An injured Jordan Pendleton was done for the season by the time the Cougars lost 31-3 loss to TCU last season, but he was on the field as a sophomore when BYU fell 38-7 to the Horned Frogs in 2009.
“I was out last year so I didn’t get a chance to play against them,” Pendleton said. “I played against them my sophomore year, and while they’ve lost some guys, I think there are still some of the same guys … on the field when I played against them my sophomore year.”
The leading rusher for TCU last season was Ed Wesley, who rushed for 1, 078 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. This season as a junior, Wesley is averaging 7.4 yards per carry and 87.25 yards per game.
Meanwhile, sophomore Waymon James is averaging 7.8 yards per carry and 64.29 yards per game.
The third main back in the TCU backfield is junior Matthew Tucker, who averages 5 yards per carry and 56.14 yards per game.
“They’re all just really athletic and run hard,” said Pendleton. “We’re going to have to make sure we gang-tackle when we get there and run fast to the ball. If they get a space, they can break a long run. At any given play they can break one because that’s the type of athletes they have running the ball. We just have to make sure we get to the ball.”
Not only will the Cougar linebackers have to contain the TCU running backs, but also 6-foot-5-inch, 216-pound sophomore quarterback Casey Pachall.
“They like to do the speed option and the ride series,” Pendleton said. “The speed option is when the quarterback lines up in the shotgun and he’ll have the option of either keeping it, depending on what he sees out of our assignments, or he can pitch it to a back who can then take off.”
On the season Pachall has 40 rushes for only 36 yards, averaging less than a yard per carry. This also takes quarterback sacks into account. Pachall’s production is a far cry from that of Andy Dalton a year ago, who averaged just over 5 yards per carry. The reason could be that Pachall isn’t quite the runner that Dalton had been or the fact that he’s more cautious do to an MRI he had prior to this season.
“Unlike Dalton, this new quarterback doesn’t like to run as much as Dalton had done in previous years,” Pendleton said. “I think Dalton was maybe a little bit better runner, and I'm not saying that their quarterback they have right now isn’t a good runner, but the quarterback now likes to pitch it more than Dalton did.”
The key for the linebackers, and also the defensive linemen, will be making sure they are not knocked out of position or try to do someone else’s job. The TCU offense will test how much the Cougar linebackers trust one another to do their assignments and not play outside their responsibilities.
“It’s one of those games where you have to stay focused and assignment-sound throughout the entire game,” Pendleton said. “You can’t do anybody else’s job. If you try and do more or someone else’s job, you’ll get caught and that’s when you’ll see TCU run for a big play.”
That assignment-sound philosophy will be crucial for defending the ride series.
“The ride series is kind of the same as the speed option,” Pendleton said. “The quarterback can keep it or he can hand it off depending on what he sees from the defensive line. That’s why it’s important for us to do our job and not do anybody else’s assignment.
“If you have dive, you go dive. If you have the quarterback, you make sure you go to the quarterback, and if you have the pitch player, then you go to the pitch. If you don’t do your assignments, then they’re going to make a big play. If you look at last year’s game, it was because one guy wasn’t doing his job. If we can just stay assignment-sound, we feel that we can go out there and stop the run, and that’s our main thing is trying to stop the run.”
If the Cougars can’t contain TCU’s option attack, the Cougars pass defense – which has suffered at times this season – will become more susceptible. This year TCU returned receivers such as 5-foot-10-inch, 175-pound junior Skye Dawson, 6-foot-2-inch, 212-pound senior Antoine Hicks, and talented 6-foot-1-inch, 203-pound sophomore Josh Boyce, who is averaging 15.9 yards per catch.
“They’re very proficient at both the run and passing game,” Pendleton said. “I think they average around 250 yards in passing and running, which is around 500 yards of total offense per game. So collectively they’re really balanced in the rushing and passing game.
“We have to stop the run, which is most important to us, and then hopefully if we get up and they’re forced to pass, we can put some pressure on their quarterback. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.”