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MMQB: We Are, in fact, Not Back

TCU gets blown out on the road at Kansas State in what was a failure on both sides of the ball.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 21 TCU at Kansas State Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Frogs fell very flat against Kansas State, just a week removed from their most complete game of the season against BYU. The final score of 41-3 tells much of the story as neither the offense nor the defense played well. Kansas State was more physical, better coached, more energetic, and overall better than TCU on Saturday. With an opportunity to show out and build momentum going into the rest of the season with a new quarterback, TCU got embarrassed.

The Good:

Emani Bailey: Another week, another great performance from Emani Bailey regardless of how the team around him performed. Bailey crossed the century mark yet again in rushing yards with 12 carries for 100 yards, good for an average of 8.3 yards per carry. Bailey has performed well despite some offensive line struggles and inconsistency in the passing game that has enabled teams to key on the ground game. In a game that lacked effort and explosiveness from the TCU sideline, Bailey ran hard no matter what, like he has all season.

Special Teams: Special teams were the best side of the ball for the Frogs on Saturday. Jordy Sandy had a great day punting with two punts downed inside the 20-yard line of Kansas State and his longest punt traveling 54 yards. It was very unfortunate that the TCU defense was unable to take advantage of the good punts giving Kansas State worse field position, but Jordy Sandy played well on Saturday.

While he had limited opportunities on Saturday, Griffin Kell was perfect on field goal attempts on Saturday and the only Frog to score against the Wildcats. Kell extended TCU’s active streak of not being shutout in a full game in the last 390 games which is the second-longest streak in FBS history. So hurray for that.

We also saw TCU take more touchbacks on kickoff returns on Saturday. The kick return game for the Frogs has not been good this season and both kicks that TCU did return on Saturday were not brought back to the 25-yard line. Taking touchbacks is a good way to combat a struggling kick return unit and the Frogs made that adjustment this week.

Penalties: TCU won the penalty battle on Saturday for the first time since week two against Nichols State. There were still some bad penalties, including two pre-snap penalties, but this was a step in the right direction for a team that has struggled with discipline.

Savion Williams: Savion Williams has had two consecutive good games with Josh Hoover at quarterback. It feels like Williams and Hoover have more chemistry than Williams and Morris. Williams had 4 catches for 60 yards and made some contested catches over the middle of the field. The next step for Williams will be for him to make his slant releases and vertical releases look the same because corners are able to sit on his slant routes making throws much more difficult for Hoover. Williams runs great in-routes and dig-routes so the tools are there for him to create separation on slants, but he hasn’t figured out how to win immediately off of the release consistently yet.

The Bad:

Lack of Creativity Defensively: There has been a lot of discussion among Frog fans about the long-term viability of using the 3-3-5 scheme defensively. Questions about TCU’s ability to find the talent at defensive line that is needed for the system to be successful are warranted. That being said, TCU is dealing with a lot of new starters on the defensive line and are relying on many underclassmen up front. However, regardless of whether or not the 3-3-5 is the long-term answer for the defense, the Frogs need to be more creative in their defensive play calling.

The biggest issue I have had with the defensive play calling this season is the resistance to change out of basic defensive calls and alignments. There is an overall lack of exotic formations, blitzes, stunts, or coverages from TCU and the Frogs do not do enough to challenge their opponents mentally. Opposing offensive lines know exactly what look they are going to get from the TCU front on the vast majority of plays. They don’t have to communicate well because what they see on film is exactly what they are going to see on game day. Offensive lines know exactly who they are going to block pre-snap because TCU does not run stunts or any exotic blitzes. This style of play calling would work if TCU had the personnel to simply out-muscle offensive lines consistently, but the Frogs do not have the front to do that this season. Some of the struggles with the TCU offensive line this season have been their inability to communicate on blitz pickups and stunt pass-offs. Opposing offensive lines are not stressed mentally or communication-wise like the TCU offensive line because the TCU defense is not very creative. The lack of creativity allows good opposing offensive coordinators to make a very effective game plan because they know exactly what they are going to see from the TCU defense.

The same disadvantage occurs in the TCU secondary because opposing offenses can count on picking up easy first-down conversions by running simple quarters coverage beaters. The number of times opposing offenses have gotten chunk plays by simply attacking the alignment of TCU safeties with ten to fifteen-yard out routes is too many to count. TCU employs a heavy dose of quarters coverage meaning both corners are in pseudo man coverage and when an opposing offense can beat man coverage with explosive receivers, TCU has no answer. The TCU secondary is also routinely hung out to dry by very basic blitzes that don’t generate much pressure and leave fewer defenders in coverage. I think many of TCU’s defensive struggles have not necessarily come from the basic defensive scheme but from the inability or reluctance to be creative in play design or play calling. Against teams with inferior athletes, the defense has succeeded because the TCU defense has talented players that can win one-on-one but against teams with sophisticated offensive schemes and equivalent athletes at the skill positions, like K-State and Colorado, the defense has looked lost. Joe Gillespie needs to do more to help his players.

Lack of Violence from the Defense: Although some of the blame falls on the lack of creativity from the defensive coaching staff, some blame also needs to go to the lack of aggression from the defense. TCU players seemed entirely uninterested in taking on blocks with a purpose. Ideally, as a second-level player, you should try to avoid getting blocked and try to make the tackle. However, that will not happen every play, obviously, and therefore run defense is very dependent on players making unselfish plays and taking on blockers with force so that you can stay out of the way of other defenders making the tackle. TCU play-side linebackers too often let themselves get blocked too easily and create traffic for the backside players to work around before they get to the ball carrier. Frog defenders did not play with urgency and played on their heels instead of trying to meet blockers at the line of scrimmage so that other defenders could scrape over the top and make tackles at or near the line of scrimmage. The Frogs looked afraid of contact on Saturday which is never a good trait to have when facing a physical running team like K-State.

