They say the hardest thing to do in football is to beat an opponent twice.
TCU will put that adage to the test when the Horned Frogs try to beat Kansas State for a second time this season in Saturday’s Big 12 Championship Game at AT&T Stadium.
While it might be easy to lean on the plays and schemes that worked the first time around in TCU’s 38-28 win in October, coach Sonny Dykes says the rematch will come down to new wrinkles and adjustments by both staffs.
“There’s this whole idea that, ‘hey this worked before we’re going to go do this again,’ but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case,” Dykes said Tuesday. “You’ve got to be pretty creative and just like us, they’re going to prepare for things that went well in that game and try to address the things that didn’t.”
For TCU, it will be getting off to a much quicker start on both sides of the ball as the Horned Frogs trailed 28-10 at one point in the first half. One thing that should help is the knowledge that Kansas State will be starting Will Howard at quarterback while Adrian Martinez continues to deal with an injury.
K-State coach Chris Klieman left the door open for Martinez to play in specific packages on Saturday, but the Wildcats will mostly depend on the arm of Howard.
“The offense has changed a bit. They went a little bit more passing offense with a little less quarterback run,” Dykes said. “It’s certainly not as heavy as when Martinez is the quarterback. I think one thing I’ve been impressed with is what they’ve done with Deuce Vaughn in terms of getting him the ball coming out the backfield.
“He’s a load trying to tackle him when they hand it to him, but they’ve done a good job of getting him lined up on linebackers when he’s running routes. They’ve been really creative with some of the things they’ve done with making him a receiver.”
Vaughn has nearly 1,300 rushing yards on the year and has had at least 50 yards receiving in three of the Wildcats’ last four games.
Howard’s accuracy as a passer makes this matchup difficult, but it should be noted the Horned Frogs shut out K-State in the second half. Safety Mark Perry said the team didn’t adjust much at the half.
“We just put our foot down and started playing physical,” Perry said. “I feel like in the first half after that first drive when we saw a different quarterback, we took our foot off the gas because we didn’t know what to expect. We weren’t the aggressor, we weren’t attacking.”
TCU’s defense has a much better understanding of how good Howard is. Another thing that’s helped the preparation is how the offense has remained similar with Howard under center.
“Most of their tendencies are still the same. They want to throw the ball a little bit more,” Perry said. “Obviously he’s not as good of a runner as Martinez, but I would say they still want to do a lot of the same things.”
In terms of doing the same things, TCU hasn’t changed its approach or mindset heading into the conference championship game. This game is the biggest one because it’s the next date on the schedule.
“Every game is the same to us, we don’t really circle games,” offensive lineman Steve Avila said. “You’ve got to treat it like it’s another team. In the film room we’ll scheme off different looks, but in terms of who the team is, I feel like you just have to go out there and play. At the end of the day that’s going to get us the win.”
Avila acknowledged a championship victory on Saturday would mean more than the other 12 TCU has been able to secure so far.
“Bringing one back to Fort Worth would mean the world to me,” he said. “Not just for me, but for the fans and everybody that lives here. Especially my teammates, we’ve been through so much. Looking back when I first got here, it’s just amazing all the things that have happened for the people that are here and the people that decided to stay.”
TCU was crowned co-champions of the Big 12 in 2014, but now the Horned Frogs will have the chance to be the undisputed kings of the conference. All that’s left to do is something they’ve already done: beat Kansas State.
Updates on Johnston, Hodges
Star receiver Quentin Johnston is on track to play against K-State after dressing out but not playing in the win over Iowa State. Dykes said the goal was to save him for the Big 12 Championship Game if possible and that time off has helped.
“He looked better today than he has in a long time going back for at least a month,” Dykes said. “He looked like his old self.”
On the defensive end, linebacker Johnny Hodges’ status is unclear for Saturday.
“Johnny had a hamstring pull that we thought was really bad, but it turned out to not be as significant as we thought,” Dykes said. “He didn’t do much today, mostly rehab stuff. I anticipate him doing some practice tomorrow and then we’ll see how he progresses from there.”
Kansas State will also be without its starting safeties as the Wildcats lost Kobe Savage and Cincere Mason to season-ending injuries. Mason and Savage combined for 13 tackles the first time the two teams played.