Against Kansas State, Aaron Green broke off a 86-yard touchdown run the first time he touched the ball. Since then, he has 42 yards on 23 carries and just one touchdown, for a staggering 1.8 yards per carry. So, it begs the question, what exactly happened to Aaron Green and the TCU running game?
After TCU lost BJ Catalon for the season a year ago, Aaron Green became the Frog's feature back, and one of the best in the country at the position. But after averaging 7.1 yards a carry in 2014, Green is down to 5.7 this season; and that number is falling fast in October. The first thing to note is the most obvious: Green carried the ball 24 times as a freshman, 72 as a sophomore, 129 as a junior in 2014, and is already at 110 through seven games this year. He is on pace for 188 carries through the regular season, which would be by far the most touches of his career. Wear and tear is certainly an issue, and with TCU finally getting their first bye of the season, we may see fresh legs through the stretch run, making a difference.
Another issue is the lack of a consistent backup; Green was incredibly effective early in 2014 supporting Catalon, who was the lead back until his unfortunate injury. But this season, guys not named Green or Boykin have been relatively ineffective in the running game. Aaron's 110 rushes lead the team, with QB Boykin second at 77 attempts. Behind them are Trevorris Johnson, who has 177 yards on 30 attempts, mostly in garbage time, and Kyle Hicks with 137 yards on 24 attempts. No other back in the rotation has even double digit carries. This isn't a stark departure from 2014 post-Catalon, but when you figure he had almost 100 carries prior, there is certainly a marked difference.
After averaging over 200 yards per game last year, the Frogs are actually better in that area thus far in 2015 at over 226 per game. The 5.6 yards per carry is also an improvement, and the 18 touchdowns scored on the ground to this point is on pace to eclipse last year's 32. But with a back-loaded schedule that will feature the best defenses in the Big XII - OSU, OU, and Baylor litter the top half of most defensive categories in the conference, with BU and OSU cracking the top four rushing defenses- it will be interesting to see if they can maintain that pace.
Let's take a look at the TCU running game when things are humming:
Look at the size of the hole Green has once he takes the handoff from Trevone Boykin against K State. One cut, a step thru on a tackle attempt, and he's off to the races.
You see similar blocking against Texas, when Boykin runs the option play to perfection, pulling the ball out of the running back's waist at the last possible moment before slipping through a big hole on the weak side.
What about when things aren't working? Against Iowa State, where the running game never seemed to get off the ground, the o-line struggled to get a hold of their blocks and lost the battle at the line of scrimmage. On this toss play, Green breaks out laterally but the first line of blocks doesn't get set.
Green actually gets by the first defenders, but the receivers don't hold their blocks and he gets swarmed after a short gain.
Against WVU, Green had a solid game, with 67 yards on 15 attempts. For the fourth time this season, he was unable to find the end zone; in 2014, he scored in every game he started. Part of that can be contributed to the deadliness of the Frogs' passing game in the red zone; it's almost assumed at this point that Boykin is going to Doc on a fade once the field gets short, and nobody has yet been able to stop it. While Green's numbers were respectable, the rest of the running game was invisible - if you discount Trevorris Johnson's work (six carries, 52 yards) in garbage time, TCU running backs carried the ball 19 times for 91 yards. But... Boykin went 11 for 84 in addition to Green's solid game, and frankly, in the games that TCU's running game has seemed subpar, he's racked up those kinds of numbers.
The Frogs can run the ball; they have proven that this season and over the last several. They have a versatile and valuable guy in the backfield alongside one who just happens to be the best player in college football (come at me, LSU fans). They have a top-two wide receiver, a creative genius or two calling the plays, and a stable of playmakers that can do things on the ground and through the air. It's not that the Frogs can't run the ball; it's that to this point, they haven't had to rely on it that much. And the two times they really needed to - the second half against SMU and down the stretch in Lubbock - Aaron Green has absolutely put this team on his back and dominated the game on the ground. I have a feeling, as TCU enters the home stretch of the season and the meat of their schedule, we will see a lot more of AG, Kyle Hicks, and TJ as the team looks to keep their dreams alive.