Season openers can be defined as “the first game of the season.” They can also be defined as “the day all offseason expectations go out the window.”
Such was the case with TCU’s season opener against South Dakota State on Saturday, which ended in a way no one expected -- a 59-41 win for the Frogs. During the offseason, expectations for TCU were basically summed up like this:
Offense = young and shaky, will be not so good
Defense = experienced and deadly, will be super good
But in the words of Willy Wonka (RIP Gene Wilder), “Strike that. Reverse it.”
When the game started, the only thing anyone cared about was the new quarterback and offense. Kenny Hill’s first pass? A completion to wide receiver KaVontae Turpin.
It was BAM BAM BAM from there. In a quick 10 plays, the Frogs made it to the end zone with running back Kyle Hicks scoring the first touchdown of the season.
Then suddenly, everything changed. Hill threw two interceptions, the defense struggled to get a stop and SDSU took a 17-7 lead in the second quarter.
Turpin brought a short-lived change of momentum for the Frogs toward the end of the half, with his 81-yard punt return touchdown cutting SDSU's lead 17-14. A fumble followed in the Jackrabbit's following drive and the Frogs capitalized, ending their next drive with a touchdown to take the lead 21-17. Oh, guess who scored that one? Kenny Hill.
The fun quickly ended when SDSU scored yet another touchdown to retake the lead, 24-21.
At the end of the first half, TCU's new kicker Ryan Graf kicked a 32-yard field goal to tie the score -- a nerve-wracking doink into the uprights.
The second half opened on a good note, as Hill delivered a big pass to receiver Jaelen Austin for another touchdown, giving the lead back to the Frogs, 31-24. Aaaand then SDSU answered with another touchdown to tie it up once again.
Though the Frogs would score two more touchdowns to take a 45-31 lead, the Jackrabbits would keep crawling back. SDSU quarterback Taryn Christion and wide receiver Jake Weineke were in perfect sync for most of the night. With about 12 minutes left in the game, the Jackrabbits trailed just four points, 45-41.
Then in an almost-reenactment of last year’s TCU-Texas Tech game, Hill’s pass bounced off wide receiver Desmon White’s fingers and into the hands of receiver Taj Williams, who took it home for the touchdown. Hill would later rush for another touchdown to give TCU some cushion, and the Frog would close the game with a win.
So what’s the verdict on the team after Game 1? Here are five takeaways from the game.
1. "Remember who you are..."
Remember, the Frogs are a young team. There may be a few hints of Trevone Boykin here or a glimpse of Josh Doctson there, but in the end, the players on this team are not the star players of last year's team. The spark of hope, however, is the fact that this year's players are, at the very least, looking like they have the capacity to reach star player caliber.
2. Kenny Hill is just...he’s just great.
Hill looks incredibly comfortable with the Frogs' offense. He can scramble, he's got a cannon for an arm -- he certainly shows flashes of Trevone Boykin-esque skills. The two interceptions in the first half were a killer, but Hill made up for it finishing with 439 passing yards and 45 rushing yards, plus three touchdowns scored with his own legs.
3. The rest of offense looks pretty good, too.
Williams, Turpin and Hicks had a solid night. TCU seems fairly strong on skill positions, although it would be great to see other receivers like Ty Slanina and Emanuel Porter make more plays.
4. The defense is concerning.
Most people weren't expecting SDSU to score more than a touchdown, and even fewer people expected the Jackrabbits to take the lead over the Frogs. TCU's defensive backs, generally shorter in stature, struggled to stop taller receivers like SDSU's 6-foot-4 Weineke. The Frogs have worked through size issues on defense in the past. Maybe the defense just needs more time to warm up.
5. The future is foggy.
It's scary, really. As much as TCU has good stuff going for the most part, a tough game against an FCS school isn't going to sit well with the playoff committee. But perhaps the playoffs isn’t necessarily a priority for the Frogs this year? Who even knows. It's still early, though. Maybe it'll take the Frogs a couple games to find their full swagger.