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MMQB: Bye Week Reflection

With no TCU Football game this weekend, this week’s MMQB will be a recap of what has gone right and wrong so far in 2023.

TCU v Kansas State Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

With no Frogs football this past weekend, this article will look back at what the Frogs have done well and not so well this season. Sitting at 4-4 with four games to go, TCU needs to win two of its last four to get to bowl eligibility. The remaining schedule of at Texas Tech, Texas, Baylor, and at Oklahoma indicates that the game on Thursday is as close to a must-win for bowl eligibility as it could get.

The Good:

Emani Bailey: Emani Bailey has been the most consistent player for the Frogs this season. Bailey has totaled 851 yards and two touchdowns on 146 carries so far this season, good for an average of 5.8 yards per carry. Bailey had big shoes to fill this season, replacing two running backs that are now both playing significant roles in the NFL. He has done a great job making the transition seamless with TCU’s running game not taking a hit despite the losses. Bailey has a great ability to read the defense and make decisive cuts to hit the hole before linebackers can fill in to make the play. He gets downhill fast and runs with a purpose, minimizing negative plays. Perhaps the most impressive part of Bailey’s game has been his consistent effort and hard running regardless of the situation around him. There have been a few disheartening games to watch for Frog fans this season but TCU can always count on Bailey to run hard and give 100% effort. Bailey is incredibly fun to watch as he unfolds big plays. He has been a hard runner all season and a consistent bright spot for this TCU team.

The Secondary: Week one was a very tough game for the TCU secondary as they were outplayed by Shedeur Sanders and Colorado. Since that game, however, they have looked like the unit we thought they would be coming into the year. Josh Newton is one of the best cornerbacks in the nation and has effectively shut down every opposing top receiver he has been matched up with. Avery Helm has been solid starting opposite Newton in man coverage. Bud Clark has continued to be a very good athletic safety with great ball skills. Clark leads the team with two interceptions and has made plenty of athletic plays to break up passes. Mark Perry and Millard Bradford have both been solid in their starting roles as well. The secondary is often put in tough situations due to inexperience on the defensive line that has not provided a ton of pass rush, but the defensive backs have done a good job working through that and playing solid defense this year.

Namdi Obiazor: TCU’s linebacking corps has been solid for the most part this year with the highlight of the group being converted safety Namdi Obiazor. Obiazor has made the transition look fairly easy as he leads the team in tackles by far with 65 which is 22 more than the next closest TCU defender. Obiazor has also been effective at rushing the passer and as a quarterback spy when called upon as he is tied for the team lead in sacks with three. Despite this success in pass rushing and run defense, Obiazor’s best attribute as a linebacker has been his work in pass coverage. Obiazor was expected to be a plus in coverage as a converted safety and he has been that and more, running with verticals and crossing routes across the field to help out the secondary. He has two pass deflections on the year and has been great in man coverage and zone coverage. The junior represents the ideal versatility of modern linebackers that TCU needed to add to their defense.

Damonic Williams: The TCU defensive line has struggled at times this season in both run defense and pass-rushing, but Dam Williams has been good despite some inconsistency around him. Williams has been one of the few defensive linemen for TCU that has held his ground against double teams in the run game. In a defensive scheme that only has three down linemen, maintaining gap integrity against double teams is very important. If a defensive lineman gets washed down out of his place in the run fit, the other players in the defensive front are put in a very tough position of trying to defend multiple gaps. Williams has been strong against double teams, allowing for linebackers behind him to make plays. Joe Gillespie has moved Williams to defensive end at times to counteract teams attacking the edges of the TCU defense and Williams has more than held his own. Williams continues to perform well regardless of the situation around him.

John Paul Richardson: TCU receivers have been solid this season and JPR stands out specifically as an excellent portal addition for the Frogs. Richardson leads the Frogs in reception with 30 and receiving yards with 420. He has been solid in the screen game, creating separation against man coverage, and making contested catches over the middle. Richardson has been a consistent target for both Josh Hoover and Chandler Morris as a versatile weapon with reliable hands.

