Think about the TCU offense in recent years.
A spread passing game, right? Driven by, and dependent on, above-average quarterback play with some elite wide receivers like Josh Doctson and Jalen Reagor passing through the program? Perfectly at home in the pass-wacky Big 12?
As with most spread teams not named Texas Tech, the truth is that TCU is much more balanced than you might think. Last year, the Frogs ran the ball 53.58 percent of the time, which was the 66th highest rate among 130 FBS teams — in other words, right down the middle. TCU was fourth in the Big 12 in run play percentage. And that number was an increase from 2017, when the Frogs ran the ball 54.32 percent of the time.
Was TCU good at running the ball last year? Well, not exactly. The Frogs were 85th in the nation with an average of 4.1 yards per run play. That’s down slightly from 4.4 in 2017.
Some of that is due to injury, of course. Darius Anderson missed some time, and the Frogs’ offensive line was constantly swapping guys in and out, which doesn’t help the run game.
In 2019, though, there’s hope for improvement. The offensive line should be more consistent, for one thing. But more importantly — assuming everyone stays healthy and out of trouble — TCU is projected to have a deep well of talent at running back.
Let’s take a look at the six running backs on the TCU roster.
Olonilua (Sr., 6-3, 240) was the first name on the depth chart released in May. But an off-season arrest in Huntsville on drug charges cast doubts on his eligibility for 2019. Those doubts were somewhat lessened last week when the Frogs reported to fall camp.
“Oh, he’ll practice,” Gary Patterson said. “I have a lot of respect for the judicial system, so how they work all that out from our standpoint - there will be discipline no matter how they handle that. But he will practice. I can’t elaborate on anything else in fairness to the DA down there, in fairness to Sewo and his lawyer. The kid graduated in four years, he screwed up. There’s always a price one way or another that you have to pay.”
So there you go. While we play the wait-and-see game, we might as well approach this preview as if Olonilua will be fully eligible.
And the Frogs better hope he is, because he’s an absolute unit with the football. He was the Cheez-It Bowl MVP with 194 yards rushing, he averaged 4.7 yards on the ground and he’s finally going to have healthy players around him to take the load off. Olonilua is the every-down back — he might not break a 93-yard run like Darius Anderson, but he can reliably get you four yards at a time and lay the wood to a defender while he’s at it.
Demercado (Jr., 5-11, 200) was slotted behind Olonilua on the depth chart in May, although that could be because Darius Anderson wasn’t yet 100 percent healthy. Nevertheless, Demercado showed some skills in his first season with the Horned Frogs after transferring in from Saddleback College. The transition to FBS wasn’t all that smooth — he averaged 3.9 yards per carry — but he did have his moments, especially against Baylor, when he was the lone scholarship running back left on the roster.
Hopefully he’s developed even further in the offseason. The plan is most likely for Olonilua and Anderson to spend quite a bit of time on the field together, but Demercado will have a role to play in this offense.
Anderson (Sr., 5-11, 212) has “had his share of bad luck” when it comes to injuries, as running backs coach Curtis Luper put it. He missed time last year, including the final two games, and only played in 11 games in 2017. But when he’s on the field, he’s as dynamic as they come, as shown by his dagger of a touchdown run against Texas as a sophomore and his 93-yard score against Ohio State in 2018.
Anderson entered fall in the “best shape of his life,” Luper said, and he should see significant playing time alongside Olonilua.
“This time last year, our plan was to play them both on the field together a significant amount of time,” Luper said, before Anderson was hurt in last year’s first day of full-pads practice. “Again, we have a plan and it includes both of them on the field a lot together.”
There’s no denying the natural talent with Barlow (FR., 5-11, 195), who played for one of the great high school programs in recent Texas history at Newton. He was the No. 4 running back in Texas in his class, racked up over 5,000 yards in his high school career and had offers from USC and LSU, among others.
That talent has shown through in practice.
“To be honest with you, we are really excited about Barlow,” Patterson said. “He made a cut yesterday that was unbelievable. Up to this point — he’s still a lost puppy when it comes to where he needs to be and where he needs to go and all those kind of things — but when you put the ball in his hands, he’s pretty good at what he does.”
It’s hard to gauge how much he sees the field this year, but remember the name Darwin Barlow.
The highest-rated player TCU signed in 2019, Foster (FR., 5-10, 195) was the No. 7 back nationwide and ran for 2,800 yards and 44 touchdowns as a senior at Wichita Falls Hirschi. Those numbers speak for themselves. He’s got all the speed in the world and should make an impact at some point in his career.
Omega Stallworth (Jr., 5-11, 205), Reginald Cole (Soph., 5-9, 198) and Jose Miranda (5-8, 173) are also listed at running back on the roster.