Just four days remain until TCU kick-off their 2016 campaign under the lights in Fort Worth against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, and head coach Gary Patterson’s squad isn’t underestimating their FCS opponent that has become a playoff-regular in recent years.
As the Frogs look forward to the start of a new era that will see Kenny Hill take over as starting quarterback, questions still loom as to exactly how Hill and other components of the offense such as receivers Ty Slanina and Deante Gray, the latter two who are coming off injuries that ended their 2015 seasons, will perform when the team hits the gridiron.
The same can also be said for the defense, who will also be returning a hefty amount of veterans whom were injured last season, including but not limited to linebacker Sammy Douglas and cornerback Ranthony Texada. The absence of linebacker Travin Howard to inury could also throw another wrinkle into the equation.
“We have all kinds of guys who can play, but when it comes to rehabs you’ve got to help yourself,” Patterson said.
As the 7 p.m. kickoff for Saturday gets closer and closer, here are some of the biggest takeaways from Patterson’s Tuesday afternoon talk.
The Offensive Line
Patterson said that the offensive line is far closer to being at full strength than it was during two-a-day practices. The loss of tackles Trey Elliot and Bryson Henderson has forced the Frogs to adjust, forcing Patterson to plug in freshmen to the back up spots.
“It’s not the most ideal situation that you want to be in,” Patterson said.
Patterson added that outside guard Patrick Morris has been moved to center while Austin Schlottmann has moved out to tackle. Right tackles Lucas Niang and Aviante Collins have also shined during practice.
“You just keep growing guys up, and that has really helped us in this capacity. Having Collins in his sixth year of eligibility is also really big for us,” Patterson said.
With Jaden Oberkrom now graduated and kicker Jonathan Song out due to a toe injury that he suffered during the first week of camp, Patterson said that we can expect the Frogs to kick by committee for the foreseeable future.
“We’ll probably have a kickoff guy, short field goal guy, and long field goal guy,” Patterson said.
Patterson said he does not know if Song will be the team’s go to kicker once he returns to the depth chart.
On the bright side of things, punter Adam Nunez has shown incredible potential over the summer months as he prepares to be the Frogs new go-to for the position.
“Nunez has been unbelievable in his leadership ability as a holder, and has a punter he has made tremendous progress since the Spring.”
Senior long snapper Matt Boggs will return to action for the first time since suffering a season ending injury in the early weeks of 2015.
Saturday’s opponent: South Dakota State
While the Frogs may be facing an FCS opponent in their home opener for the third consecutive year, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits are not to be taken lightly. A play-off regular at the 1-AA level, the Jackrabbits enter the season at No. 8 in the STATS FCS poll and will be returning many names from the 2015 campaign.
“They’re very well coached, and with all of their returners, you better get ready to go. We aren’t taking these guys lightly,” Patterson said.
Those returners include sophomore Taryn Christion and junior wide receiver Jake Wieneke, who has recorded 1,000+ receiving yards each of the past two seasons.
“They are not a pound and ground group. They throw the ball, and they never shy away from playing the big-time opponents,” Patterson said.
To be exact, this is the third straight season that the Jackrabbits have opened the season against a FBS opponent. Last season they defeated Kansas by a score of 41-38 in Lawrence.
“Right now I’m just trying to beat South Dakota State….we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Patterson said.” - Dean Straka, Student Reporter
Junior safety Michael Downing, junior center Garrett Altman, and junior snapper Matt Boggs will all go on scholarship according to Patterson before the end of the fiscal year. Each one has a chance to graduate to by May or the end of the summer.
“Boggs has been a two-year starter as a snapper, Downing has been a guy that played in ball games last year and Altman is really a guy that has fit in, made the calls and can play,” said Patterson. “They all understand how much I appreciate what they have done for our program.
“That is one of secrets to our success to be honest. Guys who came here, started as walk-ons and became very good players.” - Josh Harvey, Publisher
TCU senior safety Kenny Iloka (knee), who was awarded a medical redshirt after only playing in two games last season, isn’t quite back to full speed according to Patterson. While he was able to go through fall camp, trusting the knee is still a factor. The Frogs hope to get him back to 100 percent by some point this season.