The TCU defense was awesome Saturday night. That’s not an overstatement, as they absolutely dominated the Jayhawks, forcing 10 three and outs, holding Kansas to just 268 yards — including 41 on the ground (on 43 attempts, no less).
Outside of two drives: one, a penalty-filled disaster that CJ Ceasar would prefer to forget, and the other a 46 yard masterpiece engineered by the Jayhawks’ third string quarterback — KU couldn’t get anything going in the first half against a unit that appeared hell-bent on making it a long night for Les Miles’ team.
Offensively... well, if you look at the score, it’s hard to complain. But when you disect the numbers behind the numbers, we once again are left with plenty of questions.
Kansas is bad... very bad. And they are terrible against the run. So it made sense for the Frogs’ plan early to be a heavy dose of ground and pound, and plenty of opportunities for Zach Evans — making his first start — and Darwin Barlow. And the two young running backs delivered in spades, going for 100 and 83 yards a piece, and getting plenty of help from Kendre Miller (53 yards) and Emari Demercado (33 yards), as well as a 58 yard touchdown run by Max Duggan.
But Duggan struggled through the air once again, and it’s not all his fault; it seemed every passing play called was a deep ball, with no thought to work on the types of plays TCU will need to execute next week when Oklahoma State comes to town.
It’s hard to complain about wide open touchdown passes, of which there were three in the first half — two to Pro Wells and one to Carter Ware — and Duggan had chances to connect with Mikel Barkley and Derius Davis for long touchdowns as well. But there was little attention paid to development, it seemed; Duggan only attempting 11 passes and sitting on three completions is problematic, and there was little effort made toward changing it. Duggan wasn’t concerned though, just more focused on executing the game plan. “It starts up front, when you’re able to run the ball, it helps a lot with everything else you want to do.”
Even as Kansas made a run — riding junior QB Miles Kendrick to scores to end the second quarter and late in the third — TCU kept the car in cruise control, happy to whittle away the clock on the ground despite playing the worst opponent they would face all season. There was apparently a reason for it, or several, as Gary Patterson pointed out post game. “We left a lot of guys at home,” Patterson mentioned. The Frogs were down to around 40 scholarship players, had just two scholarship outside receivers available, and just five offensive linemen that had taken a collegiate snap. Because of those mitigating circumstances, Patterson said that they “didn’t want to get into a drop back game”, and instead were focused on the end result alone. “You find a way to win. You don’t care about scoring points, you want to get off the field and get home. There’s a lot of things that come into play as far as how you want to win a ball game.”
It’s that win by one mentality.
The defense kept things interesting, as CJ Ceasar made up for his early penalties with a pick six early in the fourth quarter and Dee Winters got in the defensive scoring action by picking up a fumble forced by Ochaun Mathis and walking it into the end zone. For senior linebacker Garret Wallow, seeing two of his teammates score was exciting. “It was a good game. Just seeing everybody play hard. Fly around. That’s one of the most exciting things. Whatever it takes to win,” Wallow said. As a senior with his TCU career winding down, he’s keeping perspective, too. “I’m just going to enjoy every moment of it. Seeing those guys play well, grow and become better players week in and week out. It’s exciting. Especially Dee Winters, that’s my boy. Definitely exciting seeing him take that leap from last year to this year playing great. I’m proud of him.”
On the day, the Frogs scored five offensive touchdowns, had a special teams score on Derius Davis’ punt return in the first, and scored twice on defense. It was such a complete team effort, one that should be celebrated, but still left a feeling of emptiness when it came to the offensive game plan and the unwillingness to write a script to get Duggan going early, to build his confidence, and to continue to develop a QB who is still in just his second season. According to Duggan, the team wasn’t trying to let up, and wanted to keep the pressure on an overmatched Kansas squad. “Once we got up, we knew we had to keep going. We wanted to try and keep scoring and put them in a predicament. I think that was the big thing that Coach P was preaching, that the whole staff was preaching, don’t let up, don’t let them try and come back.”
The running backs certainly did their part; Zach Evans started, but Patterson was impressed with the whole unit. “We like them all. I was happy with all the running backs.” All four averaged over 4.5 yards per carry, with Barlow (10.4 ypc) and Evans (8.3 ypc) really jumping off the page. Miller broke tackles and Demercado literally broke a Kansas defender, and the corp as a whole averaged more than eight yards per carry. Credit the patchwork offensive line, who was missing key components, but stepped up in a big way, as Duggan noted. “It starts with the offensive line, and they did a phenomenal job tonight, all five guys.”
Defensively, TCU both allowed a 100 yard rusher (Kansas freshman Amari Pesek-Hickson, who the announcers were fixated on reminding us was a high school basketball player) and held KU to just 34 net rushing yards (a couple of bad snaps that resulted in 50+ negative yards, 12 TFLs and four sacks had something to do with that). Dee Winters and Nook Bradford practically lived in the backfield, recording 3.5 TFLs each with Winters adding a sack to boot, as the Frogs scored twice on defense and once on special teams. Patterson was not happy that the defense gave up 23 points, but proud of the way they hung in despite a litany of injuries. “It’s one of those deals where we made it to another week. Now we have to get to the next, last ball game. We fought back from 1-3 to 4-4, so we’re feeling a lot better about ourselves.”
With one ball game remaining, the goal is the same as it is every year. “All of the guys in the program, we are working hard to finish our season the best we can for our seniors,” Duggan said. “That’s our main goal, giving our seniors the best season we can.”
They’ll get their chance next week at home, when Oklahoma State rolls into town for a home date with the Horned Frogs. “You’ve got a really good Oklahoma State team coming down the pike, so hopefully we’ll get some of those guys back that we had out and get ready to go,” Patterson said. “It’s not going to get any easier, but at least we’re playing at home.”