The Frogs spoiled Houston’s first conference game in the Big 12 on the road with a final score of 36-13. The defense was dominant, not giving up an offensive touchdown and Chandler Morris had his best game this season to give TCU some momentum going into the SMU game and the rest of the season.
Chandler Morris: If not for the otherworldly performance against Baylor in 2021, this would easily be Morris’s best game at the collegiate level. This game represented the best-case scenario with Chandler at quarterback. He was processing quickly and decisive with the ball, very elusive in and outside of the pocket, felt pressure well, and was accurate at all three levels. Morris finished with 314 yards and two touchdowns through the air along with 53 yards on the ground. While Morris did throw an interception, it was a ball that went off of the hands of Jared Wiley on a play that should’ve had defensive holding called anyway(also props on the effort to run down the defender and prevent a pick-six). After taking a sack and fumbling the ball early in the game, Chandler was very aware of pressure and did a good job making defenders miss and getting out of sacks despite some spotty pass protection.
This felt like the first game this season that the coaching staff gave him the full keys to the offense and let him pass the ball down the field and he took full advantage. The touchdowns to Warren Thompson and Savion Williams were great throws on go routes down the sideline. Jack Bech was also a recipient of a dart from Chandler down the field for a gain of 33 yards. Morris also had excellent balls go right through the hands of his receivers. Arguably Morris’s best throw on the day was to Jaylon Robinson on a post route that was defended well but Chandler found a tiny window to put it on Robinson. Unfortunately, Robinson was unable to haul it in because of the tight coverage but the accuracy and confidence from Morris on the throw were great to see. This level of play from Morris elevates the TCU offense into a much different and more dangerous unit.
Running game: Emani Bailey has been a stud for the first three weeks of the season. Despite playing through an ankle injury this past Saturday, Bailey ran for 126 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Bailey’s open-field cuts are a privilege to watch and they routinely result in an extra ten to fifteen yards on carries that get to the second level. Trey Sanders was effective in his role on Saturday as well with 8 carries for 48 yards and a touchdown. There were even some solid designed quarterback runs worked in on third and short that were very effective. This was a much more creative running game than what we saw against Nicholls State and makes me think that Dykes and Briles intentionally ran a limited playbook last week. The offensive line deserves some credit for the success on the ground too. There were not nearly as many missed blocks and they worked much better as a unit this week. Although there were some blocking penalties, pre-snap penalties have been much rarer since week one which was a needed improvement if TCU is going to continue to play with tempo.
Downfield passing!!: After two weeks of very conservative passing game plans, the Frogs opened it up against Houston and found plenty of success attacking with intermediate and deep passing concepts. Morris showed the ability to drive the ball through the middle of the field in the intermediate passing game and the touch on a couple of go routes in the deep passing game. Briles and Dykes did a solid job scheme-wise getting people open down the field. The only hiccup was Morris staring down a hole shot and almost throwing a pick on the outside against cover two but even that would have been open if Morris looked the safety off before throwing the ball. Savion Williams had his best game of the season thanks, in part, to the game plan being geared more toward his skill set as a physical receiver with the ability to make contested catches. The offense looked better than it had all season against Houston, thanks in large part to success attacking with the passing game.
Defense: The TCU defense had an excellent game against the Cougars this weekend. They let up just six offensive points, picked off Donovan Smith twice, and held Houston running backs to 3.4 yards per carry collectively. The run defense has been the most consistent part of the defense and that was no different on Saturday as the Frogs did a solid job tackling and dominating the line of scrimmage. Bud Clark flashed his ball hawk ability and closing speed with a nice interception on a flea flicker. Mark Perry made a couple of outstanding open-field tackles to prevent big plays. The CB2 position had a solid game with Avery Helm, Channing Canada, and Mason White all playing well in their time on the field.
What was most impressive from the TCU defense was the six sacks they were able to rack up on Smith. Paul Oyewale had a great game with two sacks and five total tackles and was disruptive in the backfield constantly. Michael Ibukun-Okeyode had a strong game as well with solid pressure throughout the game and a half a sack to go with it. Shad Banks and Johnny Hodges both had sacks from their linebacker spots and were effective when sent on blitzes. If TCU can continue to rush the passer like this, the defense has a chance to be great this season.