The Bad:

Drops: The one complaint I have had with TCU weapons has been dropped passes. It feels like there is at least one drive every game that is stalled out by passes that are catchable being dropped. For an offense that struggles tremendously when behind the chains, dropped passes can often be a death sentence for a drive. The most frustrating drops have been passes that were thrown behind against a blitz where the quarterback made a good read of what the defense was doing and responded quickly with a pass that should result in a solid gain. When that pass is dropped, the defense is not punished for being aggressive and they have no reason to stop blitzing, putting more pressure on the offensive line and new quarterbacks to respond again. One area for Frog fans to look for as a solid step in the right direction the rest of the season is a reduction in dropped passes as the TCU offensive skill positions adjust to playing with a new quarterback in Josh Hoover.

Penalties: Penalties and discipline have been issues for TCU this season. The Frogs have had more penalty yards than their opponent in six of eight games this season, one of which being against Nichols State and the other being the blowout loss to Kansas State. TCU has had issues at times with presnap penalties especially when playing with tempo. There have been times where the snap is half a beat late causing false start penalties. Loss of focus leading to penalties needs to be cleaned up if the Frogs want to win close games.

Red zone offense: TCU is 127th in the nation in red zone scoring percentage at .656. TCU does not score a staggering 35% of the time when they have the ball inside the twenty yard line. That is very bad. Part of the issue has been turnovers. TCU has thrown entirely too many red zone interceptions. The Frogs have not executed the passing game well in the red zone. Jared Wiley needs to see more targets in the red zone, preferably past the line of scrimmage. Wiley has been targeted in some very strange ways in the red zone on passes at or behind the line of scrimmage. The man is six foot seven. Put him in the middle of the field with his huge catch radius and let him make contested catches because he can and has many times. The interception on fourth down against Houston stands out as a mind boggling playcall. On fourth and one, TCU ran a play action fake with the primary read being a flat route to Jared Wiley to the short side of the field. I love targeting Wiley on fourth down, I strongly dislike throwing a pass behind the line on fourth down. Emani Bailey needs more touches in the red zone too. Bailey has two touchdowns on the ground this year which is more of a product that the Frogs do not give him the ball in the red zone very often. For what reason I do not know. Instead of sticking with what got TCU all the way down the field and giving Bailey the ball in the red zone, too often the Frogs have inexplicably turned to trick plays that take the ball out of Bailey’s hands. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Spacing is cramped in the red zone, putting an emphasis on play design and playcalling. While the Frogs need to execute better on the field, the coaching staff needs to help out their players in the red zone.

Lack of creativity on defense: I wrote about this in my MMQB after the Kansas State game and I think it remains the biggest issue with TCU’s defense. The TCU defensive play calling is extraordinary vanilla for both the defensive front and the secondary. The Frogs do not run stunts and rarely send blitzes. For a team that was trying to replace its two top pass rushers from a year ago, one would expect the coaching staff to dial up some exotic looks to try and manufacture some pressure. TCU has done the opposite and given opposing offensive lines very bland looks that make it very easy for them gameplan and communicate. Offensive lines know exactly what they are going to see from the TCU defensive front. Generally, a big challenge for coaches is to simplify the mental side of the game so that their players can focus on executing. The lack of creativity from the TCU defense has simplified it for opposing offenses meaning that while the TCU defense has to sort through different formations, motions, and play calls before executing their responsibilities, opposing offenses can go out and play. Pass coverage calls from TCU’s defense are very predictable as well. TCU runs an incredibly high percentage of quarters coverage and teams have realized that and taken advantage with quarters coverage beaters. Opposing offenses are able to convert third and short and third and medium by attacking the fact that TCU safeties give slot receivers over twelve yards of cushion constantly. Opposing offenses know that TCU corners are going to play man coverage type looks and that the TCU linebackers will be responsible for running backs in pass coverage. Good offensive coordinators with dynamic running backs have taken advantage of this with the most glaring example being Dylan Edwards catching five passes for 136 yards and three touchdowns out of the backfield in week one for Colorado. Moving forward, I am looking for Joe Gillespie to experiment with his defensive calls and try to give offenses new looks because Texas and Oklahoma will eat TCU alive if they continue to run just their base defense.

Play of the Season so far:

The play of the season for me is the fourth down touchdown to Chase Curtis to put SMU away. It was a four verticals concept from a fun formation that was read well by Chandler Morris, well designed by the TCU coaching staff, and well executed by Curtis.