The new kids on the Big 12 block have been taking their lumps.
They’re still learning their surroundings, still getting to know their neighbors and still struggling to fit in.
For TCU and West Virginia, the second season in the Big 12 has been a similar case in offensive ineptitude with major injuries playing a big part in their struggles.
The teams meet at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Amon G. Carter Stadium with identical records: 3-5 overall and 1-4 in the Big 12. Each still has an eye on earning a bowl berth by winning three of its final four games.
A win Saturday will go a long way in determining who extends their season and who goes home early for Christmas, as TCU coach Gary Patterson said earlier this week.
It’s been awhile since either team missed the bowl season, an integral part of a program’s growth because of the extra practices and the maturation benefits it affords younger players. Plus, a bowl game is a much more satisfying and rewarding way to say goodbye to the team’s seniors. TCU hasn’t missed a bowl since 2004; West Virginia hasn’t missed a bowl since 2001.
Both earned bowl berths (and lost) a year ago in their first seasons in the league, finishing 7-6 overall and 4-5 in the Big 12. The whispers a year ago, that neither was ready to handle the pressures and skills of the Big 12, have become a little more audible this year from some corners, mainly from misguided fans of other league schools watching the losses mount.
Neither head coach has been surprised by the talent level of the Big 12, even before their inaugural seasons began a year ago. Both teams won at Texas (which finished 9-4) and played respectably enough to ward off harsh criticism. Their struggles were apparent earlier in 2013 — TCU’s offensive woes in the third game at Texas Tech and WVU’s in a 37-0 loss to Maryland on Sept. 21 providing early fodder.
While the move into the Big 12 certainly plays a large role in each of their struggles, both coaches — Patterson and WVU’s Dana Holgorsen — first point the finger at their own lack of execution offensively.
“We’ve proven, at times, we can do the things we need to do,” Patterson said on his weekly SiriusXM radio show appearance Thursday. “We’re just getting started. I think Dana would say the same thing at West Virginia. You’re either going to prove them right or you’re going to prove them wrong.”
Both coaches have been dealt with serious injury problems, including to their starting quarterbacks. Ford Childress is still a week or two from returning for the Mountaineers, Holgorsen said. TCU’s Casey Pachall returned last week against Texas and will make his first start Saturday since breaking his non-throwing (left) arm Sept. 7.
“What are you going to do about it? You’ve got to put people in there; the next-guy-up-thing pertains to that same exact situation,” Holgorsen said earlier this week. “You want your best guys out there. Injuries affect everybody. Shoot, I imagine TCU would like to have their best pass rushing defensive end available for them as well so I’m not going to use that as an excuse not to be successful.”
Still, the struggles for both teams at quarterback have figured heavily in their problems this season. Both teams have had porous offensive lines and unreliable receiver play and rank near the bottom offensively in the Big 12.
“I’ve been down this road,” Patterson said, referring to 2004, when his team went 5-6 and missed a bowl for the only time in his 16 years at TCU. “If we hadn’t had any injuries, everybody was playing, all the things were going the way they were supposed to and you weren’t winning ballgames, that’s one thing. Things haven’t gone the way you want them to [the past two seasons].
“But you’ve got a choice. You can either succumb to what those people are saying or you can go out and prove them wrong. That’s my whole drive right now is just to keep things in place, don’t listen to what’s going on ... I know and our staff knows what our problems are, why they’ve come about, one way or the other, and setting plans in place to fix it.”
In the meantime, both coaches are hoping to get one win closer to a bowl game.
“That number is sneaking up on us,” Holgorsen said. “I feel like we’ve got a lot to play for. Our kids feel like we’ve got a lot to play for. What we do matters, we understand that. We have an obligation to put our best foot forward, get out there and practice hard, prepare hard.”
West Virginia at TCU
2:30 p.m. Saturday, Amon G. Carter Stadium
Records: TCU 3-5, 1-4 in the Big 12; WVU 3-5, 1-4
TV: ESPNU; Radio: WBAP/820 AM; KTCU/88.7 FM; KFLC/1270 (Sp.)
1. Special teams especially important: Two teams with ineffective offenses could be playing a very close game Saturday. Field position and special teams could factor big in deciding which offense is given the best opportunity to score. TCU leads the league in kickoff returns, averaging 27.8 yards a return and is fourth in punt returns with 13.1 yards a return. The Mountaineers are last in the league in both categories.
2. Holding back history: TCU hasn’t lost three consecutive games in a season since 1998. The Frogs are on a two-game losing streak entering Saturday’s game. West Virginia is mired in a three-game losing streak. The Mountaineers lost five in a row a year ago, including a 39-38 overtime loss at home to the Frogs on Nov. 3.
3. Conversion aversion: TCU’s offense is one of the worst in the country in third-down conversion at 29.5 percent (33 of 112 attempts). West Virginia’s defense is last in the Big 12 in third-down conversions against and ranks 101st (out of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision teams) allowing teams to convert 44.4 percent of the time. Something has to give.
Head to head
|Points per game||23||22.9|
|3rd down conv.||29.5%||30.6%|
|Def. 3rd down conv.||36.6%||44.4%|