The TCU Horned Frogs travel to Manhattan in hopes of ending a two-game losing streak, and the Kansas State Wildcats, who snapped a three-game skid last week, aim to keep momentum in Big 12 play.
TCU began the season with a promising 2-0 start, but a 42-34 upset to SMU marked the first of four losses in a five-game span, the most recent of which was a 29-17 loss at home to West Virginia. The Horned Frogs are now 3-4 overall and 1-3 in league play. With three ranked conference rivals remaining on the schedule, this week's clash with K-State is shaping up to be a must-win for bowl eligibility.
The Wildcats had even better success in the non-conference portion of the schedule and started 3-0. Losses to Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, and Iowa State evened the overall record and gave Kansas State a 0-3 hole to begin Big 12 play, but a 25-24 come-from-behind victory at Texas Tech last week offered optimism that the team can make a postseason push in the second half of the season.
TCU at Kansas State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 30 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Kansas State -3
When TCU Has the Ball
Quarterback Max Duggan has been playing hurt in recent weeks, but you might not know it from glancing at his stat lines. Duggan has completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 1,593 yards, with an average of 9.3 yards per attempt, and 14 touchdowns with four interceptions this year. He also ranks third on the team with 258 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Duggan threw for a career-high 346 yards and four touchdowns against Oklahoma on Oct. 16, and he posted a solid 244 through the air with one score last week against WVU but was also picked off twice. It was the first time since his true freshman season in 2019 in which Duggan threw more than one interception.
Top receiver Quentin Johnston and running back Zack Evans have also dealt with injuries this season, and both have missed time. Johnston has emerged as one of the top big-play weapons in the Big 12 has averaged 19.5 yards on 24 catches, including five touchdowns. Since missing the Texas Tech game, Johnston has posted back-to-back 100-yard games, including 185 yards and three touchdowns on seven catches against the Sooners. Taye Barber (17 rec., 276 yds., 2 TDS), Derius Davis (16, 194, TD), and Blair Conwright (10, 150, TD) complement Johnston at receiver.
Evans missed the Oklahoma game but returned with 62 yards on 18 carries against West Virginia, which snapped a string of four straight 100-yard performances. He leads the Frogs with 648 rushing yards on 92 carries, including five touchdowns, and ranks fifth on the team with 130 receiving yards on his 10 catches. Only Kendre Miller (411 rushing yards, 6 TDs) has scored more.
When Kansas State Has the Ball
Injuries have also had an impact on the Kansas State offense as quarterback Skylar Thompson was sidelined for two games earlier this season. But Thompson has returned to spark the Wildcats' passing game with an average of 274.0 yards through the air in his last three outings, having thrown for 8.7 yards per attempt with a 72.3 completion rate and a 6-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio during that period. Thompson may not be the dynamic runner he was when running for more than 1,000 rushing yards from 2017-19, but he's arguably a better passer than ever during his five-year career.
Despite Thompson's recent output, K-State still lacks depth and consistency among its receivers. Fortunately, Deuce Vaughn is an all-around performer. In addition to leading the team in receptions (30) and touchdown catches (3), Vaughn has 595 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 123 carries. No Big 12 running back has more receiving yards than Vaughn (302), and only Phillip Brooks (25 rec., 316 yds., 2 TDs) ranks higher among Wildcats wideouts. Malik Knowles caught four passes for 112 yards against Southern Illinois but has been mostly held in check since and ranks third on the team with 18 receptions and 226 yards and one touchdown. Tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe also flashed big-play potential with a 68-yard touchdown against Nevada but has 184 yards on only seven catches overall. Landry Weber has been more involved in recent weeks and has 11 receptions for 166 yards and one score.
TCU has often ranked among the best defenses in the Big 12 under Gary Patterson, but 2021 has been a much different story. The Horned Frogs have allowed 31.6 points per game this season, which ranks No. 9 in the conference and No. 104 nationally. Since joining the Big 12 in 2012, TCU has never surrendered more than 28.0 points on average through a full season. Digging deeper, the Frogs rank 124th nationally in yards per play allowed (7.59) versus FBS opponents, with garbage time filtered out, as calculated by Brian Fremeau. TCU also ranks 122nd in points per drive (3.21) in those situations, as well as 123rd in success rate (49.5 percent) according to collegefootballdata.com, and 125th in Expected Points Added per play (0.260), according to Parker Fleming of cfb-graphs.com. By comparison, K-State ranks 59th in yards per play (5.65), 77th in points per drive (2.38), 33rd in success rate (39.3 percent), and 88th in EPA per play defensively (0.139).
Vaughn and a healthy Thompson are difficult to handle for good defenses, and given TCU's struggles to date, it's likely the Wildcats will find success offensively. Kansas State will have its hands full with Duggan, Evans, Johnston, and the rest of the Horned Frogs offense, but with the home-field advantage and a path to bowl eligibility that likely requires two wins in the next three weeks, the Wildcats are rightly favored.
Prediction: Kansas State 30, TCU 26
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