The Wimple goes to gameday format early this week, because the Wimples are driving to Provo for this one. TCU v. BYU isn't just another conference game: it has begun to feel like a rivalry. And only a few thousand TCU fans got tickets, the Wimple figures the Horned Frogs will need every screaming purple-painted supporter they can get. So, it's to the bleachers this weekend.
Since joining the conference, TCU and BYU have split the four decisions between them, one close and one blowout going to each team; both blowouts came in Fort Worth, while both close games were in Provo. The Wimples were in Provo for the first in the series, which still engenders controversy. Did Cory Rodgers cross the plane of the endzone before losing the football? (Gordon Monson, a SL-Tribune sports writer who stood at the goal line for that play thought so, see Gordon Monson, End of BYU Game Was No Photo Finish, Salt Lake Tribune, Sep. 27, 2005, p. C-1, article ID 10CFD8714B3CCCF0.) From the Wimples' seats were 110 yards away from the game's last play, but the day is fondly etched in the their memories. The weather was beautiful; the crowd was rowdy but dispersed with remarkable speed, tails tucked under. Jeff Ballard had his coming out party that day, leading the Frogs on five consecutive touchdown drives.
The 2006 rematch was as different as imaginable. TCU was high as a kite, having smothered Texas Tech in a touchdown-less grudge match two weeks before, for the nation-leading 13th straight win. BYU's John Beck converted ten third- or fourth-downs with clutch passes, building a 21-point lead before the game's finish. In 2007, first-year quarterbacks Max Hall and Andy Dalton battled to a close but second straight victory for BYU. Again, BYU beat the Frogs by converting seven third downs through the air, and also stopping the Frogs' rushing game.
TCU outmatched BYU thoroughly in '08, the second time in three years that a nation-leading winning streak ended in Fort Worth. This time it was BYU's eight-game streak that wouldn't become nine. The Frogs sacked Hall six times (Fonua gets one of them, pictured), and intercepted him twice (almost three times). Jeremy Kerley burst on the scene, running the Wild Frog for the first time in '08, with devastating effect. BYU eventually corralled Kerley, but too late. TCU's 26-point lead shortly after halftime was the largest lead either team had held in the series history.
The Cougars have bottled up the disappointment from that game, saving it for game prep this week. They have had a season of remarkable highs and lows, while TCU has quietly built an eight-game winning streak (stretching through last season's win against AFA). Max Hall and his backup run a little more this year; BYU has relied a lot more on its runningbacks generally, too. Hall is spreading the ball around better, and Dennis Pitta is making a good case for best tight end in the nation. The four new starters on the Cougar o-line have performed very well this season. Weak points? Max Hall was an interception machine until two games ago; and the Cougars have given up a lot more points thus far compared to last season. They're susceptible to a good ground game.
Meanwhile, the Frogs also rely on a multi-headed running game, and spread the ball around better, too. Some questioned this year's TCU d-line, and they have answered. Griffin, Grant, and Daniels are having a stellar year as the sideshow to Jerry Hughes's second monster season in a row. Weak points? The Frogs have fumbled away dozens of points, often slowing themselves in the first half of games. A quick start-- or a quick falter-- at BYU may be a game-decider.
More likely, however, the game will turn on the intensity with with each team plays. There's no doubt BYU will be hitting hard and running fast this Saturday; they've had this game circled for 53 weeks. TCU, on the other hand, hasn't taken truly ferocious intensity with them to the state of Utah since joining the conference-- and probably much longer. Unless the Frogs' out-muscling of Clemson in Death Valley, and out-lasting of Air Force in polar conditions mean this team has learned to generate its own superior intensity on the road, TCU will not beat BYU. Noise and cold the Frogs have beaten this year; but altitude and a revenge-minded squad? That's a new test that the Wimple has always maintained the Frogs will not best, although it will be a heart-crushingly close try. BYU 33, TCU 32.