Special teams mishaps: TCU outgained Houston by almost three hundred yards on Saturday but Houston was able to hang around because of the Frogs’ inability to finish drives with a touchdown (more on this later) and some special teams mistakes by TCU. The field goal unit was not as reliable as it usually is with two missed field goals and a missed extra point. The snaps were not great on Saturday, leading to a few shaky holds and in turn a couple of missed kicks. One of the missed field goals was a 60-yarder at the end of the half so making that was not expected and would’ve been a bonus, but two missed extra points in three games is not good for a unit returning its holder and placekicker.
Additionally, the kickoff defense from the Frogs was not good enough. Matthew Golden is an electric athlete and a great returner but his touchdown would not have happened if the kickoff team had rallied to the ball when he was originally wrapped up. The real head-scratcher was continuing to give Houston an opportunity to return kickoffs after the touchdown. Perhaps the most questionable call was deciding to give the Cougars a return on a rekick due to an offsides penalty. TCU had originally kicked a moonshot to one of the upmen to prevent a return but on the rekick, the Frogs kicked it to the returner despite the kickoff team not having time to catch their breath. Jordy Sandy had an excellent game at punter, with one of his punts being downed at the one-yard line, but the special teams unit as a whole needs to clean up some mistakes as the Frogs will face teams in the future that will take advantage of better field position and missed kicks.
Pass protection: Through the first two weeks of the season, the TCU offensive line did not allow a sack and the unit was great in pass protection. Against Houston, however, they did not have a great game in pass protection. Morris was sacked three times and the number could have been much higher if Morris had not made some excellent escapes from collapsing pockets. Part of the issue was a lack of communication on blitz pickups as far too many free rushers made their way into the backfield against the Frogs. There were also times when TCU tackles just got beat and beat badly leading to almost immediate pressure on Morris. The Frogs’ offensive line had been very solid in pass protection up to this game and had to deal with a few injuries during the game so I still have faith in the unit, but they need to be better than they were this week moving forward.
Drops: Dropped passes are the most frustrating plays in football for me. So much has to go right for the receiver to have a good chance to catch the ball and to see it fall harmlessly to the ground is painful to watch. The Frogs had far too many opportunities go through their hands on Saturday with the most glaring issue being on hot routes against pressure. Some incompletions/drops were on plays down the field against solid coverage and can be excused to an extent. Plays where Chandler recognizes that the defense is rushing more players than TCU has blocking, makes the smart decision to find his hot option, and makes a good throw are inexcusable drops. These throws are not far down the field, the receiver should understand he could get the ball immediately since he is the hot option, and the receivers are often uncovered or lightly covered since the defense is sending a blitz. The Frogs had at least three drops of this kind that I can remember on Saturday. The hard part of beating blitzes appears to be out of the way as Morris showed an ability to recognize them pre-snap and was ready with a response, the Frogs just need to work on catching the ball to convert these crucial plays.
Finishing drives: While TCU put up a very solid 36 points on Saturday, it could have been a lot more with better execution at the end of drives. Five field goal attempts is entirely too many considering how dominant the TCU offense looked against the Houston defense. Field goals are failures against good teams and TCU has to do a better job keeping up momentum on drives once they get into opponent territory. Negative plays were a part of this issue as penalties and sacks stalled a few drives on the Houston side of the 50-yard line.
We also have to talk about the fourth down call on 4th and three from the Houston 15-yard line. TCU seems to have a propensity for running routes short of the line to gain on third and fourth down and this play was an example of that as it was a play action designed to look like a split zone with the main receiver being Jared Wiley running the line of scrimmage. Targeting Wiley on big downs is probably a good idea because he is a big target with very reliable hands. Requiring him to pick up the first down via run after catch instead of letting him be a possession receiver where he excels is not a good idea. This is not to say Wiley can’t contribute via run after catch, he can and has run over many a defensive back, but his run after catch should be a bonus, not a necessity. Should defensive holding have been called on the play? Probably, yes. Was it a questionable play call regardless? Also yes.
Play of the Game:
Morris dropping this one right into the breadbasket for Savion Williams was a thing of beauty.