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MMQB: The Quentin Johnston Game

QJ was great, the offense was explosive, tackling was an adventure

TCU v Kansas Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

TCU won a thriller in a packed house in Lawrence on Saturday with a final score of 38-31. The Frogs’ win over Kansas may not have been as pretty as the dominating win over OU a week ago but Kansas is a much better football team than OU and any top-25 road win is a good one.

The Good:

Quentin Johnston: Frog fans knew this game was eventually coming for the star wideout. Johnston had been seeing extra attention from opposing defenses leading to his fellow receivers having increased opportunities and taking advantage. Against Kansas, Johnston took matters into his own hands exploding for 206 yards and a touchdown on 14 receptions. Johnston did a little bit of everything on Saturday with a contested catch for a touchdown, creating separation against man coverage multiple times, and getting a ton of yards after the catch on screens and downfield passes with a nasty spin move and a couple of filthy juke moves. Johnston showed why he is a potential first-round pick and a star receiver by taking over the game and taking advantage of the single coverage he was facing. His impact extended beyond what he did with the ball in his hands as he continued his dominance as a downfield blocker. Johnston has competed all season as a blocker in the run and screen game and Saturday was no exception. Johnston blocked two Kansas defenders in one play springing Derius Davis for a 51-yard touchdown on a screen pass. Johnston has given 100% effort blocking for his teammates this season regardless of his target share and it was great to see him get rewarded for this effort with a bunch of targets and a big game.

Derius Davis: Speaking of impact without touching the ball, teams are terrified of kicking to Derius Davis, and rightfully so. Kansas was willing to give the Frogs great field position off of kickoffs as long as Davis did not have an opportunity to return it. After an unsportsmanlike penalty on a touchdown, Kansas kicked off 15 yards behind the regular spot and kicked the ball out of bounds to avoid Davis giving the Frogs the ball at midfield to start their drive. Davis had a tremendous impact without the ball in his hands in this game and when he did get the ball, he took it 51 yards to the house. All in all, Davis provided a big play that jump-started the offense when it seemed like it couldn’t get anything going and provided great field position all day without even having to touch the ball. Derius Davis is great.

Max Duggan: Duggan was excellent yet again in this game finishing with 308 yards passing, 55 yards rushing, and 4 total touchdowns. He did throw his first interception of the year but it was on what was more or less of a hail mary to Quentin Johnston at the end of the first half. In the second half, the Jayhawks’ offense woke up and started building momentum multiple times. Each time it seemed like Kansas was starting to take control of the game, Duggan calmly led the offense down the field and responded with a score. Duggan was very accurate in all areas of the field throwing lasers across the middle of the field, making screen passes that allowed his receivers to catch the ball cleanly and immediately turn upfield, and launching a couple of missiles on touchdowns to Taye Barber and Quentin Johnston down the field. One of the biggest areas of improvement for Duggan this season has been his understanding of what velocities to put on throws. His hi-of-the-field throws were on frozen ropes on Saturday to ensure no KU defender could jump the routes and the touchdown passes to Barber and Johnston had just enough height to fit the ball in just before the receivers ran out of bounds. Duggan led the offense to success through the air in a game where the TCU running game was not nearly as dominant as it has been in past weeks.

Cornerbacks: The defense as a whole had a very good first half but struggled in the second half. One consistency, however, was the play from Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson and Josh Newton. The receivers lined up on the outside were not targeted and were not open much for Kansas thanks to great coverage from the Frog corners. While miscommunications happened elsewhere on the TCU defense, the cornerbacks were very good in coverage and KU had to mostly rely on slot receivers and tight ends for their pass production. Hodges-Tomlinson also provided very good open-field tackling on a day when that was rare for the TCU defense. Despite being somewhat undersized for the position, THT has been consistently great during his time at TCU at making tackles in the open field and that continued on Saturday.

