Big 12 Championship and will be hungry for revenge. My advice to the Horned Frogs: find a way to play from ahead because the Wildcats’ momentum may not be so easy to slow down this time around.