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How do we begin to covet?: The why of TCU's 2014 offense

HawkeyedFrog puts his psychology degree (or at least interest in films) to work to analyze why Coach Patterson is making the change to an air raid based offense.

Hello Clarice.
Hello Clarice.
Tom Pennington

While TCU has been winning football games (since 1999, that is) the defense has been the only consistent unit on the team.  Gary Patterson's defense is, has been and always will be a base 4-2-5 with very few variations from how it was run when Franchione was the head coach.  The area that has really changed since the early days is the offense, where Fran ran an option-to-the-short-side heavy wishbone before transitioning into more of a pro set and later into a vanilla spread offense (which had delicious chocolate sauce on top during the Fuente years and not so much without him).  TCU managed to win at least 10 games and a conference title with each of those offenses, usually because the defense was so often otherworldly, but when TCU was going to BCS games and winning the MWC three years in a row the offense was a world beater as well, piloted by the aforementioned Justin Fuente who was one of the pioneers of the inverted veer play and an excellent and a very imaginative playcaller.  The results in two years without Fuente were fairly putrid, as Jarrett Anderson and Rusty Burns failed to exhibit fairly basic football knowledge (like you don't throw a bubble screen when a safety is playing the receiver tight), and as a result TCU seems to be moving their spread into a new direction based on the air raid.  Although trust in Patterson is a given, many of the Frog faithful have not been too excited about this change in anything more than a "At least it's not Anderson and Burns" sense, as TCU has been running the ball on everyone since the Fran days, and when you say "Air Raid" backs like Ed Wesley, Lonta Hobbs, Waymon James, Matthew Tucker and Ladainian Tomlinson aren't what comes to mind.  Whether that opinion of the Meacham/Cumbie Air Raid is justified will be addressed at length in later articles, but the big questions to most fans though is how did a defensive coach like Patterson get in into his head to make such a big change to the offensive identity, and what's the point of running an offense that so many other teams in the conference already run (to the point where we hire their offensive coordinators)?

That question brings us to the title of the article at hand.  No, the line in the header isn't supposed to be "How do we begin to convert?", which would be an article on how TCU was so awful on third down in 2013 and hopes to be better in 2014.  Instead it is a line adapted from Silence of the Lambs when Hannibal and Clarice are discussing why Buffalo Bill kills people.

"He covets.  That is his nature.  And how do we begin to covet, Clarice?  Do we seek out things to covet?  Make an effort to answer now."

"No.  We just..."

"No.  We begin by coveting what we see every day.  Don't you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice?  And don't your eyes seek out the things you want?"

Every Football coach in the world wants an offense that works well, of course, but the mental image of what that ideal offense is differs in every coach's mind.  Fans prefer an exciting offense of course, but I think fans of Georgia Tech's Triple Option (when it works well) are just as happy as fans of an uptempo Oregon spread or Stanford 9 offensive lineman MANBALL offense if it's putting up points consistently.  Patterson chose to go the more air raid-y path, which is almost a cliche in the Big 12 conference and left several in the FoW commentariat (myself certainly included) that TCU isn't taking things in a different direction to try and stand out from the other teams that we compete with so regularly for recruits.  However, thanks in part to Doctor Lecter I've come around a bit on the air raid offense for TCU, and I think I can explain why it makes sense for the Frogs going forward.

Nothing happens in a vacuum, which means while Patterson was watching the TCU offense lurch, sputter and suffer catastrophic self-inflicted wounds, much of the rest of the Big 12 was putting together another year of exciting and high flying offenses.  Offenses that would usually have one of their season's worst days against TCU, naturally, but when a team like Baylor is riding an air raid derivative to the conference title, Texas Tech has re-energized their fanbase with the return of the air raid and Oklahoma State had the conference won (before farting it away against the Sooners) with the air raid, that's the sort of thing that makes a man with no offense take notice.  I think there may have been a similar situation for the Frogs when we made the transition from the pro/spread hybrid to a running based spread under Fuente that was quite similar to what the Utah Utes and BYU cougars were running- Patterson believes that if an offense has been shown to work in a conference that his team can combine it with his omnipresent world class defense and have as much or more success than the other teams running that offense.  The fact that the Texas high school system has been seized by passing spreads so often of late is also a factor- offensive players (the ones that Patterson doesn't put 50 pounds on and slide to Defensive end) love knowing what their role in an offense is going to be, and running a similar offense to the ones players see at their schools is a great asset in that area- "you'll fit into our offense as well as you fit into your own, but our coaches will make you even better than that" is a powerful sell that Baylor and Tech have used to prime effect (how else would you get talented players to Waco and Lubbock without paying them, ala the SWC?).  Then there's the Houston effect, where the Cougars have churned out air raid disciples into head coaches and offensive coordinators all over the conference state, including Art Briles at Baylor, Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech, Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia, even Jason Phillips at SMU- it's a line of success that could easily put a coach in a mind to see if he can find the next gem there as well.  Put them all together and the choice of an offense to run and the coaches to run it makes a lot more sense- Patterson has likely been coveting an air raid style offense for a while now.  After all, it's what he sees every day.

. . .

And if it doesn't work out, I have a list of candidates who run a run heavy spread and shred attack.