Wednesday, December 21: Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego, CA at 8:00pm eastern
#12 Texas Christian Horned Frogs (10-2) vs. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (8-4)
TCU couldn't get into a BCS bowl game so they settle for the Poinsettia against WAC champ Louisiana Tech, who is also riding a 7-game winning streak.
Vegas line/spread: TCU by 9 1/2 (over/under 56)
TCU started as a 10 point favorite and that slightly increased to 10 1/2, but by game day the spread was down to 9 1/2.
|Game-comparisons||win %||vs. spread|
TCU is the better team, and has the better record against better opponents. They rank #21 in the Strength Power Rating while Louisiana Tech is #45. Comparing their game power ratings, TCU comes out on top more than 2/3 of the time. But not by enough to win against the spread the majority of trials.
As often happens, our power rating closely matches the oddsmakers' take on the situation. While Louisiana Tech's defense actually ranks better than TCU's (#32 to #45), the Horned Frog offense is one of the nation's best at #14 while the Bulldogs are merely average at #62. This leads to a 10-point spread.
Louisiana Tech plays at a fast tempo under Sonny Dykes, averaging over 15 drives per game, so there will probably be ample opportunity for both offenses to score. It probably won't change the dynamic of the game much. Correcting for tempo reveals the Bulldog offense as even worse, and their defense even better.
Analyzing yardage gained/yielded, the results are not much different than by score. TCU ranks 32nd and Louisiana Tech 55th in total yardage differential; again, TCU's advantage is on offense (#35 to #75) while this time the defenses are largely similar (#37 to #34). The resultant yardage projection is fairly low due to the teams' defenses, with TCU having around a 50-yard expected advantage in total offense that translates into nearly a touchdown margin of victory. On a per-attempt instead of per-game basis, nothing changes.
Yardage + interceptions + kick returns: TCU 29, LA Tech 24
Louisiana Tech has a slight edge in possible turnovers. We look only at interceptions for predictive value, and the Bulldogs are #2 in the nation in (adjusted) interceptions. But their advantage won't be huge, since TCU is #6 in fewest interceptions thrown. Give the Bulldogs around a 1-point advantage.
Both teams have a good chance for game-breaking kick returns, however, and it pumps the expected score up a bit from the yardage analysis. TCU ranks #1 in the nation in kickoff returns and has three touchdown returns; Greg McCoy has two of those and averages 31.6 yards per return. The Bulldogs have two touchdown returns and rank high in punt return average where TCU is weak on coverage.
When TCU has the ball
|TCU rushing offense: #30
||LA Tech rushing defense: #31
As you can see these teams are well-matched in the running game, and it's not clear who will win this battle. TCU will probably get just over 150 yards on the ground between Waymon James, Matthew Tucker, and Ed Wesley who have combined for over 2,000 yards this season.
|TCU passing offense: #56||LA Tech passing defense: #49 per att: #12|
|TCU interceptions thrown ranking: #6||LA Tech interceptions picked ranking: #2|
|TCU quarterback protection rank: #27||LA Tech pass rush rank: #19|
Casey Pachall has done about as good of a job as could possibly be expected taking over for Andy Dalton, throwing for 2,700 yards and 24 touchdowns. Josh Boyce leads the receiving corps with over 50 catches for just shy of 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns. Again, the teams are well-matched with TCU on offense: corrected for opposition, the Bulldogs' pass defense looks good enough to slow down Pachall and company, and on a per-play basis TCU ranks 17th and Louisiana Tech 12th. Hard to say who has the upper hand, but on average TCU should get around 225 yards through the air.
The TCU-offense/LA Tech defense equivalency extends into interceptions and sacks, too. Pachall has thrown only 6 this year, while the Bulldogs have picked off 20. Though almost impossible to predict, in an "average" game Louisiana Tech should get one pick. Tech's Christian Lacey and Matt Broha have combined for 16 sacks, while Pachall has been dropped just 13 times this year; look for a good battle at the line of scrimmage as the Bulldogs try to apply pressure and probably sack Pachall about twice.
When LA Tech has the ball
|LA Tech rushing offense: #89
||TCU rushing defense: #25
Here's the very first mismatch between these teams. Louisiana Tech runs the ball quite a bit but doesn't have that much success, at least when adjusted for their (normally poor) opposition. Lennon Creer has 838 yards on the year with a 4.2 yard average; Hunter Lee adds 586 at a 5.1 clip. Not great considering the defenses they've played. TCU will probably hold them under 100 yards for the game.
|LA Tech passing offense: #48||TCU passing defense: #67 per att: #84|
|LA Tech interceptions thrown ranking: #62||TCU interceptions picked ranking: #69|
|LA Tech quarterback protection rank: #81||TCU pass rush rank: #48|
The Bulldogs are probably going to have to air it out to beat TCU, a strategy that worked for Baylor and SMU, the only two teams to defeat the Horned Frogs this season. Between youthful Nick Isham, who started early on, and Colby Cameron, who took over later, Louisiana Tech threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 19 touchdowns. Cameron's TD:int ratio of 11:2 compares favorably to Isham's 8:7, one reason why the Bulldogs went on a winning streak late in the year after struggling early. TCU's pass defense, as we've seen, is vulnerable and the Bulldogs should have about 250 yards through the air—perhaps more if they minimize running plays, which might be smart.
