On Tuesday, we previewed No. 15 TCU’s offensive X factor heading into Saturday’s primetime showdown with the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes. Now, we look at the Horned Frogs’ defensive X factor: linebacker Arico Evans.
The linebacking unit as a whole must play well for TCU; but within that unit, someone has to be the one that shines brightest. Evans has the ability to be that guy for the Horned Frogs, and that could cause some problems for OSU.
What shouldn’t cause a problem for OSU will be the defensive line of TCU. Because of the different styles of offense and defense played in the Big XII and Big Ten, these teams are constructed differently at the point of attacked. The frontline of TCU cannot compete with Ohio State height wise, or strength wise. Ty Summers, who started last week against SMU as a defensive end, is a two-time All-Big XII selectee— but primarily at linebacker. Is it conceivable that Summers, who is 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, gets moved off of the line and back into an LB assignment against Ohio State?
It wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. Considering that the OSU offensive line has its “smallest” guy listed at 6-foot-4 and 308 pounds (Demetrius Knox), TCU head coach Gary Patterson might be best served by not having one of his best defensive athletes swallowed up by the Buckeye front.
According to the TCU depth chart, the closest person that they have to even matching Knox in size is Ben Banogu, who only matches Knox’s height, but weighs in at only 248 pounds.
So, if the line of scrimmage is going to be dominated by Ohio State, it makes sense for the Horned Frogs’ to move Summers to the linebacking unit on Saturday. If that’s the case, he’ll bolster the LB corps; but if the unit shines bright in primetime at AT&T Stadium, Evans will be the one that gets the limelight. This will be even more true if TCU is still in the game by the final quarter.
Evans enters the game as the sixth active leader in career tackles at 57. That’s not bad, but Summers is the highest at an astounding 278 tackles. Summers also is the active leader in tackles for loss (20.0) and is tied for second in active sacks (8.5). Yes, Summers is probably the one that Kevin Wilson, Ryan Day, and Urban Meyer have been preparing for.
They know what he can do—and they’ll do what they can to make sure that any of their offensive weapons don’t cross paths with him. That’s why Evans is the spotlight player in this LB unit: with all of the attention turned to Summers, someone will need to step up and bolster the defense as the second line of defense.
If my hypothesis is true, the Buckeye offense is going to have no trouble at least getting back to the line after each play. Between Dwayne Haskins being able to audible out of plays, and J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber being dynamic rushers, the Buckeye offense has so many ways to beat you, that, on paper, it appears that they will at least be able to get a few yards on each play.
If TCU’s defensive line can’t hold its own, then it’s up to the linebackers to be able to storm up the field and make the stop. That’s what will (probably) happen a lot at Jerry World. Especially as this game goes on, the undersized TCU defensive line could possibly be worn out after getting manhandled by the much larger OSU line of Malcolm Pridgeon, Thayer Munford, Michael Jordan and Isaiah Prince. In fact, I bet the backup in each respected role could hold his own against TCU’s front. That’s how good Ohio State’s frontline can be.
Because of that, the game hinges on linebacker play. The second that Dobbins or Weber gets through the line, Evans (or whomever else is there) will need to help make the stop. If they don’t, then whomever is running past them just has to bounce around the safeties for a highlight worthy run. Especially if it’s Dobbins doing the rushing, this game may very well be his breakout in a return to his home state.
On the passing side, anything that comes toward the middle of the field has to be shutdown immediately. A post or a deep slant route either has to be knocked away, or if caught, the receiver has to swallowed up. Terry McLaurin showed off in the Oregon State game that he has wheels if given space. Yards after catch (YAC) is a backbreaker for defenses. In a highly contested game like this, a few big plays could mean the difference between a close game (and a small drop in the polls for the loser) or a blowout.
Last week against SMU, Evans led the team in tackles with nine, which also became his career-high. Playing in Jerry World on Saturday, he needs to reproduce his career-high, and maybe even eclipse it to help hold the Ohio State offense in check.
TCU can make an early claim for the College Football Playoff if they knock off the Buckeyes. While it doesn’t appear likely, expect Patterson to have some tricks up his sleeves to combat the mismatches at the line. But, if they really want to be in this game, and even win it, they need the linebackers to step up, with someone going above and beyond what they have shown all season. Arico Evans just might be the man to fill that role.