Melissa, Mason, and Chris sat down to talk about the first half of the football season and make their predictions for the second stanza of the season.
The expectations for TCU were high this offseason, despite all the changes that took place on the offensive depth chart. Had there been no preseason rankings, would you look back at the first half of the season and say this team has over-achieved, under-achieved, or properly achieved?
Melissa: Knowing what we know now, to me it feels like this team has properly achieved. Kenny Hill has been about as advertised, showing flashes of brilliance marred by moments of insanity. But he’s proven good enough to win games. The defense looks like the young, undersized group that we knew it was, but has looked shockingly inexperienced when you consider how many snaps a lot of the young players got a year ago. In August, if you had told me that we would be 4-2 at the halfway point, I would probably have been disappointed. But having watched us play for a month and a half, I do feel we are coming close to meeting our talent - winning games we should, however ugly, but not quite good enough to beat teams that are more experienced.
Mason: Well considering that we lost two of the best players in school history to the NFL, it’s only natural that we have to take a step back (sorry TCU we aren’t quite at the point where we “reload” not rebuild). While our offense has been great in about half of the quarters this season, our defense was supposed to be what we hung our hat on this season, especially the secondary. Sadly, the secondary has brought us more headaches than we thought they would. Had we not used our third string kicker I still think we would’ve beaten Arkansas, so in my mind this team easily could be 5-1 had that minor injury to Song never happened. That’s about how I thought we would be at this point, but Texas Closegame University has a way of tearing your heart out. Bottom line: defense underachieving, offense: balances out
Chris: I would also say that we have properly achieved. Both losses have come in close games to good teams and we’ve beaten the teams we’re supposed to beat even though it hasn’t been pretty. The kicking has been a little concerning and the defense has had a tough time with so many players coming back from season-long injuries, but they have done enough to keep us in every game. Aside from dropped passes, the offense has played well except for last weekend.
Kenny Hill has been statistically marvelous, racking up yardage through the air with relative ease. But there is still a strong undercurrent of distrust amongst TCU fans, especially after his turnover-filled near-disaster at Kansas. What are your opinions of Hill at the halfway point?
Melissa: Kenny Hill has some work to do, but he’s not a bad QB. He’s not super accurate, doesn’t make his second read consistently, and he doesn’t have great pocket presence. I think that’s all true. I said it on the podcast a few weeks back, and I still believe it, Kenny Hill is Ryan Tannehill. Good enough to win games, can make plays with his feet, but makes the wrong decision too often to allow fans to feel comfortable. But Tannehill is a millionaire in the NFL, so apparently that’s good enough. He is without question the best option to be playing quarterback for the Frogs, and I am not advocating for a change. I also feel he has the tools to improve, and his career trajectory could mirror Tre’s in the sense that there will be a big jump in year two. I remember how often Boykin threw the ball up for grabs with Doc on the other side, and it worked out because it was Doc. Hill doesn’t have a Doc, and that’s why he hasn’t had the same level of success that Deuce did.
Mason: I’m currently writing a pretty in depth piece on Kenny right now and what my thoughts are on him, so look forward to that in the near future. He’s capable of a crazy amount of production, that should not be questioned by anyone. That being said, he hasn’t come without any grievances. The biggest being he has been prone to making dumb decisions that result in totally avoidable picks (so was Trevone and every other QB not named Aaron Rodgers). In addition, he stares down his receivers at times, he occasionally misses wide open receivers, and while I am all for protecting the QB I know how good of an athlete he is so I wish he would take off running on a play that isn’t the option. I love Kenny to death, and I would hate to think what our QB position would look like if we didn’t have him...so let’s stay the course...he hasn’t lost us a game yet. (Also, TCU at one point this year lead the nation in dropped passes, so there is that).
Chris: I think Kenny (besides the Kansas game) has really been efficient. He can improve on his accuracy and decision-making to reduce the number of interceptions he throws. That being said he hasn’t had much time in the pocket due to the struggles of the O-line and there have been a lot of drops. Hill has done what he can to help us win and has kept us in games like Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Who is TCU’s #1 receiver, and who should it be? Or do they even need one?
Melissa: John Diarse is my favorite receiver since Turpin went out, as I see him as reliable, tough, and physical. If we need a big catch, it almost always seems to be him making it, and he has the big play ability to go along with being a possession-type guy. Taj Williams is probably the most talented player on the team, and I have a feeling we will see more of him in the second half. I also would like to see Slanina get more involved in the offense.
Mason: This is an interesting question, because there isn’t a clear cut answer like last year. In the red zone, I’d say that Kenny’s favorite target is Jaelan Austin (4 TD’s). However, Taj Williams leads the team in receiving yards and is tied for the team high 4 receiving TD’s. I would more say that TCU has receiver 1a and receiver 1b. With Taj Williams and John Diarse being a great duo this far into the season. With Taj you have a player that is very versatile and can hurt you with more than just the deep route (*cough throws shade at James Washington cough)* and is capable of winning down the field as well as going up and getting it. Whereas with Diarse you have a guy that may not have the speed of Williams, but makes up for it by being about 20 pounds heavier and harder to take down, sort of like a Dez Bryant Lite. While we have a treasure trove of receivers, I do think that it is nice having the guy that develops chemistry with the QB, that is the Ol reliable option for whoever is behind center on 3rd down.
