The defense was unbelievable Saturday afternoon in Fayetteville, and the unit as a whole deserves a game ball for their dominating, physical performance on the road. But while it’s easy to single out some stars of the game, there are a few people that have some work to do before the Mustangs come into town. Let’s break it down.
UP: DARIUS ANDERSON
With the much-anticipated return of Kyle Hicks taking the bulk of the attention, sophomore Darius Anderson was kind of the forgotten man heading into Saturday’s game. Well, we are going to remember his name, now. Anderson was the go-to guy for the TCU offense in a slugfest of a ball game, putting the team on his back and converting opportunities time and time again. Darius, who is celebrating his birthday today, made a case that he is not just TCU’s best running back, but best offensive player, with 106 yards on 15 carries (7.1 yards per) and the game-clinching touchdown. TCU wisely leaned on the running game in the second half, and Anderson and company more than delivered. Hicks is sure to get better as he works his way back into game shape, but Anderson is doing his part to make sure he gets plenty of reps as well.
DOWN: TCU WIDE RECEIVERS
After a week in which the TCU WRs didn’t drop a pass, there were two very glaring ones in a game in which the unit as a whole wasn’t all that good. Cumbie and Luper had a pretty conservative game plan, relying on short passes in the slot and out routes to the sideline. When they did try and do something over the middle, the results weren’t all that great - Turpin couldn’t fight off an Arkansas defender for the lone Kenny Hill pick - thus we ended up with a lot of guys with low yard per catch averages. The group didn’t look fast or aggressive, getting blown off routes on multiple occasions, getting out-physical’ed by the Razorback defenders, and giving up on plays before they were over. Desmon White, who got the bulk off the snaps sent his way had a really bad drop in a big spot, and Jalen Reagor - who I, among others, have been very high on, had his welcome to big time football moment as he pulled up on a long post route, costing the Frogs a potential big gain, and dropping a pass in the end zone that he tried to make a one-handed catch on. Sure, Kenny Hill wasn’t great, but he didn’t get much help either, and the receiving corps will need to be much better as TCU heads into a stretch where they will face offenses that can put up a ton more points than Arky and will need to be far more competent on offense even with a D that looks stout.
UP: RIDWAN ISSAHAKU
I bow down to Jamie Plunkett, who was so right about Ridwan Issahaku. My pick to click, Innis Gaines, had a couple of huge plays as well, but Issahaku continues to be all over the place - in a good way - for a TCU defense that seems to have returned to their high heights. Ridwan’s stat line - eight tackles, a sack, and two tackles for loss - jumps off the page, but it seemed like he did even more based on his motor and overall activity level. He’s a really heady player that’s uber athletic, has the size and strength to make a difference in the run game, the speed to keep up with Big 12 wide receivers, and the hard-nosed attitude to take down QBs as a blitzer. We are going to hear this kid’s name a lot this season, and that’s a good thing.
DOWN: ADAM NUNEZ
WYD, Adam? My favorite player in 2016 is off to a difficult start this season, and Saturday was no different. He averaged just 30.7 yards per punt - Kenny Hill’s pooch punt went for 32, sigh - and his one coffin corner opportunity (a strength of his a year ago) went out of bounds at the 15. I haven’t heard of many punters experiencing a sophomore slump, but that appears to be the case for the Frogs’ iron-legged special teams ace; hopefully he kicks himself out of it before Big 12 play begins and TCU faces a slough of talented return men.
UP: TCU IN THE TRENCHES
The attitude of the dudes in the middle is incredible - these guys are big, nasty, and apparently in a state of being constantly pissed off. The offensive line looked as good as it has in several years (sans that WTF moment on the snap inside the red zone late when Patrick Morris grounded one for a huge turnover) - Kenny Hill was sacked once and hurried twice, and while he had to get out of trouble a few times, he was generally granted a clean pocket to operate from, and the run blocking was outstanding. The defensive line was awesome, stuffing a powerful Arkansas run game and keeping Razorback QB Austin Allen in a constant state of panic. Guys like Ben Banogu, Mat Boesen, and Corey Bethley have relentless motors and are a bear to contain for four quarters, while Ross Blacklock continues to be a force simply by being on the field. When Ty Summers is without a tackle - because he didn’t get a chance to make any - that’s either a really good or really bad sign, and Saturday, it was certainly the former. They will face their biggest test of the season in two weeks when it’s Mason Rudolph running around in front of them, and I can’t wait to see how they match up with him and the rest of the Cowboys.
DOWN: KENNY HILL
I really don’t want to put Hill in this spot... it’s not really fair for a lot of reasons. But, at the end of the day, Kenny Hill proved that he is the same guy from a year ago: when asked to play within himself, he can be really good, but when he needs to make a play, you’ve got a 50/50 shot of things going haywire. Hill’s pick can be attributed to Turp not fighting for the ball, but at the end of the day, he was late and off target. He got lucky to get a PI on a deep ball to John Diarse late - the pass was well off target and Arky probably had a better chance at it than Diarse. Kenny did have a few bright spots Saturday as well... he did a great job moving the pocket when necessary and showed some good decision making skills on a couple of QB runs/scrambles. But, a sub-60 WBR and no passing touchdowns doesn’t bode well for the future (even though the SMU defense is not comparable to what he faced in Fayetteville). Ultimately, if Gary Patterson makes the call to play the way the TCU offense did down the stretch - conservative passes, heavy doses of the run game, and slowing the tempo down a touch even as the Frogs continue to operate out of the no-huddle, relying on a brick wall of a defense, Hill can be very successful. But, when it comes to the high flying offenses next on the schedule, will that be enough? Guess we will find out.