I don't think I've ever seen Gary Patterson this happy on the sidelines before; at least not at this point in the season. Despite his players dropping off like freshmen pre-Meds, Patterson has looked jubilant on the sideline to say the least. Perhaps because it's vintage Gary; the Gary who emphasized speed after beating a Tech team that no one thought he could; the Gary who barked back at ESPN subtext with "we'll see". Despite all the injuries on the defensive side of the ball, players like Travin Howard and Montrel Wilson have given Patterson - and the fans - plenty of reason to be excited as we inch into Week 3.
Starting with the good, my breakout player straight broke out. Denzel Johnson was absolutely brilliant on Saturday: collecting 4 solo tackles, and, most notably, running back an interception for a touchdown. Johnson's speed was the entry point, but his football instinct and overall athleticism he showed Saturday were indicative of just how important he's going to be for the 2015 campaign--especially when TCU plays air raid teams like Oklahoma (still weird to say), Oklahoma State, West Virginia, and Baylor's hybrid system.
The loss of Kenny Iloka stings, but I woke up this morning with a high sense of optimism. Maybe it's because I watched The Thin Red Line (not an optimistic movie, btw) before bed, and thus dreams of World War II ran through my head. Gary's defense feels like war: the "Next Man Up" mentality is something that appears to be working, especially in a year where his defense is so fast. Also, like The Thin Red Line (which has just about every important actor from the last 25 years in it) at least ones who came on the scene before the millennium--and was supposed to about Adrien Brody, but was later recut to be focused around Jim Caviezel. Gary, in 2015, is Terrence Mallacking this team. No one's quite sure what the finished product will look like by season's end, but they, and myself, are keeping the faith that it will transpire favorably.
I'd obviously take not having injuries over having them, but Gary continues to instill faith. The weak safety position (WS) worries me, and whether it's walk-on Michael Downing or if Gary calls upon DeShawn Raymond or Arico Evans, it's the biggest cause for concern for the defense right now. However, it has yet to bother me because every week Gary's defense does something to excite me. Whether it's forcing Zach Conque to throw for 9 yards on 11 completions, or simply just the speed at which the defensive line is operating; my faith in the system is what keeps my hopes moving for another shot at the Big 12 title, among other, greater, ambitions. Again, I'd rather have Iloka and use Downing as a backup, but when the problems are more micro, that's when I feel much better about the macro, and the WS is the only thing I'm actually worried about this moment in time.
Trevone Boykin is still throwing a little high on some balls, but his intelligence and patience is on another level from what it was last year. These overthrows are also going to Shaun Nixon, who, though he is the same height as Deante' Gray--one of Boykin's most interesting, and effective targets last year-- he only played his second career game on Saturday. Even though it was SFA, the game proved that if you have a weak secondary, or even a slow secondary, Boykin and Kolby Listenbee are going to straight up burn you. As the season moves along, Boykin will start to hit those throws he's been missing. And even if he throws 5 touchdowns a game, it's controlling the game, along with Joey Hunt, that'll prove much more valuable than sexy statistics.
Random note: 10 touchdowns by 9 different players is encouraging to say the least, garbage-time ones included.
I don't think any other player, on offense or defense, impressed as much as KaVontae Turpin. The freshman dazzled not only on his punt returns, but as well with his Reggie Bush-esque moves on his receptions. I can't believe this sentence will make me feel old but here it goes; students, you now have your Jeremy Kerley.
So I implore you, get that chant going: KaVon-tae Tur-pin (clap clap clapclapclap).
The Mustangs are nearly a 180 from where they were a year ago. The defense still needs plenty of work, sure, but Morris' squad is scoring. They hung with Baylor in the first half (then again, so did FCS Lamar) over Labor Day weekend, and they looked even better this past weekend against North Texas. Morris doesn't strike me--like most offensive minds--as one to over-prepare for one game, but this year's Iron Skillet is the first one I can remember that will actually feel like the rivalry game that the Iron Skillet is supposed to be.
Iron Man: Chad Morris is the only person who can save the TCU-SMU Rivalry. He also may be the last.
A year ago, I wrote how the (then) current state of SMU football was detrimental to TCU's football success. Some were fans of the piece, others not so much, and even now as we're still on the tip of the iceberg of the playoff era in College Football, the argument I presented is still quite valid. While in 2015, the SMU game won't help, and can really only hurt TCU; however by 2020, or even sooner, it could be an entirely different conversation.
