TCU moved to below .500 on the season with a loss on the road to Texas Tech this past Thursday with a final score of 35-28. The Frogs outgained the Red Raiders, committed fewer penalties, and were better on third and fourth down but still lost their fifth game of the season moving to 2-4 in Big 12 play. TCU will now have to win two of their next three to reach bowl eligibility which will require beating one of either Texas or Oklahoma (assuming the Frogs beat Baylor at home).
Namdi Obiazor: Namdi Obiazor’s emergence this season as a very good linebacker has been fun to watch. Obiazor had another great game against Texas Tech with seven tackles and a sack while also being solid in pass coverage. TCU’s defense has struggled as a whole with eye discipline this season but Obiazor has been an exception to that as he sifts through misdirection to find ball carriers well. Obiazor has been a consistent source of splash plays on defense, something that has been lacking in 2023 from the Frogs. He makes pass breakups, gets to the quarterback, and delivers big hits, injecting some energy into a team that has needed energy at points this season (also, shoutout to Jamoi Hodge for making a good read on Behren Morton in zone coverage to deliver a pass deflection from his linebacker spot. We haven’t seen that a lot this year and that play was nice to see.) Obiazor has been whatever Joe Gillespie has needed him to be. The position change from safety to linebacker was a great call by the coaches in the offseason as it has transformed Obiazor from a depth player to a very important part of the defense.
Emani Bailey Red Zone Touches: TCU has not been good in the red zone this season but we saw progress with Emani Bailey getting touches in the red zone. Bailey doubled his season touchdown total in this game with two scores, both on runs from within the red zone. In previous games, the Frogs had gone away from Bailey in the red zone as a result of what I believe was overthinking. Bailey was often the reason that TCU was in the red zone in the first place but the coaching staff thought themselves out of the obvious answer and ran trick plays as opposed to letting Bailey dominate. In a game where the rushing attack was slowed, it was good to see the coaches demonstrate confidence in Bailey in the red zone.
Johnny Hodges: Johnny Hodges returned from injury against the Red Raiders adding a whole new dimension to the TCU defense as he allowed for creativity in the defensive scheme in terms of pass rush. Hodges’s impact often goes underrated because a big part of his role is run stopping which isn’t often flashy, but is very necessary. Hodges finished with seven tackles, one of which was for a loss, providing good open-field tackling for a team that needed it. TCU has struggled with linebackers covering running backs in pass coverage and the instincts of Johnny Hodges helped with that tremendously on Thursday. Hodges was very solid with his timing on when to cover the checkdown. He waited out the quarterback, not leaving too early to leave a gap in pass coverage over the middle of the field and was decisive when running out to cover running backs in the flat, making good tackles to limit yards picked up. Hodges is also a big part of defensive communications and his return led to Gillespie getting more creative with his blitz calls, especially in the second half. There were stunts called, delayed blitzes, and more linebackers walked up on the line, putting pressure on the Tech offensive line to execute. There still needed to be some variation in coverage calls on the back end but the creativity in the defensive front was a very needed development. TCU had eight tackles for a loss and two sacks against the Red Raiders which were at least in part due to Gillespie’s confidence calling more nuanced plays with Hodges on the field.
Run Blocking: Texas Tech ranks 54th in the nation in rushing defense and gives up an average of 140 yards per game. TCU was only able to total 87 yards on the ground, averaging 3.3 yards per carry. For a team that is trying to make life easier for a freshman quarterback, that is very bad. It’s not as though Tech was loading the box either. The Frogs consistently saw six-person boxes from the Red Raiders even when TCU had a tight end in the game and still could not run the ball. Missed assignments were an issue once again as offensive linemen were passing off defensive linemen when there was no one to pass them off to. The TCU offensive line was not taking care of the down linemen and working to the second level while the defensive line made tackles in the backfield. There were also a few inexplicable mistakes where players would avoid blocking players in front of them to block backside linebackers. Blocking backside linebackers doesn’t matter if the play side defensive end and linebacker are in the backfield making the tackle. There were also times when Texas Tech defensive linemen were just straight-up beating double teams. Not even neutralizing double teams but fighting through both blockers to make the tackle. Offensive line improvement needs to be a focus this offseason for the Frogs.
Accuracy: Let me preface this paragraph with this, the Frogs need to do a better job helping Josh Hoover. The running game was nonexistent. Pass protection has been an issue. Offensive play calling has been far from perfect. Josh Hoover also made some incredible throws on Thursday. The play where he spun out of the pocket to avoid a free rusher up the middle, rolled out, and found Jared Wiley down the field for a big chunk was beautiful to watch. Hoover also had two balls that he absolutely ripped over the middle of the field to Emani Bailey and Jojo Earle which were excellent. Hoover has the arm talent, athleticism, and pocket movement to be great. Two areas to work on, however, are decision-making to an extent and accuracy. I fully believe that he can and will improve on these things since this was his third start in college. Consistency in his accuracy needs to improve. There are times when Hoover looks surgical and it looks like he can fit the ball into any window he wants. There are other throws that are off-target by a significant margin over the middle. Deep accuracy needs some work as well or at least familiarity with his receivers which could also be a result of Hoover not being QB1 for that long. The fact that sometimes Hoover looks very accurate and other times the accuracy looks off suggests that it is a mechanics issue and could have something to do with footwork in pockets that are sometimes very messy. A goal for the rest of the season for Hoover is to work on consistency with his accuracy.
Outschemed: The most glaring issue for me this season has been the fact that the Frogs have been outschemed in a very high number of games. Players can overcome bad schemes but it’s essentially equivalent to bringing a knife to a gunfight. It feels like opposing teams have no trouble scheming players open against the TCU defense while in order for the Frogs to pick up chunk plays on offense, an excellent play has to be made. In the game against Texas Tech, the touchdown scored by the Red Raiders in the second quarter with about 3 minutes left in the half had a tight bunch formation putting stress on the defense through alignment and a route concept that attacked the leverage of the TCU safety leading to an open receiver over the middle of the field leading to a score. Behren Morton was then able to find his first read and, yes, it was a good throw, but not an extremely difficult throw by any means. TCU’s defense gets attacked scheme-wise on a weekly basis while it feels like the TCU offense cannot scheme people open. The contrast between opposing offenses’ ability to attack the TCU defensive scheme and the difficulty it takes for the Frog offense to create a big play has been staggering. It feels like everything comes easier for opposing offenses while TCU’s offense has to go on an absolute grind to score points and that is largely due to a deficiency in play design and scheme.
Special Teams yet again: Special teams remain an issue. The Frogs missed another field goal on Thursday and the return game continues to be very bad. Punt coverage also didn’t look great as the Frogs gave up a thirty-yard return on Thursday on the one punt that was returned by the Red Raiders. It’s hard to ask for Jordy Sandy to simply punt for distance when the punt coverage team gives up thirty-yard returns when there isn’t a fair catch made. Punt returns for the Frogs no longer involve attempting to pick up yards. It is now about disaster prevention as Frog returners call for a fair catch pretty well 100% of the time. The same cannot be said about kick returns unfortunately as TCU does not take enough touchbacks and it almost always results in the ball not making it to the 25-yard line. TCU averaged 15.5 yards on kick returns on Thursday. A touchback is a free 25 yards and it all but eliminates the potential for a penalty. The amount of holding penalties called on TCU this season during kick returns has been mind-boggling. There have been too many decisions on special teams that do not make sense this season.
Play of the Game:
Hoover showcasing the arm strength and ripping a seam route in the red zone for a score was a great sign for the future of the Frogs.