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MMQB: Let the kid play

Max Duggan has a lot of growing to do, but it’s time to let him do it.

TCU Football at Iowa State (10.5.19)
TCU Football at Iowa State (10.5.19)
Melissa Triebwasser

Max Duggan has a lot of growing up to do as a Big 12 quarterback.

The true freshman out of Iowa has shown that as the schedule has gotten tougher.

Duggan’s EPA (expected points added) of .06 isn’t great, and is, in fact, second worst among passers in the conference:

For those of you that need a little more context for that stat, EPA is defined as “the measure of a play’s impact on the score of the game. An individual player’s EPA is the sum of the EPA of the plays in which that player was directly involved. Being directly involved is defined as an offensive player who ran, threw, or kicked the ball, was targeted by a pass, or flagged for a penalty.”

In addition to a low “value-added”, Duggan is completing just 56% of his pass attempts for just under 11 yards per completion and less than 150 yards per game. None of those are good numbers. He’s the least efficient passer in the conference (nearly 100 points behind leader Jalen Hurts), and finds himself at the bottom of nearly every statistical category involving a QB in the conference.

Heck, I can even argue that his zero interceptions is a it of a problem, if you want to talk risk taking or trying explosive plays.

But, and it’s a big but, ...

It’s time to let the kid play.

Sure, Max has been the starter since the SMU game, but he’s been pulled for at least a series every week since. On Saturday, he was inexcusably yanked for Alex Delton on the series following a TCU touchdown drive — one in which Duggan led a 10 play, 76 yard possession into the end zone by relying on his running backs and picking up 31 yards on the ground himself. Sure, he didn’t complete a pass — there were a couple of pass plays called, but a sack and a couple scrambles eliminated the attempts — but he got the Frogs down the field and into the end zone, something we have learned not to take for granted in 2019.

So, how do you follow a scoring drive in a tight game with a true freshman quarterback on the road?

Pull him.

And it gets worse.

After the game, coach Gary Patterson was asked why Alex Delton was brought into the game in that moment. His response did not inspire confidence amongst fans and arm chair quarterbacks. “Actually I wanted him in the one before. I wanted him to get a chance to go in the first quarter, but they put him in the start of the second quarter.”

Wait. What?

Gary Patterson is, without question, a defensive genius. Back in 2014, when he hired Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham, he did so because he knew he needed to adapt to life in the high-scoring Big 12. “I’m out there to win a title in the Big 12 or in the playoffs or in the national championship. Whatever that takes to get that done is what I’m doing,” he said. But, the offense has taken a step back in each of the past several seasons, it seems, and is struggling exceptionally in 2019 — despite having a pair of senior running backs who look like future pros and a talented and experienced offensive line. And that has made Coach P step in and pay more attention to what Sonny Cumbie is doing on that side of the ball.

The results haven’t been great.

Patterson has always preferred veteran players, especially at impact positions like quarterback. Bringing in Alex Delton was undoubtably a very GP move; not only does the former Wildcat have a deep love for anything connected with Bill Snyder, but a grad transfer at QB (especially when the only other healthy passer on the roster at the time was the true freshman) is right up his alley. He has spoken time and time again, really any time he’s asked about quarterback play, about what a great person and leader Delton is. He’s kept him as a captain even as his snaps have lessened, which further speaks to what he thinks of the player and the person.

And, he’s insisted on getting him into games, which is where the problem lies.

Delton came into a 7-7 ball game after the Frogs had scored and the defense had forced a three-and-out. TCU had all the momentum in the world and had the Cats defense on their heels, thanks to the legs of the true freshman.

TCU proceeded to go six yards in three plays and punt themselves.

It’s the last time Delton would see the field against his old team.

Max Duggan, of course, had his moments. Everyone is going to talk about this play:

And they should! It was an unbelievable run by a true freshman, who showed speed, strength, and a little panache. It was a heck of a play and worthy of any and all accolades. But Frog fans should be happier about a series late in the game, where we really saw Max grow up — three straight completions to Jalen Reagor, including an “aww hell let him go up and get it” ball that should have been intercepted, but when you let great players make plays, they tend to do just that.

Of course, the drive ended in a very freshman way - with a nine yard sack because he held the ball too long and back to back incompletions, but he showed he was beginning to trust himself and his playmakers.

Max Duggan didn’t seem bothered by being pulled from the game during a critical juncture, and it didn’t seem to impact his play going forward. And look, he still has a long way to go, as GP will tell you, as he did after Saturday’s loss. “We’ve got to get to where we throw the ball better,” he said — a fair statement after Duggan went 16-29 for 132 yards and no touchdowns. His passes can still be off target or spiraled with a fury that makes them near-uncatchable (not that catching the ball has been a strength for the TCU receiving corps in 2019 anyway), but at the end of the day, does anyone still doubt that Max gives TCU their best chance to win?


(We would ALL love to see a healthy Justin Rogers playing football for the Horned Frogs but I have not gotten the impression that Coach Patterson feels good about putting him on the field and not risking his long-term health and well-being, and I trust that GP and TCU are going to do what’s best for that young man for the rest of his career, not with the hope that he can magically change the QB situation this season.)

And don’t even get me started on Mike Collins.

I’m not a football coach, and I don’t know what’s going on in practice, in meeting rooms, or wherever whatever is happening to make it so GP insists on force-feeding us Alex Delton on a weekly basis. And, having spoken with Delton multiple times, I too find him to be one of the genuinely great humans in college football and at TCU.

That being said, I think it’s time to stop forcing him into games. In the last three games (not counting Kansas, because only Texas has to count Kansas), Delton has had four drives. Against SMU, he followed a TCU touchdown and a Mustang three-and-out in a one score game, coming in on third and four and running for three yards — a play that preceded the ill-conceived and not at all his fault Sewo Olonilua fourth and one pass attempt. Against Iowa State, he played two drives, finishing the day with two rushes for 12 yards and 4-5 through the air — for two. He’s a talented athlete and a good runner, but his lack of passing threat allows defenses to choke up in the box and take the running game away. He hasn’t led a scoring drive since playing the Jayhawks, and his longest drive was a six play effort against the Cyclones that led to a missed 57 yard field goal in a game that felt already out of reach.

I am not trying to unload on a young man who is — again — by all accounts and overwhelmingly positive addition to the team, the locker room, and the QB room. But it’s borderline unfair to continue to run him out in these lose-lose situations where he not only has little chance for success, but is put into a position of blame when the expected happens and the offense fails. There is a way to use Alex Delton, I am sure, but this ain’t it, chief.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I certainly would never be so naive to think I can do Gary Patterson or Sonny Cumbie’s jobs better than them. But I think it’s fair to ask questions, and after Saturday, it’s fair to have a lot of them.

TCU Football gets a chance to right the ship Saturday on their home field, when they welcome the Texas Longhorns to town for a Homecoming game that could make or break the season.

Go Frogs.