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MMQB: Defense Optional

The Frogs were not prepared for Prime Time and Travis Hunter as they lost the first game of the season in a shootout at home.

Colorado Buffaloes vs Texas Christian University Photo by Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Sonny Dykes lost his first regular season game at TCU to Colorado on Saturday in a very high-scoring game. The Frogs scored 42 points and still lost in what was a very poor defensive effort as Shedeur Sanders set the school record for passing yards with 510 in his first game at the FBS level. There are a lot of questions about the defense which was supposed to be a point of stability for a team losing so much talent offensively.

The Good:

Offensive Skill Positions (For the most part): I’ll start with the area that gave me the most hope from TCU which was the running backs and receiving corps’ performance on Saturday. TCU did not take many deep shots and Colorado recognized this, pushing their DBs up closer to the line. Despite this, the running game and pass-catchers still thrived. Emani Bailey had an excellent game with 14 carries for 164 yards while Trey Sanders had a hat trick with 3 touchdowns on the ground. While Sanders did not have the yards per carry that he probably would’ve liked, he was used on a number of short-yardage situations that limited the opportunity for a big gain(why he wasn’t used on that 3rd and 1 where Travis Hunter made an interception I don’t know).

Jared Wiley was very reliable as always with 6 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. John Paul Richardson had a solid debut with 6 catches for 63 yards. It seemed like every receiver for the Frogs broke at least two tackles after they made the catch before being taken down. Major Everhart looked very explosive as he had an 86-yard kick return that set up a touchdown for TCU along with a catch for a first down where he beat the defense to the edge and picked up 11 yards. I would have liked to see Savion involved more, but the game plan against Colorado did not fully fit his skill set as a physical deep threat. He can be effective at running after the catch, but he is best suited to use his size on deep shots and the Frogs just didn’t take many deep shots against Colorado.

TCU has some serious athletes at receiver, tight end, and running back and if Kendal Briles can continue to find ways to get them the ball in space, the offense is going to be fine.

Play Design On Short/Intermediate Passing Plays:

The Frogs were fairly effective on third downs despite a high percentage of them being third and long. This was due in part to Dykes and Briles being able to scheme open a receiver in space when they needed to. Chandler Morris was not required to make a lot of tight-window throws for the Frogs to move the ball as TCU was able to consistently get open and make plays with the ball. RPOs were a huge part of the game plan on Saturday and while I would have liked to see a few more of them just be designed runs, they were mostly very effective.

Offensive Line:

While they were not called upon to pass protect for long developing plays often, the offensive line did a very good job in pass protection and in the running game. TCU averaged 7.1 yards per carry as a team and Colorado did not sack Morris on Saturday. The offensive line was also not called for any holdings and won the line of scrimmage against the Colorado front seven.

The Bad:

The Defense:

It was bad. Really bad. I’ll start with the main issue which was that Joe Gillespie had a very bad game as a play caller. Colorado came in with an excellent game plan to attack the 3-3-5 and the Frogs were unable to adjust defensively. TCU started the game playing their defensive backs in soft coverage and Colorado took full advantage with quick routes and run after the catch. TCU’s defense played a lot of man on the outside and Colorado had the athletes to expose TCU’s defensive backs in one-on-one coverage. The Buffaloes had four players hit the century mark in receiving yards, the Frogs needed to play more zone.

Colorado did a great job of moving receivers into the slot to give them more room to work against man coverage and it worked extremely well. The third and sixteen completion to Travis Hunter was a seam route against press-man coverage in the slot. TCU could not cover Hunter one-on-one all day and playing press coverage on third and forever is asking for a wide receiver to win off the line and convert on a deep ball.

TCU’s linebackers were exposed in man coverage as well with Colorado’s first and last touchdowns of the day coming on running backs exposing linebackers in coverage. Johnny Hodges had a good day rushing the passer and should be rushing the passer on all third and fourth downs not covering running backs in single coverage. Having Jamoi Hodge try and cover Dylan Edwards in man on a crucial fourth and two is not a winning play call.

On that fourth down and short, the Frogs rushed three down lineman and sent Namdi Obiazor on a blitz from outside the box. Obiazor is a converted safety and is no doubt the best coverage linebacker TCU has while Hodge is very effective at rushing the passer. Having both of those players play outside of their strengths on the biggest play of the game up to that point was mind-blowing to watch. TCU has to do a better job of tackling moving forward. Colorado has some tremendous athletes at the skill positions but the Frogs have to take better angles and limit three to four-yard passes turning into fifteen-yard gains or more.

The pass rush looked good when the Frogs didn’t rush three, but TCU unfortunately rushed only three a large percentage of the time. Rick D’Abreu and Paul Oyewale both had good games and the defensive line should improve given time to figure out who should be starting. I’d like to say the run defense was good, and it was on paper, but Colorado had no reason to run the ball when they could do whatever they wanted through the air. The defense has to be better. There were miscommunications in the secondary, there was an inability to play man coverage, and there was just a lack of execution. I am still confident in the personnel TCU has on defense and I think Colorado is going to have a great offense this season but that game was still disappointing to watch.

Missed Opportunities:

While the Frogs scored over 40 points, they left at least seventeen off the board thanks to two red zone interceptions and a missed field goal. Turnovers in the red zone are the fastest way to lose a game you shouldn’t and the interceptions were two crucial mistakes that turned the tide of the game. The first interception was just a very late read from Chandler Morris. He had Wiley open in the end zone, but he did not throw with enough anticipation and the backside safety was able to come over and make the interception.

The second interception was a great play by Travis Hunter but also was a predetermined read from Morris. Morris had his mind made up where he was going with the ball before the play started and stared down the running back allowing Hunter to make a great read and pick off the pass. There were two other passes that could have also very easily been picked off and the Frogs were fortunate to fall on an Emani Bailey fumble in Colorado territory. TCU has to be better with ball security moving forward.

There were also missed opportunities on the few deep shots that TCU did take. Two specifically stuck out on throws to Jaylon Robinson and Dylan Wright. Robinson was on the outside running a go route against press coverage and toasted the corner off the line. He had three steps on him but Morris was too late getting there and gave the safety time to move over and make a play on the ball. The throw to Wright was just a bad miss on a deep post-route where neither Wright nor the DB could even touch the ball thrown. The offense scored 42 points, yes, but still did not play its best game which should be a source of hope for TCU fans was that this wasn’t the ceiling for the offense.

Execution in Tempo:

Part of TCU’s game plan was to go fast on Saturday to test the conditioning of the Colorado defense. The idea sounds good in theory but presnap penalties were an issue with a snap infraction and way too many false starts. A point of emphasis in practice this week should be to get Chandler Morris and John Lanz, the starting center, on the same page. It seemed like there were a few plays where Morris was calling for the snap before Lanz was ready to start the play because the whole team would move but the snap would be a beat late. Tempo is great if the offense can execute and play clean in tempo, but the Frogs were a bit sloppy on Saturday and presnap penalties is an area they need to clean up.

Play of the Game:

A Dylan Wright ankle-breaker on the way for a score was an example of what the offense can look like at its best. Morris made a good read to find a wide-open receiver in structure and gave Wright a good throw to catch in stride and use his athleticism to go make a play.