Figuring out the Frogs: The uncomfortable answer to TCU’s latest QB quandary
TCU options at quarterback are less than ideal.
On Saturday, Sonny Cumbie made the choice many fans have been clamoring for since Week 1, but he just further revealed the depth of TCU’s offensive issues.
The co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach benched QB Kenny Hill in favor of Foster Sawyer late in the third quarter against Texas Tech. Sawyer got the ball at the Red Raiders’ 15-yard line after a turnover, and four plays later, the Frogs had scored.
After that though, the results were not promising.
Sawyer finished the game 6-of-17 passing for 86 yards. That’s a 35.3 percent completion rate and 5.1 yards per pass. He made one great throw to Desmon White, who in turn made a tremendous catch, for his only touchdown of the game, but that was about it.
Hill wasn’t much better through the first three quarters, going 16-of-29 for 160 yards and an interception. All the same issues that have plagued Hill all season persisted. He’s inaccurate on the quick throws that make up the very foundation of the Air Raid offense, and the team doesn’t seem interested in using him to run the ball.
Sawyer then came in and showed why the team was so reluctant to make a change in the first place. Hill’s problem is not making throws that the coaches know he can make. Sawyer’s problem is not being able to make those throws at all.
Sawyer’s career completion rate is 42 percent. Perhaps he’d play better with a week to prepare with the first-team offense in practice, but when given that chance last season, he delivered a three-interception performance against Oklahoma before getting benched for Bram Kohlhausen.
Now the Frogs are left with a sobering reality. Despite Hill’s continual struggles, he’s still their most reliable passer. That means the quarterback who couldn’t move the ball against a Texas Tech defense that is 118th in the nation in defensive S&P+ and 99th against the pass is probably still TCU’s best hope.
It’s one thing for TCU’s offense to have taken a step backward without Trevone Boykin. It’s another thing for the dropoff to be so precipitous that it makes the Frogs long for another year of eligibility for Kohlhausen.
1. TCU’s defense played its best game of the season, but don’t expect a repeat performance against Baylor.
The Frogs turned in their best performance of the season on defense, holding a Red Raider offense that had scored 59 points against Oklahoma a week prior to just 17 points in regulation and 27 after two overtimes.
By only rushing three lineman for a lot of the game, TCU was able to play max coverage and clog up passing lanes for Patrick Mahomes. They also used a spy on the quarterback on some plays to limit the damage he did as a scrambler.
On Mahomes’ interception on the Red Raiders’ first drive, TCU rushed three and dropped eight men into coverage. Mahomes is used to getting the ball out fast, and he got antsy in the pocket when he couldn’t do that. He drifted away from pressure and eventually launched a pass up into coverage with poor footwork.
It was one of many times that the Frogs’ strategy made Mahomes uncomfortable and caused him to make a bad throw.
The defense also managed to sack Mahomes four times, even without blitzing very much. The Frogs held the Red Raiders to their second-lowest scoring output of the season and just 345 yards of total offense, despite playing two extra periods in overtime.
The only problem for the Frogs is that performance will be nearly impossible to replicate this week against Baylor.
TCU was borrowing from West Virginia’s strategy of daring Texas Tech to prove it could run the ball consistently. Both teams held the Red Raiders to 17 points in regulation because, without one-on-one matchups to exploit in the secondary, Mahomes had a much tougher time throwing the ball. It also helped that even while facing a five-man box on most plays, the Red Raiders still finished with only 139 rushing yards on 2.8 yards per attempt.
Baylor QB Seth Russell, for context, had 138 yards rushing by himself last week against Texas. He wasn’t even their leading rusher. That was Bears RB Terence Williams, who ran for 180 yards and averaged 7.5 yards per carry.
Baylor’s offense is nowhere near as one-dimensional as Texas Tech’s. Leave just three linemen and two linebackers in the box, and the Bear’s running game will gash the defense with ease.