The Bad:

Running game: Up until Saturday, the Frogs had been able to run the ball very effectively against every opponent they had faced. Kansas brought that to a screeching halt on Saturday as the Frogs averaged under 5 yards per carry as a team and that was boosted by a few scrambles by Max Duggan where pass protection broke down. The Kansas defensive front won the line of scrimmage and there was noticeably less space for Kendre Miller and other TCU ball carriers to work with than there had been in previous weeks. Kansas did a solid job game planning for Max Duggan’s ability to run by staying disciplined in zone reads and making Duggan hand the ball off. The Frogs also only ran one jet sweep type of play on what was technically a touch pass to Quentin Johnston. I would not have been opposed to trying a jet sweep to Derius Davis or at least running him across as a decoy for misdirection to try and open up the running game up the middle. That being said, the Frogs eventually made the adjustment to the lessened success in the run game and used more screen passes in short-yardage situations.

Leaving points on the board: The Frogs for the most part have done an excellent job finishing off drives this season. There were a few instances on Saturday where a promising drive fizzled out and led to either a field goal attempt, punt, or turnover on downs. On the opening possession of the game, the Frogs moved the ball all the way down the field to the Kansas 21 yard line where they had to kick a field goal after two unsuccessful runs and an incomplete pass to Savion Williams. The very next drive the Frogs were stuffed on 3 consecutive inside handoffs on 2nd, 3rd, and 4th down and short leading to a turnover on downs on the Kansas 38 yard line. Kendre Miller was subbed out on the 4th down run and Emari Demercado was given the carry which was an interesting decision on its own much less 3 straight inside the tackle runs. Demercado is a good running back and plays a very necessary role as a great pass protector and a capable runner when Miller needs a break. 4th down is a situation where the number 1 running back should get the ball if it is a designed handoff one hundred percent of the time. Luckily, the Frogs did not struggle with this as much in the second half and hopefully, these two first-half drives were outliers.

Miscommunications and defensive confusion: As mentioned earlier, almost all of KU’s passing offense came through slot receivers and tight ends matched up with TCU safeties and linebackers. The two long touchdown passes to Quentin Skinner were not that bad of coverage, moreso just perfectly placed throws from Jason Bean that still led to questionable touchdown calls by the officials on shaky catches. The concern arises from the multiple blown coverages on Mason Fairchild, the Jayhawk tight end, and the TCU defenders’ inability to stay disciplined through misdirection in the run game. Lance Leipold did a phenomenal job dialing up motions and option plays to confuse the TCU run fit and get his players the ball in space. Regular inside handoffs by KU did not have much success as the nose tackles for TCU had another strong game, taking on double teams. Anytime there were multiple options for the ball off the snap, the TCU run defense fell apart. These struggles with eye discipline carried over to pass coverage as well. Crossing routes and deep overs that require zone defenders to pass off receivers ate the TCU defense up. The linebackers and safeties need to do a better job sifting through distractions in the run game and communicating in pass coverage.

Lack of pass rush until the final drive: The defensive gameplan in the second half especially for the Frogs seemed to be to drop 8 into coverage and force Jason Bean to make throws. It was clear that this strategy was not going to be successful early in the second half as Bean was making great throws and receivers were getting open on well schemed routes against TCU’s pass defense. TCU has a very athletic set of linebackers that are able to both rush the passer at a high level and matchup in man coverage decently when needed. When some linebackers blitz, other linebackers will be given 1 on 1 assignments with running backs and they might have more success in these man coverages than they had in zone assignments on Saturday. On the Jayhawks’ last drive of the game, we saw defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie dial up a high percentage of blitzes that led to more pressure on the quarterback. Marcel Brooks was also put into a 1 on 1 matchup with a running back in which he made a big time tackle keeping Kansas to a very short gain on the play. The adjustment to send more pressure probably should have been made earlier in the game, but at the end of the day the adjustment was made when it mattered the most.

The Ugly:

Tackling: Tackling, especially in the second half, gets its own special category of ugly as TCU defenders struggled mightily to bring down KU ballcarriers in space. Multiple times, intermediate passes were completed by Kansas that should have been stopped for 15-20 yard gains but missed tackles led to a much bigger gain. Giving up chunk passing plays consistently is bad, but missing tackles after those completions that allow for huge gains is a recipe for disaster. Missed tackles are not good.

Play of the game:

Quentin Johnston good.