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Know your opponent: Previewing the TCU Offense

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The Bears secondary faces a big test in Jalen Reagor

Ohio State v TCU Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

What a time to be alive! Cal football is gearing up for postseason play for the first time since 2015 and the Bears find themselves pitted against a stalwart in the Big-12. TCU head coach Gary Patterson has set an incredibly high standard for his program, leading his team to double digit wins in three of the last five seasons. A nice addition to the Cal vs TCU Cheez-It bowl matchup is that this game will serve as a preview for the 2020/2021 home and home the two schools scheduled back in 2014.

The 2018 season for the Horned Frogs was one of serious ups and downs along with a frustrating display of offense throughout the year. They started the season promisingly with wins against Southern and SMU but went on to lose five of their next six games. The Horned Frogs rallied in November to salvage their season by winning three of their last four games and becoming bowl eligible with a final record of 6-6.

The 2018 TCU offense has been plagued by inconsistency, particularly at the quarterback position (this should all start to sound familiar). Shawn Robinson, who started the year at quarterback, struggled mightily with turnovers throwing at least one interception in five straight games. He was benched in the middle of the Oklahoma matchup in favor of transfer Michael Collins and as of yesterday officially announced his transfer to Missouri. Collins was much more effective against Oklahoma and incredible against Kansas before regressing against better competition like Kansas State and West Virginia. Collins wound up hurting his leg against Baylor and is officially off of the depth chart for the bowl game next Wednesday.

Oklahoma State v TCU Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

So who exactly will we see at quarterback? Most likely fifth year senior Grayson Muehlstein who had only thrown one career pass before Collins was removed from the Baylor game due to injury. In limited action Muehlstein has shown the ability to be a dual threat option for an offense that desperately needs a better performance against Cal in order to take home a victory.

TCU Offensive Statistical Profile

Offensive S&P+: 99th

Success rate: 42%, 70th

ISO PPP: 1.12, 95th

Adj. Run Rate: 50.7%, 69th

Points per game: 24.7, 97th

Passing yards per game: 226.8, 71st

Rushing yards per game: 147.8, 96th

Player to watch: Jalen Reagor, Wide Receiver

Without any shred of doubt, the player to watch when TCU has the ball is sophomore wide receiver Jalen Reagor. Speed, hands, vision. This guy has it all.

Reagor has been a sensation this year in the Big-12, establishing himself as one of the best wide receivers in the conference. Reagor was nearly unstoppable as an end zone threat during the 2018 regular season, scoring in seven straight games to finish his sophomore campaign. He can beat you over the top, he can beat you with his route running or he can beat you in space as evidenced by the clip below.

The guy answered his freshman season as freshman co-offensive player of the year in the Big-12 with over 1,000 yards receiving and 9 touchdowns. When you take into account that he accomplished all of this with three quarterbacks throwing him the ball, it is downright impressive. That stat line also ignores both of his rushing touchdowns, one of which came against Baylor and was the deciding score in the game. All told, Reagor accounted for 11 touchdowns and nearly 1,300 yards of offense on a team that didn’t have much going for it on the offensive side of the ball.

As mentioned above, Reagor has a knack for beating you various ways throughout a game. Let’s explore exactly how he did that this season in the clips below.

Jalen Reagor as a route runner:

On this route, he effectively puts three moves on the Texas Tech defensive back and he bites on all three. By the third move, the Texas Tech player is left looking to the stands and has to do a full 360 degree turn to relocate Reagor. While few defensive backs will ever look good against a triple move, Reagor is smooth in and out of each one of his cuts and flashes his plus hands with the catch in the end zone. I wouldn’t expect Reagor or Muehlstein to have quite that much time against Cal but Elijah Hicks and Cam Bynum will need to be sharp in order to slow Reagor down.

Jalen Reagor as a speed threat:

Here we have Reagor displaying his quickness on a go route that puts him into the end zone. It is worth noting that this game is a blowout but we still get a quality 1v1 matchup as the defensive back is playing man coverage. Reagor beats the defensive back almost instantaneously to the outside and does a nice job of returning to the ball to try and catch it at its peak.

Jalen Reagor displaying his hands:

Lastly we have arguably the most impressive catch from Reagor all year against eventual Big-10 champion Ohio State. While it remains to be seen if Reagor has a quarterback who can make this type of throw on Wednesday, the deep threat he offers is one that all of Cal’s defensive backs should be aware of. And if they aren’t? They might end up looking like Stanford’s secondary last year.

How does Cal win this matchup?

Fortunately for the Bears there isn’t anything about this matchup on paper that should force them out of their comfort zone on the field. Reagor is a serious threat but the Bears have faced similar receivers (Laviska Shenault being one of them) and had no problem slowing them down. While the Bears have somewhat struggled against more mobile quarterbacks, the TCU run game is ineffective enough where they should be able to keep a spy on Muehlstein without it hurting them all that much.

And perhaps most importantly of all, other defenses that are far worse than the Bears haven’t had a hard time slowing down the 2018 Horned Frogs. Baylor, Kansas State, West Virginia, and Oklahoma State rank no higher than 70th in defensive S&P+ and only Oklahoma State surrendered more than 20 points to TCU. The Bears have a strong opportunity on Wednesday to put a lot of pressure on a quarterback with very little experience and force him to beat them through the air. Even with someone as talented as Jalen Reagor is, it would be a bit of a surprise to see him be overwhelmingly successful with how dominant the Bears secondary has been all year long.