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MMQB: Rock Bottom (I hope)

The Frogs dropped their second straight game on the road in Ames, Iowa this past Saturday.

TCU v Iowa State Photo by David K Purdy/Getty Images

It was a nightmare scenario for the Frogs in Ames on Saturday as they dropped their second straight game by a score of 27-14. The game felt like a blowout for Frog fans with four turnovers by TCU, an injury suffered by starting quarterback Chandler Morris that could see him miss a significant chunk of the season, and letting up 30 points to an Iowa State team that could not crack double digits against Ohio earlier this season. All the weaknesses of this TCU team were exposed in a big way on Saturday resulting in a very very bad loss.

The Good:

Emani Bailey: Emani Bailey is the only player I can confidently say had a good day on offense. He has undoubtedly been the most consistent performer on the offensive side of the ball for TCU in 2023 and had a great day on the ground on Saturday. Bailey went for 152 yards on 21 carries good for over 7 yards per carry. He was explosive, ran with solid patience and vision, and ran hard the entire game which was very impressive considering the team performance around him. TCU has had some hard-to-watch moments in the 2023 season so far, but Bailey has been a consistent bright spot for Frog fans to enjoy.

Pass coverage: Defensively, the highlight was the limited success Iowa State had through the air. Rocco Becht was held under 200 yards passing at only 138 yards on 16 completions on 28 attempts. Bud Clark had another very athletic play to force an incompletion, continuing his very strong season. Josh Newton has earned the reputation of a shutdown corner with teams simply refusing to target him in coverage and Saturday was no different. Namdi Obiazor had another nice day in coverage from his linebacker spot. Obiazor has developed into one of the Frogs’ best defenders this season with the ability to rush the passer, make tackles in space, and be a plus in pass coverage. Outside of the Colorado game to start the season, the TCU secondary and pass coverage has been rock solid.

The Bad:

Run defense: The run defense, on the other hand, was not good. Going into a game against a freshman quarterback who has played somewhat inconsistently in 2023, TCU had to expect a heavy dose of the run game from Iowa State. Whether the coaching staff saw it coming or not, TCU did not defend the run well. Iowa State totaled 215 yards and two touchdowns on the ground on Saturday. This was Iowa State’s best performance on the ground this season as their next-best game put up only 150 yards on the ground as a team. The Cyclones put up a whole 38 yards on the ground and averaged 1.7 yards per carry against Ohio but averaged almost six yards per carry against TCU.

The interior of the ISU offensive line dominated the TCU defense. The Horned Frog nose tackles were unable to hold their ground against double teams and were driven backward consistently. Defensive linemen were routinely making tackles seven and eight yards down the field and while I love the effort to make those plays, defensive linemen should aim to be in the backfield on run plays, not almost ten yards down the field.

Gap integrity was an issue with TCU linebackers jumping out of their gaps to try and make a play only for the running back to cut back and create a chunk play. The offensive performance was deflating for sure, but watching Iowa State march down the field behind their running game truly took all the wind out of the sails for the Frogs.

Off-schedule offense: One of the main issues with the TCU offense in 2023 has been the inability to overcome negative or no-gain plays on early downs. A first-down incompletion or run for no gain feels like a death blow for a drive. In obvious passing downs where TCU can’t use the crutch of an RPO or play fake, the Frogs cannot pass the ball consistently. There have been complaints from TCU fans about throwing the ball short of the sticks on third down and I think the issue is that TCU does not have a go-to receiver this year to pass the ball to and cannot consistently design successful drop-back passing plays. TCU quarterbacks are then forced to either take a sack or throw a checkdown resulting in a failed conversion attempt.

TCU must be better when making a substitution at running back. Emani Bailey gets the bulk of the carries for the Frogs, as he should, but it feels as though the plan for a good portion of TCU drives is to run Bailey until it doesn’t work, at which point TCU is then behind the chains and the drive dies. After a run for 15-20 yards, a running back will probably be experiencing some fatigue and should probably take a breather on the sideline instead of getting another carry that inevitably results in a very small gain. Too often the Frogs run one running back until he doesn’t gain positive yards instead of predicting a decrease in stamina and making a change. TCU needs to be more consistent on early downs and much better at overcoming unsuccessful early down plays.

