It's no secret that the back half of the TCU defense has been hit hard with the injury bug, leaving the linebacker and secondary units depleted of size and experience. With safeties playing in the middle, walk-ons playing in the back, and freshmen learning on the fly, results have been mixed, to say the least. Where this has been most visible through the first half of the season is in the most basic part of defense: tackling.
First, let's learn what a good tackle is supposed to look like:
Now, let's see what's going wrong for the Frogs:
There was a lot of that against Texas Tech; a combination of well-designed plays and poor tackling once they were executed. In the above sequence, the pass is thrown behind the line of scrimmage, and five Frogs immediately diagnose the play.
Tech does a pretty good job of blocking the play, sealing off three of the defenders. Herein lies problem number one - the young Frogs struggle to shed blocks. Part of that is due to their lack of size, sure, but part is poor technique as well.
Even at this point, TCU has three free runners at the ball.
Denzel Johnson and Nick Orr both get blocked to the turf, and Derrick Kindred makes the mistake of diving at the receiver's feet - something that never works against a shifty, fast guy like Devin Lauderdale. The pass goes for 61 yards and the Red Raiders are in business in the red zone.
Safety Michael Downing has a shot to bring Lauderdale down around the 35, but takes a terrible angle on the play. Look at the plane of his shoulders and his angle to the sideline - giving up speed as it is, he has no chance without taking a better angle on the play.
It's not just the big passing plays that have hurt TCU on defense though, it's what has become of the normally stout run defense that might be the biggest problem. Last year, the Frogs allowed just over 100 yards on the ground to opponents per game; in 2015 that number has sky-rocketed to nearly 175. In fact, the Frogs have allowed only 200 yards less in their first seven games than they did in 13 last season. The Frogs had a staggering 112 tackles for loss a season ago; they are on pace for only 76 in 2015. And while it's hard to find stats for yards after contact, even the most partial of observers can see that the defense has regressed in that area as well. Let's look at another play from the Texas Tech game, this one a long run by De'Andre Washington.
On closer inspection, Washington hits the hole, with three Frogs in good position to stop him at, or near, the line of scrimmage:
Sophomore Bryson Henderson (#92) has the best opportunity, and gets his body on the running back:
But Washington is able to wiggle out of the high hold, as Henderson doesn't wrap up and drive him to the ground.
Just for torture's sake, let's take a look at one more play. This one from Kansas State, who ran over, through, and by TCU to the tune of 228 yards and an 18 point half time lead.
Kansas State running back Charles Jones had himself a day, including this touchdown run in the second quarter:
Jones ran untouched through a massive hole created by the Cats at the line of scrimmage, but TCU had converged on him by the time he hit the second level.
But, once again, the defender dove at the player's legs, and whiffed as Jones ran right through the arm tackle.
One last Frog had a chance to stop him short of the goal line, but diving at the player's hips as he's moving full speed doesn't quite work out either.
I never played tackle football (undefeated for four years in flag football at TCU, that counts for something, right?), but you don't have to have on the field experience to understand that the technique is bad and the follow through is poor for the TCU defense right now. When you are already playing with half a deck on that side of the ball, not finishing the play at the point of initial contact could be a death knell for the Frogs against high-flying offenses like the Cowboys, Sooners, and Bears - not to mention WVU and the suddenly kind-of-competent Jayhawks. TCU already has upwards of 50 missed tackles this season, and if that average doesn't start trending downward - and fast - the miracle finishes may start to fall short.