Chris: I have two players that I believe should be the go-to guys. I have always been a fan of Ty Slanina and think he has the best hands on the team, so he would be my go-to when we need five yards or less. Taj Williams has proven he can get open in space and make big plays so he would be my go-to #1 when the Frogs need a big play or a first down.
Which defensive player needs to step up their game in the second half for the Frogs to make a run?
Melissa: If Josh Carraway and Ranthony Texada got back to playing the type of defense that we are accustomed to seeing from them, this defense would be much better. Carraway flashed his unbelievable talents in the fourth quarter of Kansas last week, but needs to do that more consistently. And we all know that Texada just hasn’t looked like the same player he was pre-injury.
Mason: Is it a cop out answer if I say all of them? Like I said earlier, our secondary has not lived up to expectations. Nick Orr has done what he can, but man I need to see our corners step up and cover better. I love Texada more than most people, especially at this point, but he’s got to learn how to run and keep up with receivers again like he did in 2014. I get that the recovery from an ACL tear is long, so I’m not throwing him under the bus right now, because I’m speaking to our entire cornerback rotation. The Big 12 is a passing league, and if you can’t lock down the pass, then we are going to be springing leaks and going down like the Titanic.
Chris: The secondary has to step up down the stretch. We still have to face some electric passing offenses against Tech, Baylor, and Oklahoma State. We can’t keep giving receivers so much space underneath, especially when we’re still getting burned deep. The secondary also needs to step up their tackling game. The only player exempt from this in my mind is Niko Small. He has stepped up this season and been a playmaker while not getting beat badly.
If you could have five minutes to talk to the OCs, what would you tell them?
Melissa: Run. The. Dang. Ball. Especially in the second half. Kyle Hicks is an unbelievable talent, and it feels like they forget about him. Trevorris Johnson has looked unstoppable the five times he’s gotten to run. And Hill is explosive out of the pocket, but he’s either been told not to run so much or has some kind of block to doing so currently. Look what happened when OU finally figured out how to run - they started against the Frogs and haven’t looked back, and their offense has been much better for it. The Sooners o-line isn’t anything special, and Hill can put up Baker-like numbers. Hicks and TJ aren’t Perine and Mixon, but they aren’t that far off. I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t have 40 designed runs a game. Plus, that will help the D. and lord knows they need it.
Mason: Walks in to Doug and Sonny’s office
Sees them playing NFL street 2
Grabs a controller and pounds a mike’s hard lemonade
Beats Doug on a last second 99 yard run, whilst jumping off the electric signs in the game
Turns to both of them and says,
“GIVE THE BALL TO KYLE HICKS MOAR, AND FEED TREVORRIS IN THE RED ZONE”
Drops controller and walks out, but then whispers, “Bring back the double reverse pass”
Chris: Let Kenny be Kenny. He’s been tentative running the ball and he needs to be allowed to take off more. Bring in some more read options with Hicks.
What is a realistic second half goal for this TCU team? How many games can this team win, how many should they win, and how many do you expect them to win?
Melissa: At this point, neither 6-0 or 0-6 would surprise me. My best guess is 2-2 the next four games, and wins against Texas and Kansas State. We will be toeing that bowl eligibility line though, and that’s a scary thought.
Mason: This team can go undefeated down the stretch, and in fact I believe that they could’ve gone undefeated all year, but I’ll hedge my bets and say we drop one more. Since we’ve only lost at home this season, I’m eying those Texas Tech and OSU games even more than I was before. WVU will be tough, but it should be a thriller regardless. They should win at least 4, but I expect them to win 5 or more.
Chris: If TCU plays like they are capable of playing, they can and should go undefeated the rest of the season. However, I expect them to have difficulty in Morgantown, which has always provided thrilling games, and to drop a close one. They should be able to light up Texas Tech at home and I expect them to come out firing at Baylor and end the Baylor Playoff dilemma with a Horned Frog victory in Waco. James Washington is explosive and might torch us again like last year. That might end up being a loss. We should then end the year with two comfortable wins, especially when we take our “lesser athletes” down to Austin.
Predictions: Final record, Bowl Game:
Melissa: 8-4, Houston Bowl
Mason: 9-3, Cotton Bowl
Chris: 8-4, Texas Bowl
Who wins the Big 12 Championship:
Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year:
Melissa: Patrick Mahomes
Mason: Patrick “Patty Melt” Mahomes/Samaje Perine (tie)
Chris: Patrick Mahomes
Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year:
Melissa: Malik Jefferson
Mason: Malik Jefferson
Chris: Ty Summers
Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year:
Melissa: KaVontae Turpin
Mason: Byron Pringle
Chris: LaQuvionte Gonzalez
Big 12 Newcomer of the Year:
Melissa: Kenny Hill
Mason: Taj Williams
Chris: Justice Hill/Kenny Hill (co-Newcomers)