TCU’s offense has been far more balanced in 2017 than it ever was in 2016, thanks largely in part to the recommitment to the run game by offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Curtis Luper.
Now, through six games, we’ve seen the fruits of Cumbie & Luper’s labor, as the offense has been vastly improved compared to a season ago. Here are the midseason grades for the offense. (Defensive grades are coming Tuesday, and special teams on Wednedsay).
Kenny Hill has been a revelation this season. You won’t find him in the Heisman conversation (and rightfully so), but it’s clear that he’s improved from 2016 to know. Sure, this is largely in part to some systemic changes to the offense, changes that have put him in a better position to find success, but at the end of the day he’s the one that still has to go out and execute.
Hill has done that tremendously, completing 69.8% of his passes on the season while passing for ten touchdowns and just three interceptions. Considering some of the drops his receivers have had this season, those numbers could be even higher. Add in the fact that he’s running effectively, and has an awesome touchdown reception on the season, and there’s no reason to keep Hill from having an A.
What keeps him from having an A+, though, is the fact that some of his old tendencies have flared up a bit, including rushing throws and not shifting his weight (i.e. throwing off his back foot). It’s been minimal this season, but those old ways have made brief appearances.
Of course, we can’t forget to mention Shawn Robinson, who has shown incredible composure for a freshman in limited time. On multiple occasions he’s been asked to come in after Hill has lost his helmet, and he’s been able to handle the offense well in those moments.
Running Backs: A+
This unit has been incredible, and they get the highest marks we can give. Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua have both run for six touchdowns already this season, while Anderson leads the team in both carries (79) and yards (470). Anderson’s dynamic play against Oklahoma State was his coming out party, but he’s been a little quieter in recent games, due to the return of Kyle Hicks to the rotation.
When featured, though, Anderson has a real ability to make people miss with the way he can cut. Add in the fact that he has breakaway speed, and his future is insanely bright.
Hicks isn’t completely healthy yet, but when he is, I’m of the opinion that he’s still the best running back on the team (not that it’s not close, because Anderson is right on his heels. It’s a 1a 1b situation). Not only is Hicks a strong runner, but he protects the football, gets yards after contact, and he can catch passes out of the backfield (he had five receptions for 50 yards against Kansas State). At this point in time, he’s also a better blocker than Anderson.
And the third head of the monster, Olonilua, has earned goal-line responsibilites in the WildFrog formation. He’s as strong as an ox, and has a little speed to boast about as well, making him the perfect red zone rushing threat.
All that to say, though, that the trio of Hicks, Anderson, and Olonilua should rightfully strike fear in the heart of opposing defenses for the remainder of the season. The three have combined for 163 carries, 884 yards, and 13 touchdowns. Here’s hoping they don’t slow down in the second half of the season.
Kenedy Snell has been quiet in recent weeks, but the true freshman sprinter has added another dynamic to the backfield as well.
Wide Receivers: B+
This unit seems to have a little more firepower than its 2016 counterpart. The addition of Jalen Reagor has seemingly lifted the abilities of the entire receiving corps, and his 15 catches for a team-leading 255 yards have revealed him to be a legitimate deep threat option for Kenny Hill. Reagor and Hill seemed to have an immediate rapport, and it has manifested in a great first half of the season.
Across from Reagor, John Diarse has been Hill’s go-to guy on third downs. Diarse has flashed probably the best hands of any receiver in the group, and his reliability makes him a big threat. Diarse’s role in year 2 in the offense seems more suited to his style of play: be physical with the defender close to the line of scrimmage, and use his big body to create space. He plays perfectly into Hill’s strengths in this way.
Smaller receivers KaVontae Turpin and Desmon White have the most and second-most receptions on the team, with 21 and 19 respectively, and they have proven to be massive headaches for opposing secondaries, while guys like Jalean Austin, Shaun Nixon, Kenedy Snell, and Dylan Thomas add depth to the rotation.
The reason for the B+, then? Drops. Drops have been another consistent issue for this group of receivers in 2017, and while the number of drops is down from a year ago, there are still at least two or three times a game that leave fans shaking their heads. Three or four dropped passes this season were sure touchdowns, touchdowns that would have put games out of reach much sooner than they actually were.
While drops are a part of the game, especially at the collegiate level, these guys need to start holding on to the ball a bit more.
Tight Ends: A
We rarely see the tight ends in this system, but in 2017, guys like Cole Hunt have shown up a bit more. Hunt has three receptions on the season, but he’s been in on many a goal line package, and Cumbie’s use of two TE sets has the Frogs relying on the tight ends to set edges in the running game, and pull attention away from receivers in play action.
While they’re limited because of the system, the tight ends have done their jobs well to this point, and that gets them an A.
Offensive Line: A
This is probably the most improved unit from a season ago. Bringing in Chris Thomsen to coach up this group has been a home run hire, and moving Patrick Morris to center while shifting Austin Schlottman to guard proved to be a brilliant move early on. The line has protected Hill well, and has run-blocked with a violence that seemed to be lacking the last few years.
Of course, Morris’ injury was a big loss for the Frogs, but hopefully he returns to action soon. The line has struggled the past two games with Morris out, so getting him back will be huge for this unit. The OL has also been hit with some penalties the past few weeks, killing several drives, and that’s what keeps them from an A+ here.