The Frogs got their first win of the season with relative ease over Nicholls State with a final score of 41-6. Though the final score would indicate otherwise, the TCU offense struggled at times in this game, and the offensive play calling left much to be desired. That said, the defense had a bounce-back game and there were positives to take away from both sides of the ball.
Special Teams: I’ll start the good section with what had been the most consistent phase of the game for the Frogs through two games in special teams (minus a missed field goal in week one). The Frogs kicked off the scoring against Nicholls State with a blocked punt that was taken back for a touchdown. Between this and the blocked field goal against Colorado, it feels like TCU is going to be more aggressive in trying to block kicks this year. Generally, the Frogs have taken a more conservative gameplan in field goal defense and punt block, playing the fake instead of being aggressive, but so far this year aggressive play calls have paid off in a big way.
The return game for TCU has been strong to start the season with Major Everhart having a big kick return against Colorado and Jojo Earle having a 30-yard return on a punt against Nicholls. Both Earle and Everhart are explosive athletes who should continue to give the Frogs major field position advantages throughout the season.
While Griffin Kell did miss a field goal against the Buffaloes in week one, he did more than enough against Nicholls to ease the nerves of Frog fans. Kell drilled a career-long 57-yard field goal at the end of the first half as well as a 42-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. In a Big 12 where close games are very common, having a weapon at placekicker can be the difference (shout out bazooka).
While I’m sure Frog fans would have rather TCU punted less against Nicholls State, Jordy Sandy had a solid day, dropping one at the ten-yard line and limiting returns thanks to very good hang time on his punts.
The Defense: While the Nicholls State offense does not have the same explosiveness as Colorado’s, the defense had a much better game in week two. The Frogs held Nicholls to 2.2 yards per carry and under 50% completion percentage while forcing two turnovers. Marcel Brooks saw his first action of 2023 and showcased the athleticism that made him a five-star recruit out of high school. Brooks has great speed and talent rushing the passer and while he is not ready to be an every-down linebacker, he could be used as a sparkplug pass rusher for a defense looking to generate more pressure on the quarterback. Damonic Williams was disruptive on Saturday, picking up a sack and generating pressure up the middle of the pocket. The Frogs need him to do that consistently for the defense to have success while the new defensive ends get used to increased roles. Speaking of defensive ends, Rick D’Abreu had a strong game once again, picking up half a sack after a strong performance against Colorado.
Josh Newton had an excellent game in coverage, locking up whichever receiver Nicholls State decided to put on his side of the field. The secondary as a whole played better, albeit against a lesser opponent, but the Frogs needed a strong game to reset confidence moving into the rest of the season.
Pass Protection: Chandler Morris has not been sacked through two weeks of the 2023 season as the offensive line has been rock solid in pass protection. Morris has had a very clean pocket to throw from through two games and hasn’t had to throw the ball away much at all. The veteran offensive line has communicated well on blitzes and the running backs have done a solid job picking up blitzes or being available for checkdowns to prevent sacks. Though the rest of the offense has not been very consistent, pass protection has.
Running Game: The TCU rushing attack was supposed to dominate this game. A veteran offensive line blocking for two solid running backs should have led to TCU being able to run the ball at will. Instead, Emani Bailey and Trey Sanders averaged 3.5 and 2.6 yards per carry respectively. Part of this falls on the coaching staff because through two games, they have shown no semblance of desire to throw the ball down the field and teams have no reason not to pack the box. Part of this falls on the offensive line that got straight up beat on way too many plays against Nicholls State. Run blocking should be an opportunity for the offensive line to exert their will on the defense and play aggressively. Too often on Saturday, the TCU offensive line seemed content to catch the defensive front instead of attack it. The Frogs need to be able to run the ball with their current play selection that involves a heavy dose of RPOs and this game did not inspire confidence in the running game. I think the rushing attack will be fine, the offensive line is too experienced and strong not to, and hopefully, this serves as a wake-up call that you have to block aggressively to win.
Offensive Game Plan: The game plan and playcalling for this game felt like TCU offenses pre-Sonny Dykes. Very conservative, playing not to lose instead of playing to win, short passes, uncreative running game, and an unwillingness to throw the ball downfield. If the coaching staff felt like they didn’t fully trust Morris to throw past the short areas of the field against Colorado, this game would have been the perfect opportunity to let him air it out and work through mistakes. We instead saw swing passes, screen passes, and drag routes galore. The few times the Frogs did push the ball down the field, Morris looked very solid. He had a beautiful back-shoulder throw on a go route to Warren Thompson for a chunk play. He was very accurate and decisive in throwing glance routes to Jaylon Robinson and Thompson. Although the Frogs were without their two starting outside receivers along with JP Richardson being limited for this game, they still have a strong stable of weapons to work with. To open up the running game and to take advantage of a good pass-protecting offensive line, the Frogs need to trust Morris and push the ball downfield more. This doesn’t even mean a bunch of deep posts or go routes necessarily, but simply running more intermediate passing concepts like digs and overs will open up more possibilities for the offense. This will force teams to move their safeties back which will open up the RPOs and underneath concepts that Briles likes to run.
Play of the Game
I’ll take Griffin Kell’s 57-yard bomb for the play of the game.