Facing Horned Frogs next,
Mountaineers seek offense spark,
Musket: TCU took a surprising week one loss to Colorado but has been in the win column since. What’s been the biggest adjustment since that loss that has allowed TCU to respond well to the tough opener?
Melissa: Well, first and foremost, they remembered how to tackle. The Frogs’ defense had double-digit missed tackles against Colorado, and that consistently put them in bad situations on that side of the ball. The week by week defensive improvement has been very encouraging, even when you factor in the level of competition, and Joe Gillespie has found creative ways to get to opposing QBs despite the defensive line not being a super elite unit. I was shocked to see that TCU leads the conference in sacks despite the defensive line struggling early. The offense also looks cleaner and more efficient as Chandler Morris has gotten more comfortable in Kendal Briles’ system and Emani Bailey has established himself as one of the true elite running backs in college football this year.
Chandler Morris is back under center after being Wally Pipped by Max Duggan, which led to a historic season. What have been his strengths and weaknesses so far and does he have a firm grip on the job this year?
Chandler’s biggest strength is his accuracy - that’s why he beat Duggan out for the job a season ago. His biggest weakness is his ability to stay on the field, but so far (knock on wood) he has done a great job of that. TCU took a couple of big swings at portal QBs last winter, only to see like seven of them end up at Ole Miss. They finally landed a veteran in Chance Nolan, formerly of Oregon State, only to see him dip in the middle of training camp. Morris was favored to win the job no matter what, but there’s really no one competing to take it from him currently. Thankfully, he’s been great so far this year; even in the Colorado loss the O put up more than 500 yards of offense and scored more than 40 points. He had a few bad turnovers early but played a near perfect game against SMU, and he’s among the leaders in yardage and efficiency in the conference through four weeks. TCU is still struggling to convert in the red zone but Chandler is making his reads, pushing the ball down the field, and usually his legs really effectively - especially on third down. He’s been really good at spreading the ball around and if TCU can establish an alpha at wide receiver, I think the sky is the limit for this offense in 2023. Now, all that being said, the Frogs haven’t played a defense anywhere close to what WVU will roll out Saturday night, so this test will tell us a ton about whether this is a really good offense or a Big 12 championship caliber one.
TCU made a controversial, to say the least, OC hire in Kendal Briles. What’s the general fanbase feel and what has been the early results in terms how has he looked in replacing Riley the Younger?
Can I plead the fifth here?
I mean, I didn’t love the hire. I thought it was unnecessarily controversial at a time where you had some of the best vibes in history around the program. But I will give Sonny Dykes credit - he has owned that it was difficult for some of the TCU fanbase to swallow, he’s been fully transparent about the process, and he has had Briles available to the media on multiple occasions. Hell, I had a 45 minute call with the OC a few days before fall camp to talk play calling for my flag football team since I am coaching in the first year it’s a sanctioned sport in California. They haven’t hidden from it, and I can respect that.
I still certainly have my reservations but I do believe in the leadership at TCU and that they have learned from the mistakes at Baylor and made institutional progress in the Title IX office and resources available to students. It also “helps” that two other members of that Baylor staff have been with Sonny for several years, including last year at TCU and everything seems to have been above board in their tenure. You hope people grow and change and that lessons were learned that won’t be repeated. And let me give a hearty thank you to Jeff Lebby for being the idiot that brought Art out onto the field so that TCU knows that can’t happen in Fort Worth.
There was a ton of posturing and yelling on the message boards when the hire was announced in the offseason, but that has mostly cooled off. It did royally suck to go from playing in the national championship game to watching the fanbase at each other’s throats in just a few days time, I will tell you that.
As far as on the field goes, TCU looks unstoppable between the 20s, but as I have mentioned, the red zone offense is stinky. Some of that is play calling, some of that is execution, and some of that is personnel. It’s going to have to be better if TCU wants to get back to Arlington in December, and it will be interesting to see how KB adjusts. We saw some really fun wrinkles Saturday against SMU, and it seems that Briles is getting more comfortable in what the offense needs to look like for this group of players. He’s done a great job using Emani Bailey and Jared Wiley and Morris is developing as he gets more reps under his belt. It certainly looks like the near future is bright on that side of the ball, but the big tests are just beginning.
WVU is going to try to limit possessions and run the ball as much as possible with both its QB and a very strong stable of backs. How has TCU’s front seven stacked up against the run so far and who are some names for WVU to look out for?
TCU has been really good against the run this season, even in that Colorado game. Damonic Williams is a PROBLEM in the middle of the defensive line, and really that whole group has excelled at plugging gaps and making life miserable for opposing running backs. Now, WVU has a better o-line than they have seen by far, but I still think that if Gillespie commits to stopping the run, they’ll have enough success to really muck up the Mountaineers game plan. Linebacker play has been among the bigger surprises this fall too; after having just four guys healthy for most of last season, there’s depth at all three positions. Johnny Hodges missed last week’s game and in his place the uber athletic Shad Banks shined. Namdi Obiazor has been exceptional after moving to LB from safety, and Jamoi Hodge is a human missile that relishes getting to hit guys. Mark Perry is a safety but plays a lot near the line of scrimmage and is a tackling machine. TCU has one of the best run defenses in the Big 12 - no one allows fewer yards per carry (2.4) than the Frogs and only K State is holding teams to fewer yards per game.
The competition will be better Saturday with West Virginia’s run game, but I think run defense is a strength of TCU this fall and that they’ll give the Eers some trouble in the ground game.
How does the TCU fanbase feel about the New Big 12 and the general environment of college sports after this summer’s Insanity?
I think we are all frankly relieved to be on this side of things after decades of wandering the wilderness and hoping for someone to throw us a bone. I don’t want to speak for everyone of course, but the sense is that there is a ton of faith in Brett Yormark, his plan for the future of the conference, and what the new schools will ultimately bring. Plus, TCU is very well positioned to be a strong program among the 16 and a flagship school for the league ahead of the 12 team playoff.
I personally kind of hate what college sports has become; I am all for NIL and players getting a piece of the pie, but realignment, the death of regional rivalries (I am one of the outcasts who is bemoaning the SMU series ending), and the collapse of leagues like the Pac-12 (especially as a west coaster) all make me so sad. The game will never be the same, and what it will be five years from now might look completely different than even today. I will always root for TCU and love CFB because of my association with my school, but it’s feeling a lot more like the minor leagues and a lot less like the game I fell in love with as a freshman all those years ago.
Thanks again to Melissa for the prospective from the other side. You can follow her on Twitter/X at @TheCoachMelissa, and listen to the Frogs Insider podcast where ever you get your podcasts.