It’s June, and according to the online countdown calendar I just Googled there are 78 days until TCU plays its first football game of the year.
It’s never too early to look ahead, though, and that’s why I’m starting off a five-week series I’m calling “Enemy at the Gates.” We’re looking at the five most dangerous units TCU will face this year. These could be offensive or defensive — or I guess even special teams if I become really desperate for content. They’re also in no particular order. I don’t need Texas fans stumbling across this piece yelling at me about how Sam Ehlinger is actually a cross between John Elway and Johnny Manziel.
The first unit we’ll discuss in this series comes in the Horned Frogs’ first game against a Power Five team. Purdue’s receiving corps, led by all-word sophomore Rondale Moore, could give TCU fits all night.
Think about how weird that is, for a minute. Purdue’s offensive weapons are a real threat to consider. This is Purdue we’re talking about, here! Before Jeff Brohm took over in 2017, the Boilermakers had one winning season since 2007. They were 9-39 from 2013-16, a perennial doormat in the Big 10.
But now they have Rondale Moore, who made an All-America team as a freshman and is a likely Heisman candidate and even more likely Biletnikoff Award winner. In 2018, Moore had 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns on an FBS-high 114 catches. He’s a certified menace. (Also, he’s a “Selling and Sales Management” major, which you know means he closes deals with impunity.)
Purdue’s second- and third-leading wide receivers graduated, though, so the Boilermakers will have to find someone to replace their production. Brycen Hopkins (another Selling and Sales Management major, funnily enough) had the third most yards on the team last year as a tight end, and he returns for his senior year. He’s a big target at 6’5”, 245 pounds, and if the Frogs cover him with a linebacker, he could cause havoc.
Jared Sparks — another Selling and Sales Management major, good Lord — put up 274 yards on 28 catches last season. He’ll be a junior in 2019. Past that, Purdue will have new faces at receiver.
But while experience is important, it’s how those wideouts are used that really matters, and head coach Jeff Brohm has proven to be an offensive mastermind, both at Western Kentucky and at Purdue. Consider this: in 2016, Purdue went 3-9 and totaled about 3600 passing yards. Last year, that number was just shy of 4,000, and the Boilermakers went...well, they went 6-7, but they beat the hide off Ohio State, and that’s all anyone remembers.
Elijah Sindelar should also be healthy to start at quarterback, and that makes the receivers more dangerous. He has a cannon for an arm, and our sister site at Hammer and Rails is tickled to bits to have him back for another year after a few injury-plagued campaigns.
So, what does this mean for TCU? Jeff Gladney will most likely get the job covering Moore, but even for a skilled corner like Gladney, it’ll take help over the top to shut Moore down. The good news is that Moore, while supremely talented, isn’t a big player, listed at 5’9” and 175 pounds. Gladney is six feet flat and 183 pounds; if he can muscle Moore around off the snap, it may throw off route timings.
Purdue could still hit tight end Hopkins over the middle, or perhaps sneak a running back into open space if TCU chooses to commit an extra defender over the top on Moore. Montrel Wilson returns as a senior for TCU at linebacker, and if Gary Patterson decides to stick a linebacker on Hopkins, Wilson is the likely candidate.
The scheme battle between Patterson and Brohm should be fascinating as well. With years of experience in the Big 12, Patterson is no stranger to matching up against offensive geniuses. And the Frogs have faced dominant receivers in recent years— Allen Lazard of Iowa State and James Washington of Oklahoma State come to mind. But Brohm has proven his ability to get skill players in space. With this receiving corps, anything is possible.