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TCU’s ground game is helping Kenny Hill

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Balance is key for a healthy offense, and the Frogs are the epitome of balance in 2017.

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve seen a different Kenny Hill in 2017, no doubt. He looks more composed, more mature, and more confident. It takes one glance at the numbers to know that something has changed from 2016 to now.

Kenny Hill Through Four Games

Category 2016 2017
Category 2016 2017
Completions-Attempts 119-180 85-117
Completion % 66.1% 72.6%
Yards 1,487 965
Touchdowns 6 9
Interceptions 4 3
Rushes 33 27
Yards 166 61
Touchdowns 3 0

If you’re just looking at yards, it may seem like Hill isn’t having nearly as good a season as he did through four games in 2016, but that’s simply not the case. He’s completing passes at a far higher rate, and he’s totaled more touchdowns and fewer interceptions.

There are several reasons for Hill’s improved play in 2017. First, he’s clearly a far more mature player than he was just a season ago. He’s making better reads, he’s far more accurate, and he’s playing within a tweaked offensive system that’s not asking him to be Superman.

The biggest issue Hill faced in 2016 was that he was constantly being asked to throw the ball downfield. This season, though, he’s being asked to make more short/intermediate throws: screens, slants, and outs. No more is Hill constantly throwing the ball 20+ yards downfield, where his accuracy starts to get shaky.

What has allowed TCU to adjust the offense like this? It’s simple: a recommitment to the running game. Here are the numbers for TCU’s running game through four games, compared to the first four games of 2016.

Non-QB Rush Stats Through 4 Games (2016-2017 comparison)

Category 2016 2017
Category 2016 2017
Rushes 99 146
Yards 612 800
YPC 6.18 5.48
TDs 8 12

The revitalized ground game comes as a breath of fresh air for TCU fans, who were craving for more Kyle Hicks action in 2016. Hicks still managed to rush for 1,000 yards last season, but it seemed like he was underutilized most of the time. This becomes even more apparent when you consider that Hicks accounted for about 20% of his yards and close to 40% of his rushing touchdowns in the game against Baylor.

In 2017 however, Darius Anderson has developed into a legitimate feature back with Hicks sidelined twice already due to injury, and Sonny Cumbie and Curtis Luper seem content to lean on Anderson to pace the offense.

RB Comparison Through Four Games

RB Carries Yards YPC TDs
RB Carries Yards YPC TDs
Kyle Hicks (2016) 52 318 6.1 5
Darius Anderson (2017) 68 434 6.2 6

Behind Anderson, Hicks and Olonilua have combined for 50 carries, 273 yards, and four touchdowns. In all, TCU is on pace to rush the ball 438 times, compared to just 345 times all of 2016 (those numbers/projections don’t include QB runs), and for 16 more non-QB rushing touchdowns (36 projected vs. 20 in 2016).

Hill, meanwhile, is on pace to attempt about 90 fewer passes than he did in 2016, but still throw for more touchdowns (27 projected vs. 17 in 2016), and fewer interceptions (9 projected vs. 13 in 2016).

Of course, the running game is also benefitting from an improved offensive line. Austin Schlottman’s move to right guard has been a revelation, as he’s athletic enough to pull, allowing for more diverse blocking schemes, while Patrick Morris has been very solid at center.

Unfortunately, news that Morris is going to miss the next four to five weeks raises questions about how the offensive line will look moving forward. Austin Schlottman will slide back to center, while Matt Pryor will step back in at right guard. This may mean that TCU’s blocking schemes change a bit, but Chris Thomsen has proven himself to be an insanely valuable hire through four games. Plus, with two weeks to get guys ready in their “new” spots, we probably won’t see too much of a drop off in the performance of the offensive line.

Ultimately though, TCU needs to keep running the ball, letting the ground game pace the offense. It puts Hill in positions to succeed, and he’s taking advantage through four games.