Louisiana Tech's interceptions ranking is for the full year, and is therefore misleading since Cameron has thrown only two picks. To be fair, Isham faced the tougher teams, but it's also fair to say Cameron is more careful with the ball. TCU's defense isn't a ball-hawking one, and they might manage one pick off Cameron but more than that would be surprising. The Horned Frogs do have an advantage in the pass rush, where the Bulldogs have given up a lot of sacks. Again, Cameron has been sacked only 5 times to Isham's 19, but the same caveat about opposition is needed. Since we see Louisiana Tech passing the ball a lot this game, we'll stick with a prediction of at least two sacks by TCU.
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (5)
Wins vs. top 25 teams (1)
Losses (2) to losing teams (0)
- @ #15 Baylor 48-50
- @ Air Force 35-19
- Louisiana-Monroe 38-17
- Portland St 55-13
- SMU 33-40 OT
- @ San Diego St 27-14
- New Mexico 69-0
- Brigham Young 38-28
- @ Wyoming 31-20
- @ #4 Boise St 36-35
- Colorado St 34-10
- UNLV 56-9
TCU's Achilles' heel was revealed in the very first game: their pass defense was not at all what it had been over the previous few years. Robert Griffin III and Baylor exposed that fact en route to a 50-48 upset win.
The Horned Frogs recovered to beat Air Force—a running team—and a few cupcakes, but the next decent passing team they faced pulled off another stunner, and TCU was just 3-2 on October 1st.
Things got better, slowly but surely, as they continued to defeat their Mountain West foes as well as BYU, a good passing team. Going into the showdown at Boise they were 7-2 and had a chance to prove that the defense had improved. It had; though they gave up 35 points and almost lost on a last-second field goal, they'd handed the Broncos their first home loss in years. They'd also stopped Kellen Moore on four straight pass plays though the last one was a controversial pass interference call. TCU escaped with the win, finished the season strong, and very nearly got a BCS bowl berth.
LA Tech's season
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (2)
Wins vs. top 25 teams (0)
Losses (4) to losing teams (1)
- @ #20 Southern Miss 17-19
- Central Arkansas 48-42 OT
- #14 Houston 34-35
- @ Mississippi St 20-26 OT
- Hawaii 26-44
- @ Idaho 24-11
- @ Utah St 24-17
- San Jose St 38-28
- @ Fresno St 41-21
- @ Mississippi 27-7
- @ Nevada 24-20
- New Mexico St 44-0
There are two ways to look at Louisiana Tech's first five games. One, it was a terrible 1-4 start during which their only win was over FCS team Central Arkansas, and for that they needed overtime.
Alternately, the Bulldogs were a field goal away from beating 11-2 Southern Miss; managed to take a 34-7 lead over 12-1 Houston before faltering; and took the SEC's Mississippi State into overtime. There's no polishing the 44-26 home loss to Hawaii, except that perhaps the weight of all the close losses caught up to them and resulted in a breakdown.
They beat faltering Idaho, but the Utah State game was the turning point as Cameron came into the game to lead a comeback win. From there he was the starter and the team has been better ever since. For the most part their seven-game winning steak victimized losing teams, but five of those were road wins and they had no defensive meltdowns.
TCU kicker Ross Evans had some legal problems, but since he played in the Frogs' next game we have to assume he'll be there for the bowl game. Louisiana Tech running back Lennon Creer missed the last game of the season but he wasn't needed in the 44-0 blowout; he's expected to be at near full-strength come gametime.
- TCU's season: -2 wins; LA Tech's season: +3 wins
- TCU's momentum: +2 wins; LA Tech's momentum: +4 wins
- TCU won final game: YES; LA Tech won final game: YES
- TCU glad to be there? NO; LA Tech glad to be there: YES
- TCU coaching situation: stable; LA Tech coaching situation: stable
TCU didn't figure on having a team as good as last year's, and after starting 3-2 expectations were even lower. So you could say that winning the Mountain West is a positive surprise. However, after beating Boise State and just missing getting into the top 16 for an automatic BCS bowl bid, the Poinsettia has to be a disappointment. No matter how you slice it, this is a team that won the Rose Bowl last year over Wisconsin, and now they are playing Louisiana Tech.
The Bulldogs were 5-7 last year and started the season 1-4. Given that, they have to be ecstatic about how things turned out: they are playing last year's Rose Bowl winner! So while it's true that both teams are riding 7-game winning streaks, only one team probably feels it got its just reward for its performance.
There are two elements to consider in the teams' offensive/defensive matchups. First, is TCU going to be able to move the ball consistently against a good Louisiana Tech defense? And, given that the Bulldogs are unlikely to run the ball well, can they pass it well enough to exploit TCU's questionable pass defense?
The first issue means the game will likely be low-scoring, as predicted by the yardage analysis. Sometimes TCU will be able to move the ball, sometimes not; given that Louisiana Tech is probably the more motivated team, and TCU may come in a bit overconfident so their scoring could be held relatively in check.
As for Louisiana Tech's passing game, it isn't quite what SMU has, and certainly isn't close to what Baylor's got. And recent performances against BYU and Boise State suggest there isn't as big of a problem as there was earlier in the season for TCU. The Bulldogs might pass relentlessly, and are sure to have some success; with Cameron at the helm, they are also better than they were early on.
The Bulldogs could risk tiring out their defense with their hurry-up play and their likely reliance on the pass. TCU will always have another opportunity to retake the lead, but if the Bulldog defense plays well then their offense will have another shot. Louisiana Tech blew their other chances to beat a top 25 team, and the odds are stacked against them for sure, but anything can happen in one game. We're taking the Bulldogs in an upset, probably on a last-minute touchdown after TCU has led the whole game.
Prediction: Louisiana Tech 28, TCU 27
More previews, odds, and predictions: View the complete 2011-2012 bowl game schedule.