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2017 TCU Football Preview: New Offensive Coordinator, New Mojo?

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Can Sonny Cumbie inject some new swagger into an inconsistent offense?

TCU vs Georgia in the 2016 Liberty Bowl
TCU vs Georgia in the 2016 Liberty Bowl
Melissa Triebwasser

Something was wrong with TCU’s offense in 2016, and everybody knew it. After two phenomenal years, years that saw Trevone Boykin, Josh Doctson, and Aaron Green lead the way for one of the best offenses in the country, something was different about TCU’s offense.

Just take a look at the numbers:

TCU Offense Comparison - 2015 & 2016

Year Total Offense (NCAA rank) Passing Offense (NCAA rank) Rusing Offense (NCAA rank) Scoring Offense (NCAA rank)
Year Total Offense (NCAA rank) Passing Offense (NCAA rank) Rusing Offense (NCAA rank) Scoring Offense (NCAA rank)
2015 562.8 (3rd) 347.5 (8th) 215.4 (24th) 42.1 (7th)
2016 463.2 (29th) 268.2 (29th) 195 (46th) 31.0 (52nd)

People speculated like crazy: It’s Kenny Hill’s fault. They aren’t running the ball enough. Why are they using those formations in those situations? Seriously, why aren’t they running the ball? What’s up with these play calls?

It was becoming apparent to TCU fans that something about the offense needed to be fixed, and the coaches noticed it too. Doug Meacham left the staff, taking the offensive coordinator job at Kansas, while Patterson promoted Sonny Cumbie and Curtis Luper to co-Offensive Coordinators.

While Cumbie’s title didn’t change, his role certainly has. He’s now the “lead” offensive coordinator and the playcaller, in addition to his duties as quarterbacks coach. From everything coming out of camp this August, it sounds like Cumbie is ensuring the Frogs offense won’t be as easy to stop in 2017.

According to Patterson, Cumbie and the offensive staff have gotten pretty creative when it comes to making changes to the playbook, and the head coach appreciates that teams won’t be able to “tee off” on the Frogs anymore.

Of course, when it comes to the passing game, there’s only so much Cumbie, or any other coach, will be able to do once the Frogs step on the field. The facts still remain the facts:

Kenny Hill led the Big 12 with 13 interceptions, and TCU receivers led the country with 38 dropped passes. And thus, the passing game suffered greatly.

Add to that the fact that Kyle Hicks, arguably TCU’s most dynamic offensive player (yes, KaVontae Turpin may have something to say about that), averaged just 15.6 carries per game, and fewer than 20 touches per game, and it’s understandable why TCU’s offense sputtered often in 2016.

The QB Situation - Kenny Hill’s senior campaign

But in 2017, that all should change. Despite the struggles last season, Kenny Hill completed more than 61% of his passes, good for fourth in the Big 12, and all reports out of camp are that he’s dramatically improved in the offseason.

There’s no doubt that he was pushed a bit by true freshman Shawn Robinson, who entered spring ball and almost immediately vaulted to No. 2 on the depth chart. While there were questions over the summer about whether or not Robinson would eventually take the top spot, Hill stepped up and has solidified himself as the starter.

Now, Hill has one more season to prove to all the doubters that he has what it takes to be an elite quarterback at this level. Patterson suggested last week that Hill tried to be perfect in 2016, and that often caused him to make mistakes that could have been avoided.

It seems, though, like if Hill can just play pitch and catch with his receivers, TCU’s offense will start to click like it did in 2014 and 2015. I’d say more here, but Mason is rolling out an in-depth love-fest of Kenny Hill in just a few hours, so you should read it when it comes out.

A bolstered WR corps is ready to roll

TCU’s receivers have also received an injection of health and youth, both of which should improve this corps in 2017. The fully healthy KaVontae Turpin adds an undeniable dynamic to the receivers that was lacking in 2016, and the return of Shaun Nixon, who missed the entire 2016 season with an injury, adds a similar dynamic. Meanwhile, John Diarse and Taj Williams have another offseason under their belt to get more familiar with Kenny Hill.

Let’s not forget senior Ty Slanina, either, who battled through injuries for the majority of 2016, but is healthy and ready for the upcoming season. Adding a healthy Slanina, Turpin, and Nixon to this receiving corps is almost like getting three new players to bolster the ranks.

Probably the most intriguing player in the receiving corps though, is true freshman Jalen Reagor. He’s currently listed alongside Jaelan Austin as the possible No. 1 Z receiver on the team. The speedster was a track star in high school, and one of the most dynamic receivers in the 2017 recruiting class.

Reagor adds a deep threat to TCU’s offense with his 5-11 size and blazing speed, something TCU desperately lacked in 2016. Frog fans will want to compare Reagor to former Frog speedster Kolby Listenbee, but there are a few key differences.

While Reagor’s speed is certainly on par with Listenbee’s, he’s a more accomplished route runner, and thus, is probably more versatile as to where he can be placed on the field. That being said, he’s also a few inches shorter than Listenbee, whose unique combination of height and speed was a perfect pairing with Josh Doctson for several seasons.

#GiveKyleTheDamnBall

This hashtag should probably be amended in 2017, now that Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua seem ready to take some of the reps in the backfield alongside Kyle Hicks. So, maybe just a #RunTheDamnBall tag is more appropriate.

Patterson has hinted that TCU will run the ball a bit more in 2017, but insists that running it just for the sake of the running game won’t be a part of the offensive strategy. It makes sense, because if something isn’t working, it doesn’t make sense to keep doing it (as far as in-game adjustments go).

However, the trio of Hicks, Anderson, and Olonilua are a three-headed monster that has the potential to remind fans of the Ed Wesley, Waymon James, and Matthew Tucker trio that cranked out 270 yards/game on the ground in 2010.

Additionally, the promotion of running backs coach Curtis Luper to co-Offensive Coordinator sends the signal that Luper, a valued member of the staff and elite recruiter, likely has more say in game planning this year than in years past.

Ultimately, all signs are pointing to a greater commitment to the running game.

This, of course, can help relieve some of the pressure from Kenny Hill, and help TCU put Hill in situations where he has a high chance to succeed.

The Big Uglies

Arguably the biggest addition to TCU’s coaching staff this season was offensive line coach Chris Thomsen. Thomsen is known for being an incredible coach, and he gets to work with a starting line that includes four seniors and a stud sophomore. He’s been improving the depth along the line too, simply by coaching players up, and it sounds as if the offensive line is ready to protect Hill and open up big holes for the backs.

One interesting change to the line from last season, is the swap of Austin Schlottmann from center to left guard, while former left guard Patrick Morris is now the starting center. Both are extremely solid

New Mojo?

In 2014 the addition of Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie brought more than just a new playbook to the Horned Frogs, it brought a new swagger. That swagger was obvious and the offense overwhelmed opponents.

It seems as if the swagger is back, now that Cumbie is at the helm, and it signals that 2017 could be special for this offense.