TCU coach Gary Patterson’s depth chart left fans and reporters alike perplexed when they tried to glean hints about whether Casey Pachall or Trevone Boykin prevailed in the Horned Frogs’ quarterback battle.
Between the signal-callers’ names was the dreaded two-letter word: or.
Apparently the six-month duel stretching back to spring practice and more than a month of preseason workouts weren’t enough to sort out the matter. If the saga yielded more confusion than clarity, Patterson cared little if his two-deep made it worse ahead of the No. 20 Horned Frogs’ matchup with No. 12 LSU at 8 p.m. Saturday in Arlington, Texas.
“That’s what it was for,” the coach said Tuesday.
LSU reiterated a similar message this week: TCU’s tactic is hardly pivotal in preparing to face a spread offense that sputtered at times last season in its inaugural trip through the Big 12.
“It’s the same offense; it just might be a different skill set,” coach Les Miles said Monday. “(Pachall and Boykin) can both pass, but (it’s) maybe just a little bit different view of some of the things that they do — that’s all.”
If any program is familiar with the nuances and neuroses of a battle between a pocket passer and mobile quarterback, it’s LSU. The names of Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee are all fans need to hear to understand the situation unfolding in Fort Worth.
Yet Patterson is adamant that the situation isn’t a traditional quarterback controversy.
“The difference with me and other guys that haven’t picked a quarterback is, they’re trying to find out who is going to be their starting quarterback,” he said. “I feel like we have two guys here that can win ballgames.”
And if Patterson doesn’t intend to reveal his choice, he’s even less inclined to lay out the logic of how he will choose which is operating the Horned Frogs’ offense.
“We won’t do a rotation, but both will play,” he said. “How that will happen kind of be (kept) behind closed doors.”
Last season, Pachall led TCU to a 4-0 start before Patterson suspended him indefinitely following an October 2012 arrest for driving under the influence; his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. He left the program a week later to enter drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
In stepped Boykin to lead the Horned Frogs to a 3-6 mark as he passed for 2,054 yards and 15 touchdowns with a 57.5 completion percentage. The record’s not impressive, but two of those wins came at West Virginia and Texas.
Pachall returned to the fold in January and is 15-2 as a starter, but what about the after-effects of nearly a year away from live action? Boykin rushed for 417 yards and is a viable ground threat, but can he be more consistent after completing only 54.6 percent of his throws and tossing 10 interceptions in losses?
Truthfully, the answer matters little to LSU.
“We’re not really concerned with who’s at quarterback,” defensive tackle Ego Ferguson said. “We’re concerned with formations and the plays they run. Their offense is a spread with a lot of zone read. They base it off trying to get people in open space and in one-on-one matchups.”
Pachall would be the logical choice to start, considering the strides he made toward being more efficient to start the 2012 season: 948 yards, 10 touchdowns and an interception before his arrest. Patterson said the quarterback “has really improved from the spring game, where he was a little bit rusty.”
Still, there’s a difference between facing your own defense in a non-contact jersey and guiding a drive with 80,000 fans bellowing and cheers ringing around your helmet.
“A guy like that who hasn’t played a full season might get anxious back there and try to force some plays,” LSU linebacker Lamin Barrow said. “Knowing he’s coming back after a year, we’ll just try to intimidate him like any other quarterback. We’re going to do what we need to do, but we’re going to get after him.”
Patterson offered the same sentiment, saying Pachall and Boykin can run “95 percent” of the same concepts before adding “the key is the other 5 percent.”
That sliver of the playbook is TCU’s read-option game operated by Boykin: The quarterback reads the action of an unblocked defensive end, deciding whether to hand off if the defender sits back or run if he crashes into the backfield.
“It changes your responsibilities and your keys a little bit,” Barrow said. “You’ve got to be sound in your technique and focused. A lot of times in those read option (situations), there’s a lot of different people coming across your face. You’ve got to know, ‘I can’t run out of the box with this guy.’ ”
An outside zone read is really just a stretch play to get a running back to the edge while also setting up a power run where the backside guard can pull to serve as a lead blocker. Next comes play action or Boykin simply pivoting and throwing a bubble screen into the flat.
“You’ve got to slim down a little bit to run out there and get to those passes and those screens,” LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson said. “Honestly, you’ve got to be able to run and make plays in the backfield when you have the chance to.”
The biggest factor is plugging gaps by attacking upfield with interior tackles, and the defensive ends have to show patience on the outside. The first task shouldn’t require LSU to deviate too far from its typical mentality, Ferguson said.
“They try to make a lot of that soft and make you play timid,” Ferguson said. “We just have to keep attacking the line every play.”
At the second level, outside linebackers Barrow or Tahj Jones have to be sound in scrape exchanges or bolting toward the edge vacated by the defensive end crashing down onto the running back. A speed-laden defense can handle this task, and the fact that defensive coordinator John Chavis leans toward speed over size in his linebackers is a potential boon. Discipline, though, is the key.
“It puts a lot of pressure on your outside ’backers,” Barrow said. “We’re the guys that have to keep things contained, and you may have to scrape sometimes or you may have to fill sometimes.”
The Tigers’ ultimate policy is not situation-dependent. That much is clear.
“We’re going to rattle them,” defensive end Jermauria Rasco said. “No matter which one is in there.”