Four things to know about TCU’s next opponent, Houston

SEPTEMBER 11, 2023 10:58 AM
The TCU Horned Frogs (1-1) open Big 12 play on Saturday against a new conference foe.
The Houston Cougars were one of four teams to join the Big 12 this season along with UCF, Cincinnati and BYU. The Cougars, who have had various high points of success, have always wanted an invitation to the Big 12.
Even though it took Texas and Oklahoma to leave for Houston to get a chance, the Cougars are just glad their patience paid off and now they’re finally in a Power Five league as opposed to what’s left of the American Athletic Conference.
Houston is notorious for not exactly having a rowdy home crowd, but it is the first Big 12 game against a fellow Texas school and a night game. Who knows, maybe the Cougars fanbase will surprise us all?
Either way, winning on the road is difficult whether there are 100,000 or 10,000 fans at the game. Here are four things to know about TCU’s next opponent:
FAMILIAR FACE AT QUARTERBACK
The Cougars (1-1) are led on offense by quarterback Donovan Smith. If that name sounds familiar it’s because Smith was part of the quarterback rotation at Texas Tech last season. He played sparingly in the Horned Frogs’ 34-24 win over the Red Raiders last season, rushing for six yards on four carries.
Smith led Texas Tech to ranked wins last season over Texas and Houston (ironic, yes I know). At his best, Smith is dual-threat gunslinger willing to push the ball down field and take chances. At his worst, Smith struggles with his ball security. Remove the Murray State game last year and Smith had eight touchdowns and eight interceptions in four starts.
So far Smith is completing 60% of his passes for 493 touchdowns and four touchdowns to one interception. Smith has also been sacked six times which could be a sign of a weak offensive line.
REPLACING TANK
Tank Dell was one of the best receivers in the country last year and is currently making plays for the Houston Texans. That left a gaping hole of production on offense that needed to be replaced. Samuel Brown appears to be the lead candidate to fill Dell’s role.
Through two games, Brown is averaging 122 yards per game and 16 yards per catch. Joseph Manjack IV is second on the team in receptions with 10. Sophomore Matthew Golden was the one many expected to be Houston’s top receiver and he landed on a few preseason All-Big 12 teams.
So far Golden has 96 receiving yards, but he has been living in the endzone with a team-high three touchdown catches. Houston’s receivers aren’t Colorado’s, but this is more than capable group that can cause TCU’s secondary problems if they’re not ready.
BALL-HAWKING DEFENSE
One early theme for Houston has been its defense’s ability to generate takeaways. Through two games Houston has forced five turnovers including four interceptions. The usually excellent UTSA quarterback Frank Harris threw three picks in a 17-14 loss to Houston in the season opener.
Malik Fleming leads the team with two interceptions and makes up for his small stature at 5-foot-8 by being in the right position at the right time. For the Horned Frogs, avoiding costly turnovers will be a major emphasis. So far, not including a pick by Josh Hoover in garbage time, TCU has turned it over three times with all three being in the redzone.
As Colorado showed, that’s a recipe to lose against anybody.
RICE’S FORMULA
In a stunning upset loss to Rice, Houston fell in an early 28-0 hole before storming back to force in overtime. So what happened that led to such a surprising deficit? For one, the Owls scored touchdowns on their first four possessions thanks to J.T. Daniels. Yes the West Virginia transfer is at Rice and had a career day with 401 passing yards and three touchdowns.
Defensively Rice was able to sack Smith three times and pick him off which led to Rice’s second touchdown. Smith was a problem for the Owls when he used his legs, but Smith only completed 57% of his pass attempts. This seems like a game that could be decided by TCU’s defensive line.
If the Horned Frogs are able to get after him, Smith’s efficiency will drop drastically. If Chandler Morris can avoid turnovers then the Houston secondary can also be attacked. This is a winnable game for the Horned Frogs, but Houston won’t give it away, TCU will have to take it.

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