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Roundtable: State of the Program at the Bye Week

We got together several members of the FOW staff to give an honest assessment of where TCU Football stands at the break.

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Texas Christian Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It is not the halfway point of the 2020 season, but it’s close. And with the Frogs a third of the way through the conference schedule and sitting on a bye week, we thought it was as good a time as any to get the Frogs O’ War braintrust together to talk TCU Football: where it is, where it’s going, and what we can expect down the stretch.

We were joined by Hawkeye Frog (@HawkeyedFrog), Russ Hodges (@RussellJHodges), Rusty Frog (@RustyFamily), and Anthony North (@north_anthony) for this bye week roundtable discussion.

QUESTION: Through three games, what’s your assessment of the state of the TCU Football program?

Melissa: I think it’s more than fair to have questions/concerns. I think Jamie did an excellent job laying out the issues with the offensive line — and that it’s a byproduct of extreme loyalty to staff members that you could argue is hurting the program’s success. TCU has recruited better than it has at any point in its history, yet the results have been disappointing for the last two seasons and 2020 is not looking as promising as we would have hoped. I said before the season that 2021 was probably THE year to have super high expectations, but the foundation that’s being built currently is concerning to say the least.

Hawk: The program is in flux offensively, and as a result you’re seeing a lot of inconsistency on that side of the ball. While Jerry Kill has his fingerprints on the running game, and the diversification of running plays has paid great dividends, it feels like the offense is an entirely different one on passing downs and that’s not a good thing. Both offensive philosophies can work, and they can work together, but there’s a bit too much “if there’s a non RB motion, it’ll be a run 9 times out of ten” or “If they’re in trips it’s either a pass or a zone read”. If the parts of the offense can come together to be a satisfactory whole, rather than the Frankensteinian fusion that we’ve seen so far, it’ll get better. Defensively, I’m honestly still quite optimistic, and I still have a tremendous amount of confidence in Patterson to coordinate a winning game plan. The busts, while frustrating, are generally during attempts to cover up that the pass rush is poor where there’s a missed assignment or an exploited area (particularly receivers out of the backfield), but I have significantly more confidence in the defensive coaches developing guys as the season goes on.

Russ: I think the team has been competitive over the first three games, with both losses coming by seven points or less. The Texas win was a great way to bounce back after a tough loss against Iowa State, but I think there are inconsistencies that still linger, primarily on the offensive side of the ball. TCU has also committed a staggering 29 penalties for over 200 penalty yards over the first three games, and that glaring lack of discipline has cost the Horned Frogs in these close losses. It will be a struggle to string wins together if the inconsistencies and the penalties aren’t sorted out.

Deanna: HOLDING, TCU. OFF-SIDES, TCU. HOLDING, TCU. I am so tired of our offense getting penalties that force us backwards and kill our momentum. My biggest frustration with this team is their lack of discipline on the O-line. Not only do they rack up the penalties, but they also put our quarterback at risk over and over again. Is this the players not caring enough? I’m not sure. It is a lack of discipline and/or tension among offensive coaches? I can see it as a possibility. I think that Jamie made a valid point about loyalty being a factor here. Some major changes need to be made, at the coaching level, and the player level, in my opinion. I don’t care if it takes a movie night and milk and cookies together, our O-line needs to learn to work together. And Patterson needs to decide who he’s going to trust to lead the team offensively in a decisive direction.

Anthony: Disappointing. It’s really unfortunate that TCU is not going to be able to take advantage of a very winnable Big 12 this season (a heroic run is still possible, but already being 2.5 games back makes it very difficult). “Doing it like we’ve always done” has gotten TCU quite a long way over the years, but the hard truth is that TCU got out coached in its two losses. Going with a “New Boss, Same as the Old Boss” approach to the offensive coaching staff has not worked. With the talent on this team, TCU should be in the Big 12 Championship conversation at minimum.

QUESTION: Which position group has been the biggest (positive) surprise, in your opinion?

Melissa: You have to be excited about the wide receivers. Taye Barber has been really solid, and Quentin Johnston looks like he’s going to be a super star, but who saw Blair Conwright coming? (other than Billy Wessels, of course). We are finally getting glimpses of Mikel Barkley and Derius Davis is making some plays, and I am still a believer in Te’vailance Hunt. The best part? Not a single one of those players is a seniors. I want to see more of Pro Wells and JD Spielman, but overall, I have been super impressed with the pass catchers.

