The Horned Frogs haven’t won eight or more games in a football season since 2017 when current quarterbacks coach Kenny Hill was last seen in uniform for TCU — ripping a 93-yard passing touchdown to 2020 first round NFL draft pick (current Philadelphia Eagle) wide receiver Jalen Reagor.
However, fifth-year senior tight end Carter Ware, who was a freshman on that TCU squad that went 11-3 and finished ranked ninth in the country, said the vibes of the 2021 edition are indeed similar.
“I would compare this year’s team to my freshman year in 2017 because I was lucky enough to see how all the guys bonded with each other and had true friendships, not just out there playing football,” Ware said. “Everyone on this year’s team loves each other and enjoys spending time together on and off the field. We have great team chemistry, and I’m excited to see how it shows up on the field.”
Facing off against an FCS opponent in the Duquesne Dukes, the Horned Frogs have a chance to take the momentum from winning five of their last six games in 2020 and expand upon it. Quarterback Max Duggan and the rest of the TCU offense have the chance to rectify their aerial attack. Their ground game was humming due to the trio of running backs in Zach Evans, Kendre Miller, Emari Demercado. They helped the Horned Frogs combine to average nearly 215 rushing yards per game, the best in the Big 12. However, if they have the third-worst passing offense in the conference like they did a year ago, simply won’t cut it.
TCU’s sub-standard passing game last year led to Head Coach Gary Patterson bringing former TCU Offensive Coordinate Doug Meacham, back to Fort Worth from the XFL where he was the offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Battlehawks to replace Sonny Cumbie who returned to Texas Tech as an assistant, his alma mater. Patterson hopes to recapture the heights Meacham led the Horned Frogs to in 2014 and 2015 when they set single-season program records in nearly every offensive category with him calling the plays.
While no one is confusing Duggan for Meacham’s quarterback at that time, Heisman Trophy finalist Trevone Boykin, Duggan does have a similar skillset. He was one of only three Division 1 quarterbacks with 1,500+ pass yards (1,795), 500+ rush yards (526) and 10+ (10) rushing touchdowns in 2020 along with Liberty’s Malik Willis and Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder. Both Willis and Ridder have generated buzz about their NFL potential.
Following off-season scrimmages, Patterson went out of his way to praise Duggan’s leadership abilities and his play against Patterson’s baby, his defense in the offseason “He’s been awesome.”
“Max is our guy. He’s solid as a rock,” tight end Carter Ware said. “We go with Max. His highs are our highs and his lows are our lows. He carries us and we carry him. We’ll fight with that guy until the end. He’s a great leader on the field and off the field. We love that guy.”
If Duggan can increase his 60.8 completion percentage, the 77th-best in the NCAA in 2020, those “lows” that Ware referenced will likely become less frequent. Meacham’s intensity, a stark contrast to the laid-back Cumbie, could give Duggan the jolt he needs to improve his accuracy.
“The transition has been pretty seamless. I love Coach Meach, he’s a funny guy but he’s intense too,” Ware said. “I think that’s a little bit of something that’s been different — a little more intensity during practice, but I love it. You’ve got to have that if you want to be a good team...I’m excited to have him as my coach.”
This opening game could be used in the way that the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, who will practice at TCU starting on Monday because of Hurricane Ida, have used their preseason games: to adjust their offense to a new style of play, running through a number of different concepts to build a better chemistry with their receivers and their quarterback. That makes the Duquesne duel Saturday night critical. The Frogs have games against California and SMU looming before hosting their conference opener against the halfway out-the-door of the Big 12 Texas Longhorns, a team TCU has relished defeating. Fans at Amon G. Carter Stadium stormed the field following a 2019 victory over the state’s flagship university in the teams’ last matchup in Fort Worth
“It’s really important that we come into this first game hot,” Ware said. “Come in, play a clean game, just so we can carry that momentum that we had last year and just roll through it going into conference play.”