During the bye week every coaching staff takes the opportunity to do a self scout. A deep dive into your own program to see what changes should be made for the rest of the season. TCU has obviously disappointed this season after a national championship appearance last year, so what do the Frogs need to do to right the ship?
- Moving the ball: TCU currently ranks 16th in the country in yards per game. The Frogs have done a great job of moving the ball this year. They rank 23rd in passing offense and 43rd in rushing offense. The 300-yard performance last week has many unsure of what things will look like to end the season, but outside of the Kansas State game TCU hasn’t had trouble moving the ball and picking up first downs. In fact, TCU is 2nd in the country in first downs. Finally, TCU ranks 2nd in the country in plays of 10+ yards with 150 on the season.
- 3rd down conversions: The Frogs have converted 44% of their third down attempts on the year which ranks 33rd nationally. Interestingly, the Frogs have converted 44% of their third down attempts in their losses. This tells me that even when TCU loses, they are still able to convert third downs and move the ball (I’m aware they were 2/13 against K-State).
- Emani Bailey and the run game: Some may say that ranking 43rd in rushing isn’t great, but it’s still in the top third of the country. More importantly, Emani Bailey is 12th in the nation in rushing yards per game with 106. The junior running back is having a solid season.
- Receiving by committee: TCU lost some serious wide receiver talent to the NFL. Sonny Dykes and his staff hit the transfer portal and brought in quite a few guys. JP Richardson leads the team in receiving with 420 yards. The Frogs have 11 players with over 100 receiving yards on the season.
- Red zone scoring: This is the biggest difference between 2023 and 2022 for TCU. Last year, 69% of TCU’s red zone possessions resulted in a touchdown. That ranked 27th nationally. This year, the Frogs have turned just 47% of their red zone possessions into touchdowns, ranking 130th! It’s unacceptable. When the field gets smaller things happen faster. The Frogs have turned the ball over in the red zone far too often, but this statistic is a symptom of a much bigger issue. Scoring touchdowns in the red zone often comes down to one thing - toughness. Last year, TCU was a tough team, especially on offense. This team is not tough.
- Turnovers: TCU ranks 98th with 13 turnovers on the season. Turnovers cost TCU 2 games this year (Colorado and Iowa State). The Frogs were -5 in turnover margin in those 2 games alone.
- True explosive plays: While the Frogs rank 2nd in plays over 10 yards, that ranking falls to 66th in plays over 30 yards, and an abysmal 121st in plays over 40 yards (just 3 on the season). Typically you don’t see this kind of differential when it comes to explosive plays.
- The lack of a #1 receiver: While it’s good that TCU has 11 receivers over 100 yards, the Frogs lack a true deep threat. There’s nobody who can just take over a game like we saw QJ do time and time again throughout his career. This can lead to problems in the passing game.
- PBUs: The Frogs have done a great job of breaking up passes this year. They have broken up 29 passes on the season which ranks 35th in the country.
- Red zone defense: The TCU defense has given up scores on 81% of their red zone trips this year which ranks 62nd. Not great, but not horrible. However, the Frogs rank 39th in red zone touchdown percent. Just 52% of opponent possessions inside the 20 have resulted in a touchdown.
- Sacks: The Frogs have 20 sacks on the season which ranks 34th nationally. They’ve done a great job of converting sacks when pressure is created. The problem is that pressure hasn’t been created often enough.
- 4th down defense: The Frogs rank 13th nationally in 4th down defense, allowing conversions on just 32% of the fourth down attempts they’ve faced.
- Explosive plays: TCU has allowed 107 plays over 10 yards this year. That ranks 97th. The numbers don’t get much better on bigger plays either. 37 plays over 20 yards (95th), 18 plays over 30 yards (101st), 11 plays over 40 yards (108th). You get the picture, and if you watched the Kansas State game you saw plenty of this.
- First downs allowed: TCU has allowed 159 first downs on the season, ranking 98th in the country.
- Takeaways: The Frogs have forced 9 turnovers on the year which ranks 77th. Last year the Frogs ranked 24th in takeaways.
- Effort: This one isn’t a quantifiable statistic, but we’ve all seen it. The missed tackles, the bad angles, guys thinking a play is over when it isn’t. Defense is supposed to be 11 hats flying to the football. We haven’t seen that this year. Honestly, it looked like this team quit against Kansas State. My fear is that there are some toxic guys in the locker room who have given up on this season because a Big 12 title and college football playoff appearance are off the table. We’ll have a better idea if I’m right after the Tech game next week.
Some of the issues outlined here are things that may not be able to be fixed in season. Nobody on this offense is going to suddenly emerge as a true #1 receiver, for instance. However, there are still plenty of areas TCU can grow in. I’ve seen TCU fans saying they don’t even care about a bowl game, and that is a horrendous take. Going to a bowl game gives your team, and most importantly the young guys, anywhere from 10-15 extra practices on the season. The importance of that cannot be understated.
The TCU offense needs to focus on 2 things moving forward. First, the Frogs have to stop turning the ball over. One of the easiest ways to lose a game is to lose the turnover battle. The numbers back that up. As the season continues, Josh Hoover has to avoid throwing interceptions, especially in plus territory. Second, the red zone offense has to improve. Many of you will blame Kendal Briles for this, and he’s definitely part of the problem. But at the end of the day, TCU isn’t executing when it has the opportunity to score. The run game has to be more physical (I’d love to see an extra OL and 2 tight ends on the field), and the quarterbacks have to take care of the ball. I believe both of these things can be improved moving forward.
TCU’s issues on defense, however, I am not sure about. This defense is allowing fewer yards and fewer red zone touchdowns than it did last year, but the explosive plays allowed and the lack of takeaways are a major problem. Simply put, I don’t think TCU has the athletes to accomplish what Gillespie is trying to do schematically. That has been apparent by TCU’s inability to cover a running back out of the backfield all year. Colorado and Kansas State both exploited it over and over again. Personally, I don’t think the 3-3-5 is the best fit for TCU. To play an odd front your 3 defensive linemen have to dominate the line of scrimmage, and TCU’s guys up front can’t do that. I don’t think that issue can be resolved in recruiting either. The guys who are true game-changers on the defensive line aren’t coming to TCU to play football. Sorry. This program had tons of success in the 4-2-5 system for years, and I firmly believe that the TCU Horned Frogs need 4 defensive linemen on the field to be successful. However, this change cannot be made until after the season is over.