Hawk: The corners have been significantly better than I expected this season, though they do still have issues when being left to cover too long, they’re almost always in position and force opposing quarterbacks to make excellent throws to beat them. While sadly opposing quarterbacks have found themselves with enough time to make excellent throws with some consistency, the corners are young and dynamic and I was expecting a much bigger backwards step from the group considering we lost an NFL first rounder last year.

Russ: The cornerbacks have been the most pleasant surprise so far. Noah Daniels has looked really nice after missing the entire 2019 season with an injury, and sophomores Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson and Kee’Yon Stewart have shown they can hold their own at the No. 2 cornerback slot. TCU’s secondary as a whole has fared well, but I think the corners deserve credit for stepping up and limiting big plays down the sidelines.

Deanna: Give. Barber. The. Ball. Barber and Duggan have carried this offense on their backs at times this year, and I’m enjoying watching it. That being said, some new kids are making a name for themselves, and I’m happy to see it. I am also completely aboard the Noah Daniels hype train. The corners as a whole have made some fantastic moves.

Anthony: I would have said the WRs and CBs, valiantly filling the vacancies left by First Round NFL Draft picks. But that’s covered above, so my answer: Max Duggan. Duggan took a lot of heat through the off-season from the Jalen Reagor Propaganda Machine, NFL Draft Twitter, and basically all of National College Football Media. COVID protocols then found an undiagnosed heart condition that required attention before he could get back to playing football. Coaches then inexplicably did not play him in the first half against Iowa State. Through all that, Max has emerged again as the heart of this team that we’ve all known and expected him to be. He’s had some misses, but has mostly impressed thus far in 2020, despite getting crushed on almost every play.

QUESTION: What’s one thing you would change about the way TCU is playing?

Melissa: I am cheating and giving one on offense and one on defense. We need to see more 3-3-5 sets defensively. Coaches are catching up to the 4-2-5 and that’s hurting us in the big play category. Plus, with another poor pash rush, changing up alignments opens up a spot for Marcel Brooks to be the impact player most of us think he should be. Offensively, I want Max Duggan to have more say in the offense. After looking so creative against Texas, it was as vanilla as 2018 Saturday, and that’s a very bad thing. Let the kid audible and make checks. Open up the route tree. Trust him to be THE GUY. He can handle it.

Hawk: While I don’t think firing a position coach during a season is going to have a dramatic effect on a position group, I reach out to an experienced and talented OL coach (My first preference would be Michigan/Indiana/Florida State coach Greg Frey who is not only a good coach but a great developer of talent, even those who played other positions in high school, which would likely resonate with GP) and ensure that I can announce that I have retained his services right after regular season’s end. As for an in season change, more play action and RPOs with fewer straight drop backs would help the line do more of the run blocking that they’re at least better at, and less of the straight pass pro sets that have been getting Duggan obliterated, while also helping to make the offense appear more seamless. No better time to make a tweak like that than during a Bye week as well.

Russ: Know Your Personnel. TCU’s offensive line couldn’t stop a nosebleed right now in pass protection, but the Horned Frogs are averaging over 170 rushing yards per game and feature a stable of talented young running backs in Darwin Barlow, Kendre Miller, Daimarqua Foster and Zach Evans. TCU also has a trio of speedsters in Taye Barber, Derius Davis and JD Spielman who have shown they can be threats in open space and out of the backfield. I know Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie want to spread teams out, play fast and throw the football, but given how bad the offensive line has been in pass protection, TCU needs to start playing to the strengths of its personnel, which means establishing the run and being creative out of the backfield. Max Duggan also happens to be quite useful with his wheels. Ball control, clock management and strong defense need to be the keys until TCU’s offensive line can learn to pass protect.

Anthony: Attempt to win games. Death by a 1,000 time-of-possession razors and outlasting an opponent to win by one point is not really going to cut it in modern college football. Playing not to lose is to playing to lose. Punting from the 33 is playing to lose; running a QB draw when you need to go 96 yards in under a minute down a TD is playing to lose; punting through the endzone on 4th and 1 is playing to lose; starting Matthew Downing over Max Duggan is playing to lose. The best TCU teams stomped on the accelerator and didn’t let up until Amon Carter was out of fireworks and made opponents want to transfer at halftime. Will we ever see that ruthless TCU again?

