(16) T-C-U (0-0) at Virginia (0-1)
Saturday, September 12th, 3:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 16th-ranked TCU Horned Frogs kick off their 2009 campaign this weekend, as they challenge the Virginia Cavaliers in an non-conference battle at Scott Stadium.
The Frogs were just one of two teams not to play during the opening week, and that gave head coach Gary Patterson more time to prepare for this weekend's bout. TCU has won its last six openers and returns a good deal of experience and talent from a team that finished 11-2 a year ago, so there is plenty of reason for confidence this Saturday. The Frogs are 11-3 in their last 14 games versus BCS participant schools, but this is their first meeting against an ACC opponent since facing North Carolina in 1997.
As for the Cavs, they are coming off a simply embarrassing performance in their opener in which they were defeated, 26-14, at home by William & Mary. It marked the program's first loss to a FCS member since 1986, and head coach Al Groh was quick to point out there is still a lot of season left.
"There are 11 more weeks to go. There will be a lot of negativity out there. Some of it well deserved. We can either crack or we can stick together. One thing we have never done around here is crack."
Virginia and TCU are meeting for just the second time on the gridiron, with the Cavs capturing a 20-10 victory in the only prior encounter in the 1994 Independence Bowl.
TCU's offense took a giant leap forward in 2008, setting new school records for points (437) and touchdowns (56) in a season. A large part of that success was due to the play of quarterback Andy Dalton, who threw for 2,242 yards and 11 touchdowns, with only five picks. Dalton also added 432 yards and eight scores on the ground, displaying his versatility.
Dalton will also benefit from the return of his favorite target in Jimmy Young, who led TCU with 59 receptions for 988 yards and five touchdowns in 2008.
In the backfield, Joseph Turner has led TCU in rushing each of the last two seasons and he figures to see a bulk of the carries after gaining 577 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2008. Redshirt freshman Ed Wesley is a highly touted player and look for him to steal some of Turner's touches.
Three starters return along the offensive line, which paved the way for 220.2 rushing ypg last season, so expect TCU's backs to run wild once again in 2009.
The Frogs were among the top defensive teams around last season, allowing just 217.8 total ypg, and they were the best against the run, surrendering a mere 47.1 ypg on the ground. It all starts up front with the return of consensus All-American Jerry Hughes. The senior end is coming off a tremendous 2008 campaign in which he led the nation with 15 sacks, to go with six forced fumbles and 19.5 TFLs. As far as being recognized on a national scale, Hughes tries to take it in stride.
"It is something that you look at and see that it is good that we've been recognized, but we still have to come out and perform...week in and week out and prepare for the (next) game coming up."
TCU lost a pair of stout linebackers, but the return of Daryl Washington gives this group some stability. Last season, Washington ranked fourth on the team with 63 tackles and that number only figures to grow with a bigger role in 2009.
The secondary welcomes back several starters and safety Tejay Johnson highlights the corps. Johnson started 12 games a season ago, posting 47 stops and 10 PBus, and he will be counted for more production as well as leadership in the back.
Offensively, the Cavs struggled to move the ball and avoid turnovers last year and they were plagued by the same issues in last weekend's opener. Facing a FCS program in its opener, Virginia managed only 268 yards of total offense and more noticeably, turned the ball over a whopping seven times.
"We turned the ball over seven times ... and it's clear that we need more work on what we're trying to do," said coach Groh. "That's the answer to this game. Turnovers."
Groh used three quarterbacks in the opener, but none were all that effective. Jameel Sewell struggled the most, throwing for 80 yards and three picks, while Marc Verica had the most success, converting 7-of-11 tosses for 50 yards.
"Clearly we need better performance than what we got from that position," said Groh about the quarterbacks.
While Sewell struggled to throw the ball, he at least ran it 13 times for 40 yards and a touchdown. Vic Hall was another option at quarterback that struggled through the air, but found success on the ground, as he rushed for 54 yards and a score compared to passing for just seven yards.
The defense was solid for Virginia last year and the unit did all that it could to prevent W&M from running away with the game last weekend. Often backed up due to turnovers by the offense, the Cavs' defense limited W&M to just one touchdown and four made field goals. The unit allowed W&M to convert just 23-of-44 pass attempts and only 5-of-20 third downs, while giving up a modest 309 yards of total offense. Virginia however, only managed one turnover and one sack and that simply wasn't enough.
Steve Greer paced the defense with 10 stops, while Denzel Burrell notched seven tackles and a sack.
Virginia is coming off a disastrous opening game, but has a chance to rebound in a big way this weekend. TCU though, is a talented club from top-to-bottom and should be able to control both sides of the ball en route to the victory in this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: TCU 28, Virginia 17
09/09 11:41:18 ET