There was also the issue of TCU defensive lineman being consistently washed way out of their gap by double teams. Damonic Williams was one of the few bright spots on the defense on Saturday as he was able to hold his own against double teams, enabling TCU linebackers to make plays. TCU defensive ends have struggled with double teams all year and Kansas State exploited this, leading to success with jet sweeps because TCU defensive ends could not set the edge. Defensive ends were getting reached by tackles very easily and then moved upfield by guards and tackles, clouding up the second level of the defense and making it harder for TCU linebackers to run through and keep up with outside runs. Part of the reason Damonic Williams has seen a lot of time at defensive end this year has been because TCU doesn’t have the defensive ends to hold up against the run. Moving one of your best players away from his natural position is never a good sign and it was indicative of the Frogs’ struggles at defensive end against the run this season.

Play Calling: It has to be talked about again. TCU’s play calling on offense was not good on Saturday. Kansas State saw what TCU did against BYU attacking the middle of the field and made the adjustment to sit on slant routes and shallow post routes from TCU receivers. That game plan worked like a charm as the TCU offense refused to throw the ball outside the numbers except for a few nice throws outside the pocket from Josh Hoover on broken plays. I also don’t think TCU took enough deep shots on Saturday to keep Kansas State defensive backs honest. It felt like the Wildcat secondary was not afraid of the vertical routes from TCU receivers and they instead sat on underneath and in breaking routes leading to failed plays from TCU. The Frogs were 2-13 on third downs on Saturday. That is awful. It feels like when TCU needs to draw up a play to get a big conversion, the Frogs don’t know what to go to. When K-State sent pressure, Josh Hoover had no hot options and no one to throw the ball to. The biggest issue in play design was that Hoover often had no chance to make a play when the Wildcats sent pressure. The offensive play call would have fewer blockers than Kansas State had rushers which would be okay if Hoover had a receiver on a hot route to throw to behind the blitz but that wasn’t the case. TCU was running long developing routes with only five blockers in pass protection to which Kansas State responded by sending six rushers and saying good luck to the freshman quarterback. Kansas State could do whatever it wanted on defense schematically and still have success. They had success dropping eight into coverage and only rushing three, they had success sending blitzes and getting pressure quickly, and they had success making plays on the ball in man coverage.

The reluctance to run the ball was strange to me because of the success Emani Bailey was having on the ground. TCU also had the numbers advantage most of the night run blocking-wise if they wanted it as Kansas State would only have six players in the box even when TCU had a tight end in the game. Six blockers for six defenders in the box should be made to order for the running game, but TCU inexplicably turned to play action more often than not in these scenarios. It was a complete mismatch between the coaching staffs on Saturday as both TCU coordinators were completely outclassed.

Pass Protection: The pass protection was bad on Saturday. Run blocking wasn’t great either but it was a very small sample size because Kendall Briles refused to give Emani Bailey more than twelve carries for some unknown reason. Part of the issue was communication, part of the issue was execution, and part of the issue was pre-snap reads. TCU has struggled picking up blitzes and stunts this year and this game was no different as K-State dialed up some pass rushes that had the offensive line lost. There were also multiple plays where the Frogs made the wrong presnap pass protection read and slid away from a blitz resulting in free rushers. Another issue was a lack of hot routes to respond to those free runners, but the TCU offensive line was baited far too often with feigned blitzes pre-snap. In my opinion, the most underrated loss this season was the graduation of Alan Ali a veteran center who understood what defenses were doing pre-snap and could change the protection pre-snap to respond. He put his fellow offensive linemen in the position to execute whereas this year the offensive line often has no chance to execute because they are full sliding away from a blitz which is a recipe for disaster.

There were also execution issues from both the interior offensive line and offensive tackles in pass protection. The interior of the offensive line was routinely getting walked back into the pocket by bull rushes whereas the offensive tackles could not handle speed rushes from Kansas State edge rushers. These speed rushes were often when the Wildcats only sent three rushers and the offensive tackles had help to their inside gap. An overall lack of awareness from primary blockers and a reluctance to help in pass protection by uncovered offensive linemen was an issue. Kansas State had no issues getting into the backfield and causing issues for Josh Hoover.

Looking Ahead

Normally I would add a play of the game clip here but I really couldn’t come up with one for this game. Instead, I’ll give a goal for the offense and the defense to work on during the bye week.

I would love to see Joe Gillispie use the extra time to work more nuance into his defensive playcalling. He has plenty of time to work with his defense on more creative blitzes and coming off of this past Saturday’s performance, the defense really has nothing to lose trying something different. Run some different looks at Texas Tech to add some confusion to their offense and give Texas different looks on film to mess with their gameplan a bit. Stray from the vanilla playcalling from last week.

Better prepare the pass protection unit. Let’s work on identifying where blitzes are likely to come from presnap and who is responsible for each potential blitzer based on the protection call. This includes Josh Hoover knowing which rusher will be unblocked if they rush and knowing where to go with the ball if that is the case.

The focus for the rest of the season should be to make a bowl game and build momentum for next season with some developmental steps taken by Josh Hoover and the defensive line. If those things occur, the rest of the season will be considered a success.