QUESTION: Which player needs to step up down the stretch?

Melissa: Trevon Moehrig has been one of my absolute favorite players since we first started talking about him, and that hasn’t changed. He’s been more than fine in 2020, but I am still waiting for him to have that moment where he directly impacts the course of a game. For the last two years, he’s been a ball-hawk: the right time, right place guy. He has to get more involved in what’s going on on the field and start putting his nose in the action. Taking more chances could mean being out of place more, but the Frogs are already giving up a ton of big plays. He is a high reward player when he takes risks, so I am fine with him taking more.

Hawk: Ochaun Mathis will be my pick, because though it could be anyone in the DL rotation, the Frogs need to make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable while rushing just four and I believe Mathis has the talent to do it because last year against Baylor he showed all the flashes that you could want. Consistency will be key, but any down where the opposing QB has to move in the pocket or an RB has to stay in to pass block instead of releasing up the seam will be key for the Frogs to start to snuff out the big plays.

Russ: Austin Myers has been a turnstyle at left tackle so far this season, and as a fifth-year member of this team, he needs to step up and start protecting Duggan’s blindside. I was surprised when he beat out Colorado State transfer TJ Storment for the starting job, but I’m not sure how much Myers has done this season to warrant keeping that job. TCU has put out some great offensive linemen in recent years, and it’s tough to see this group play so poorly in 2020, particularly at the tackle positions. Coy McMillon has also struggled, which also surprises me because he started every game at center in 2019.

Anthony: Pro Wells. He was such a feature player and one of the bright spots of the 2019 offense. If we expect the TCU offense to get rolling this season, he’ll need to be a big piece of it – creating match-up nightmares over the middle of the field and forcing one-on-one situations for the outside WRs.

QUESTION: What’s a realistic expectation for the Frogs’ next six conference games?

Melissa: Well, you still have to play Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and as thoroughly average as the Sooners have looked so far, they’re still probably going to be two score favorites in Fort Worth. The most winnable games look to be Baylor (ravaged by COVID currently), Texas Tech and Kansas, with WVU continuing to play tough at home and of course OU and OSU likely to be big favorites.If the Frogs went 3-3 over their final six and 4-5 overall, that would be highly disappointing, but seems like the mostly likely outcome currently.

Hawk: I want 4-2, plain and simple. If Oklahoma is going to be had, they need to be had this year first to get that mental block out of the heads of our guys, and getting them after both teams have had a bye will give a great look at the adjustments both coaching staffs will be making the rest of the season. Tech has not looked good this season and Kansas remains Kansas, so losing either of those would be tremendously frustrating. Oklahoma State may not be as good as the rankings say they are, but I do believe they’re better than we are at present, and we’ve found stupid ways to lose to West Virginia the past two years. As for the other team on the schedule, I would not want to even speak the evil of a loss to them this season into the universe as an idea. If it gets to 3-3 then some changes on the offensive side need to come (In addition to the obvious one).

Russ: The Big 12 Conference is unique in that it’s a round-robin format where every team has to bring its best every week in order to be the best of the bunch. I truly believe TCU has the talent to win all of its games, but given the number of penalties and mistakes we’ve seen on both sides of the ball, it’s hard for me to think the Horned Frogs win more than six games this season. I often feel like TCU beats itself up more than the opponent does, and it’s nearly impossible to win games in the Big 12 when the Horned Frogs continually hurt themselves with early-down mistakes and big plays surrendered on defense.

Anthony: I think it is in the realm of possibility that TCU gets wins against all of Baylor/Tech/WVU/Kansas and is able to sneak up and steal one from OU or OSU to finish 6-3 and just outside of the Big 12 Championship Game, leaving us wondering what could’ve been if not for these early losses. Perhaps not realistic, but I do think TCU is a talented team and the negatives we’ve discussed above are fixable. Despite it all, I’m still looking through purple-colored lenses.

Thanks to everyone who contributed. Be sure to give us your thoughts/opinions in the comments — we would love to hear what you think!