Special Teams: Special teams were very bad for the second straight week for TCU. While there were no missed or blocked field goals, there was a blocked punt and a few very short punts. TCU has had three different kicks blocked this year through six games. Having a punt or field goal blocked every other game is asking to be a .500 football team. The field position advantage has rarely been with the Frogs this season and this game was no different. TCU had a punt distance average of 33.7 yards on Saturday. That is not good. The Frogs had a kickoff go out of bounds giving Iowa State ten more yards to start their drive. The TCU defense needed to play better on Saturday, but special teams put them in some very tough positions.

The return game has not been good recently for TCU either. Major Everhart did have a return of 46 yards to give the Frogs good field position. However, he had another good return brought back due to a penalty, setting the offense back inside their own twenty-yard line. Outside of the one big return, TCU returned kickoffs to their own 17, their own 22, and their own 15 twice. That is not good and it lies on the blocking and gameplan not to take a touchback more than it does on the returners. Neither the offense nor the defense played well enough for TCU to win and the special teams did not help.

Passing offense: While TCU eventually eclipsed 200 yards through the air as a team, the passing attack was bad on Saturday. TCU threw four interceptions on Saturday, two from Chandler Morris, one from Josh Hoover, and one from JP Richardson (side note, running a double pass while down by 20 points with three minutes left in the game after your freshman quarterback appeared to have found a rhythm is just a hilarious play call). The two interceptions from Morris were two bad misses. The first one might have been a miscommunication on an option route but Morris still has to recognize that his receiver has stopped and not throw the ball to the middle of the field blindly. The second interception was yards behind Dylan Wright on a drag route. Two brutal misses in the area of the field where he needs to excel with his struggles at times with deeper throws. While Morris did not play well in this game, his injury was a disaster for the Frogs. Morris is the best quarterback on the roster and it does not look like Hoover is ready to be the starter. Morris looked like he didn’t trust what he saw on Saturday, which could have been a product of the two early interceptions. If that was the case and he lost confidence after the two picks, the coaching staff has to do a better job rebuilding confidence. Keep taking shots downfield and don’t abandon the game plan because when Morris lost confidence on Saturday, the offense shut down.

Hoover’s interception was a complete misread on a corner route that was undercut by a cloud corner that read Hoover’s eyes all the way. I think Hoover has the potential to be a good college quarterback with good arm strength, size, and solid athleticism. I don’t think he is quite ready to lead the offense and I don’t think he fits in the offense TCU wants to run with Chandler Morris. I think Hoover would fit more into a straight drop-back passing game similar to what the Frogs ran last year under Garrett Riley. The RPO-centric, quick-game offense that Kendall Briles runs requires faster decision-making and short-yardage accuracy that might not be there yet for Hoover. If Hoover is the starting quarterback at any point during the rest of the season, the Frogs need to highlight his strengths as a strong-armed, bigger quarterback and take shots down the field and over the middle of the field. TCU couldn’t handle the drastic mid-game change in scheme and the passing game couldn’t get going.

Penalties: Penalties and lack of discipline have been the least discussed big issues this season. Through six games, the Frogs have committed more penalty yards than their opponent in all but one game. That one game was against Nichols State where TCU still managed to pick up 50 yards worth of penalties. Against Iowa State, the Frogs committed six penalties for 52 yards. With an offense that struggles to succeed while behind the chains, false starts and holding penalties kill drives immediately. Way too many mental mistakes have been committed by a team that is pretty experienced at every position other than the defensive line.

Play of the Game:

Not a ton of plays to choose from so I’ll go with the scramble drill touchdown from Chandler. I’m not a huge fan of the fact that pass protection couldn’t hold up against a three-man rush long enough for Morris to go through his progressions on mesh but I like the playmaking ability from Morris.