During his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Gary Patterson mentioned that TCU running back Kyle Hicks is practicing this week, and is expected to play Saturday against West Virginia.
Kyle Hicks could be back this week for TCU. Gary Patterson says he "hopes so." He practiced Monday. Have to "be smart" in how they proceed.— David Ubben (@davidubben) October 3, 2017
This raises an interesting question: how will the Frogs split carries in the backfield? It’s a good problem to have, no doubt, but with a mending Kyle Hicks and an emerging Darius Anderson (not to mention a powerful, angry runner in Sewo Olonilua), the question is now facing TCU’s coaching staff.
As Hicks works his way back, expect Anderson to get the most work
Patterson noted on Tuesday that Hicks wouldn’t be getting 20+ carries on Saturday, as he needs to ease back into things, and that makes sense. It would be foolish to push Hicks that much so quickly, especially when Anderson has shown he’s more than capable in a feature role. However, it’s difficult to keep a talent like Hicks on the sideline, even if he’s slightly banged up, so it’s hard to see him getting any fewer than 10-15 touches on Saturday.
I expect to see something similar to the workload Hicks got against Arkansas, when TCU ran the ball a total of 42 times. After missing the Jackson State game to avoid causing further damage to an existing injury, Hicks had 12 carries against the Razorbacks, going for 44 yards and a touchdown. That compared to 15 carries for Anderson, and two for Sewo (Kenny Hill ran the ball 11 times as well).
Against a Mountaineer defense that allowed 367 rushing yards to Kansas two weeks ago, the opportunities should be plentiful for the entire running back corps, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Anderson finish with the most carries of any TCU back.
As Hicks gets healthier, though, he’s going to command more time on the field.
In the first half against SMU, before exiting again with an injury, Hicks carried the ball 11 times for 84 yards, compared to seven carries for 37 yards for Anderson, and one carry for Olonilua. Anderson finished the game with 14 carries, to nine for Olonilua. Kenedy Snell also ran it seven times, while Hill carried the ball five times.
There’s no doubt that the backfield is going to be a timeshare with Hicks fully healthy, and if the SMU game is any suggestion, Hicks could very well be the “lead” back once again. Of course, that was prior to Anderson’s 26-carry, 160 yard and three touchdown day against Oklahoma State. What’s more impressive, is that Anderson answered questions about his ability to catch passes out of the backfield, an area of the game where Hicks has excelled.
All four backs are capable of catching passes out of the backfield
While there have been excellent duos and trios in the TCU backfield before, this might be the most versatile bunch we’ve seen. All four backs: Hicks, Anderson, Olonilua, and Snell, have caught passes coming out of the backfield this season, adding a consistent extra dimension to TCU’s offense. Regardless of which back is on the field, opposing defenses have to be concerned about their pass-catching ability.
While Snell has mostly lined up at receiver when he’s on the field, the trio of Anderson, Hicks, and Olonilua have combined for 12 receptions and 95 yards out of the backfield this season, and each has had a multi-reception game (Hicks vs. Arkansas, Anderson/Olonilua vs. Oklahoma State).
Ultimately, it’s a good problem to have
Like I said above, this is a good problem for TCU to have. A wealth of talent in the backfield only makes an offense stronger, and as Curtis Luper and Sonny Cumbie gameplan, they’ll be putting the ball in the hands of a playmaker regardless of which back is getting the touches.