June Jones, dressing like he was either going to the party from Weekend at Bernie's or like he was one of Ben Mendelsohn's low-rent gangster friends in Bloodline, was nearly the nail in the coffin for the Iron Skillet. But now, the Skillet is starting to get a warm again thanks to Texan and former Clemson OC, Chad Morris. The former Lake Travis coach was what now-current Westlake Head Coach Todd Dodge tried to be: a successful high school coach, turned offensive guru, at the next level. Morris is now following the narrative of Art Briles--at least on the field. Morris battled the former high-school-savant-turned-college-savant three Fridays ago, and for the first half, gave him a run for his money. Granted, first games are always a bit shaky, but even though the game was in University Park, Baylor fans essentially made it a home game, not to mention Gerald J. Ford has never been a difficult place to play since it broke ground in 1999. But the stadium named after the oil tycoon from Pampa, and not the ambient President who succeeded Nixon, was a quiet beginning for something that could possibly be huge in five or so years.
I don't like SMU. I don't have to like SMU. And I shouldn't like SMU. They're still a semi-longshot from joining a P5 league, but money and Morris can change that. The stadium, which unlike their dominant reign in the 1980s where they played at Texas Stadium in Irving, is in the heart of their campus, which means it's in the heart of Dallas. In the world of super-stadiums that are built miles from the the city's actual heart, a stadium like Gerald J. Ford in a city like Dallas makes SMU a very attractive team to join the Big Boy ranks. This doesn't come without cutting your teeth, and that's where Morris will have to have a little Patterson in him; never taking the easy route to glory.
For the Ponies on Saturday, it all starts with quarterback Matt Davis. As Patterson said earlier this week, the former Texas A&M player reminds him of Trevone Boykin. He can kill you through the air--in accuracy more so than in yardage--and on the ground, as he leads the team in rushing with 240 yards, including a 50-yard TD run he had against North Texas.
This will be TCU's biggest defensive test to date. Hopefully with Davion Pierson back, the defensive line will continue to be the fastest I've seen at TCU in a long time. Pressuring the quarterback like they have the past two weeks, especially Terrell Lathan, will help ease the awkward transition at WS (there were a few times last Saturday where Downing looked so stranded and lost he was a step away from befriending a volleyball and writing "SOS" with stones on the natural grass of Amon G. Carter). Davis, and his fantastic weapons in Courtland Sutton and Xavier Jones will push the Frog defense to its core. And not unlike how Baker Mayfield changed the pace of Saturday's game at Knoxville with his feet, Davis could have a similar effect and thus test TCU's linebackers, among others. Though he's not a linebacker, if Denzel Johnson is player I think he is, Saturday is the perfect day to showcase that. "See the ball, get the ball." he said in his post-SFA interview. They'll need that boost Saturday night.
This is where the Meacham-Cumbie duo really pays dividends. With the Air Raid, or at least some version of it, becoming a Texas staple like dysentery-free Blue Bell or Whataburger, TCU sees this offense every day in practice. It's what they cut their teeth on, and nothing should be a surprise on Saturday night except for SMU's foundation for a legitimate rebuild.
Prediction: TCU 56, SMU 27
The paradox is that on Saturday, while SMU is fighting in the first half, I'll be a nervous wreck longing for June Jones' terrible run-and-shoot. But when the dust settles on Sunday, I will, like right now, be thankful Chad Morris is in Dallas. Don't confuse my admiration for friendliness. There's still a handful of things I'd rather do than hang around SMU undergraduates, who are every bit of everything the caricatures of them suggest. It'll take half a decade, and possibly even a New Years 6 Bowl appearance, before the Big 12 gives SMU a second look. Of course, this is assuming the Big 12 still exists or it's not a desperate bid to keep the conference alive. Regardless, it's still very much an uphill battle for the Ponies. They have strong enough academia, and now they have what's seemingly become the single most important factor in Texas' collegiate landscape*: a great football coach in Chad Morris. (*unless you're Rice)
SMU has loved playing spoiler for TCU this millennium. In 15 years, SMU's only won twice: in 2005, the week after the Frogs' monumental win against Oklahoma, and in 2011, a game which seemed like a scrimmage and pretty much summed up the Pachall era. The Ponies get their chance to do it again Saturday night in the Carter. Much to the Ponies' chagrin, they're really playing vintage TCU. A defense with a chip on its shoulders; hearing the negativity off the field, despite putting together some of the most exciting schemes I can remember seeing from Patterson. This, plus TCU having the ability to fight fire with more fire--like if a crack lighter met a blowtorch--should be enough to wear down SMU's troublesome defense and get a big win.
As someone who wanted to kick this rivalry to the curb on trash collection day a year ago, Morris has completely changed the narrative. It'll be a slow burn, but the Iron Skillet is starting to warm-up again. Yep, I made that pun twice.
Commence the cocaine jokes, hate week is here. CJK5H.