TCU will have to use four down linemen and even bring Denzel Johnson down into the box to help slow the Baylor rushing attack. At that point, Baylor will then be able to target its receivers in one-on-one matchups downfield, TCU’s biggest weakness for most of this season.
The Frogs’ defensive backs are far ahead of where they were against Arkansas and Oklahoma earlier in the year. They held their own against West Virginia, some outstanding catches notwithstanding, and made Mahomes look mortal for just the second time this season.
But Baylor’s offense is an entirely new challenge uniquely well suited to attack a young secondary like this one. The defense is certainly improving. Just don’t expect the box score to reflect that Saturday.
2. Your weekly reminder that TCU can run the ball when it wants to, but will abandon it as soon as it starts working
TCU surprised Texas Tech and everyone else watching the game when it went on a 17-play, 99-yard touchdown drive that took 6:49 off the clock, all season-longs, on its opening possession.
Even more surprising was that they ran the ball on 12 of those 17 plays, averaging 4.67 yards per carry.
Heck, they even ran the wildcat and scored a touchdown.
The Frogs took advantage of a Texas Tech defense that is 116th in S&P+ against the run.
And in typical TCU fashion, their ratio of pass plays to run plays after that first drive was 42 to 27.
Engineering drives that are that lengthy and methodical isn’t exactly sustainable, especially for an up-tempo offense like TCU’s. But keeping the ball on the ground was how TCU had the most success because of the aforementioned struggles of Hill and Sawyer.
Even when Kyle Hicks went down with an injury, true freshman Sewo Olonilua stepped in and ran the ball seven times for 48 yards (6.9 yards per carry), to lead all TCU rushers. And with Hicks possibly limited against the Bears, the Frogs should look to get him the ball even more.
Trevorris Johnson and Derrick Green are best suited for short yardage and the red zone. Olonilua offers the Frogs another legitimate running threat on early downs and between the 20s. Against a Baylor defense that ranks 79th in the country in S&P+ against the run, he can help draw defenders to the line of scrimmage and set up play-action.
In all likelihood, though, the Bears will keep six or seven men in the box and ask Hill to beat them throwing the ball. And TCU’s coaches, despite everything they’ve seen this season, will probably oblige.
3. KaVontae Turpin is back
TCU eased the electric KaVontae Turpin back onto the field Saturday, keeping him off return duties until the end of the day and giving him just five touches on offense.
The sophomore made the best of his opportunities, though, and showed just what TCU’s offense has been missing without him.
On one 14-yard catch in the second quarter, he made a move that sent Texas Tech’s Kisean Allen to the turf without the defender ever getting a chance to touch him.
He also had a 28-yard kickoff return before TCU’s final drive in regulation, because people still think kicking off to him is something other than an awful idea.
Turpin will likely be a bigger part of the game plan against Baylor, a boost TCU’s offense desperately needs.
4. Long live this weird rivalry
Saturday was the latest chapter in what has become TCU’s and Texas Tech’s annual tradition of trying to play the weirdest game possible.
In 2012, Texas Tech beat the Frogs 56–53 in triple overtime after blowing a 10-point lead with four minutes left in regulation.
In 2013, the Red Raiders won again, 20–10, in a game that saw tons of officiating weirdness, including:
Dispute over whether this was a fair catch, which called back a TCU punt return touchdown.
A Texas Tech touchdown being called back because DeAndre Washington dropped the ball before the goal line, but the Red Raiders getting the ball back at the half-yard line anyway.
Oh, and there was a fox on the field.
Then in 2014, TCU ran out of fireworks for the season in an 82–27 win over the Red Raiders. You can watch all TCU’s touchdowns from that game in super speed because fun.
And in 2015, TCU beat the Red Raiders 55–52 on one of the best plays of the season.
And even with that play, Texas Tech came stunningly close to getting the win on an even more ridiculous play.
This series is weird. It will always has been, and it always will be. Long live the weird.
(H/t SB Nation, Streamable and Big 12 Digital for the gifs and videos)