TCU renews its conference rivalry with Texas in the most visible way possible: a nationally-televised primetime event on Thanksgiving.
Before we dig into the main course of Thursday's feast in Austin, here's a quick history lesson on the Thanksgiving tradition and series between the schools. The Thanksgiving game is a Texas tradition that began two years after the Longhorns team was created. Texas defeated San Antonio 38-0 on Nov. 28, 1895. In 1897, Texas defeated Fort Worth University on Thanksgiving by the same score. In 1900, the Horns first played Texas A&M on Thanksgiving, a holiday-weekend tradition that, more or less, held from 1918 until 2011, before the Aggies left the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference.
"It's a great opportunity to rekindle old Southwest Conference ties," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "We're really excited about the fact that we get an opportunity to play back in that kind of venue and be part of the tradition of the Thanksgiving game. For us to get a chance to do that, I think, is a big deal. We hope to be a great substitute at this point in time."
TCU last played on Thanksgiving Nov. 29, 1928, a 15-6 win at SMU. The Horned Frogs meet the Longhorns for the 83rd time tonight, the fourth-most played series for TCU. Conversely, the Frogs are the fifth-most played series for Texas. Texas won the last meeting, 34-13, in Austin in 2007. That was a nonconference game and the first and only time the schools have met since the Horns beat the Frogs 27-19 in 1995, the last year of the Southwest Conference. Texas has won the last 15 meetings in Austin and owns a 61-20-1 series edge.
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Now, for a better taste of what's on the table tonight, we discussed the game with Dave Behr, who covers the Longhorns for the Austin American-Statesman and Hookem.com.
Stefan Stevenson: Texas appears to have found something of a groove here toward the end of the season. What, if anything specific, has been the reason for that?
Dave Behr: Mack Brown and the Texas coaches will point to confidence. The young linebackers on defense are getting better, and the offense has performed a lot better with Johnathan Gray taking the bulk of the carries. Play calling on both sides has also improved with Texas stunting much less on the defensive line and finding ways to get the ball to its speedsters on the outside on offense.
DB: Trevone Boykin is now 2-4 as a starter. What have been the biggest differences in his play in the wins and losses?
SS: It's rather striking how different his play has been in wins compared with losses. In his two wins he's only thrown one pick; in his four losses he has thrown eight. Of course, not all of those were his fault, but when he has taken care of the football TCU has had more success.
SS: Johnathan Gray has been given a chance to be the main running back in part because of injuries and has excelled. Do you think he's earned the spot until he leaves Texas or is it still a battle with Malcolm Brown and others?
DB: It's not so much as a battle as it is just a spread of talent. I still expect Joe Bergeron -- especially in short-yardage and goal-line situations -- and Malcolm Brown to get a lot of touches on Thursday. Gray has proven he can be the go-to guy, but I think the coaches will still spread the wealth around to get all three involved. That said, Brown's role has been reduced in recent weeks as Gray has shined. He's been slowed by a sprained ankle for most of the season but should be getting much closer to 100 percent.
DB: I have to think TCU will try to run it a lot against the Texas defense. What do B.J. Catalon and Matthew Tucker do well vs. not well?
SS: Catalon is a true freshman and is still finding his footing but he has improved and impressed at times. Tucker has battled an injury but has run well the last couple games. He's more of an inside runner who can be hard to bring down and Catalon is faster around the edge.
SS: Who or what has changed with the defense, which has improved over the last three weeks?
DB: As mentioned earlier I think it's a combination of the linebackers getting more reps and the defensive line going simple. The stunts Texas was using up front at the beginning of the year were getting them out of position and opening huge lanes. Since they stopped and simplified what they're doing on the line of scrimmage teams have had a much tougher time finding those lanes. And now the linebackers are in position as the game is slowing down for the first-year starters across the board in the group.
DB: Can you point to one reason why the Horned Frog defense has been able to create so many turnovers this year?
SS: The defense was expected to be improved over 2011 but I don't think they were counting on 17 interceptions. Nine of those came in two games against passing teams SMU and Baylor. If I was forced to point to one reason it would be a personnel upgrade in the secondary. CB Jason Verrett is tied for the league lead with five picks and leads the Big 12 in passes defended.
SS: Have the rumors and whispers calling for Mack Brown's replacement been tempered in recent weeks? How serious should outsiders take those anti-Mack Brown forces?
DB: People are still tired of Mack Brown. They're happy with the recent wins so the volume has been turned down, but Mack has lost a significant faction of the Texas fanbase with yet another blowout loss to Oklahoma that won't soon be forgotten. At the end of the day, Mack Brown is going to go when he wants to go unless things really begin to tank. A strong finish this year will have his supporters out in full force over the off-season.
DB: What one or two things must TCU do on Thursday to leave Austin with a win?
SS: The TCU offense must be able to sustain drives and take time off the clock, meaning Tucker and Catalon (plus Boykin) need to be able to effectively run the ball. Defensively the Frogs need to prevent the big pass play, something that has been an issue, even when the defense has played well.
DB: What do you think should be TCU's biggest area of concern entering the game?
SS: Playing in such a traditional Thanksgiving night game for the first time in front of 100,000 Horns fans could be an eye-opener for most of the team, especially all the young TCU starters. TCU didn't handle its first trip to Oklahoma State very well and the offense was out of rhythm for much of the game. But the Frogs have played better on the road in conference than at home, so maybe that's advantageous this week. Both teams are dealing with injuries and personnel losses, but I think TCU is by far the most hamstrung team in the conference and that could really hurt these final two games. Although Texas has had its defensive struggles, I don't see TCU's offense being able to score more than 21 points. Texas, however, seems to have found its self offensively. Longhorns 30-20.
SS: What should TCU fans coming to Austin know in advance of driving to the stadium? I know there are many, but what are some great, lesser-known restaurants for fans to hit before or after the game? Most will be closed on Thanksgiving, so how about for breakfast Friday morning?
DB: Like almost anywhere, traffic will be bad so show up early and be prepared to walk. As far as food goes, breakfast tacos are a staple. For a sit-down place check out Curra's Grill (Oltorf and South Congress), or for a quick stop on the way out of town try Taco Deli (multiple locations), you won't be disappointed. A restaurant I just found is Bacon (10th and Lamar). It's fantastic, and as you'd guess it's best to be a carnivore.
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760