Dean Straka is a writer for HornedFrogInsider.com, covering TCU. We hit him up with our weekly three questions covering West Virginia's opponent for the week, and he provides us with insight on this year's team.
Q: TCU hasn't been as good defensively this year as it has in the recent past. Youth appears to be one factor, but are growing pains the only thing keeping this from being a typical Gary Patterson unit? What must improve to get the Horned Frogs back to the defensive levels they are accustomed to?
Straka: Growing pains without a doubt have kept the Frogs from being the defensive powerhouse that we have become accustomed to over the years. Week after week, the TCU secondary has been shredded to pieces, and as was the case last year, the Frogs can’t seem to make tackles when it matters most. But the youth, however, is just part of the equation, and you have to look at the other side of the ball to see the big picture. In each of its games, aside from the win against SMU on Sept. 23, TCU has been out-possessed by their opponent. Simply put, the defense is spending far too much time on the field than it ought to. When that’s the norm, it’s only a matter of time for fatigue combined with inexperience to result in a total breakdown on the field. Certainly the unit could help themselves by making those basic tackles, but at the end of the day, everyone on the field is human. If Kenny Hill and the offense could get their tempo locked down, then I think we’d also start to see more consistent performances on defense.
Q: From a scheme standpoint, has anything changed with Kenny Hill at quarterback this year? What is he doing the best, and what area could be improved?
Straka: From what we saw of Kenny Hill back in his days as an Aggie, the overall scheme hasn’t changed significantly. The short little passes have been his bread and butter, and he remains a dual threat with seven rushing touchdowns on the season. Has he blown us out of the water like he did in his debut against South Carolina two years ago? Not exactly, but at this rate I wouldn’t be surprised to see him break the single season passing record for TCU. Nonetheless, Hill is no Trevone Boykin, at least not when you turn the ball over against Kansas as many times he did two weeks ago. From we’ve seen, he has also struggled to find a groove when the pressure is on him – like that last drive against Oklahoma when he was sacked before being unable to even come close to finding a receiver on fourth down. Of course, it’s hard to follow up a quarterback like Boykin, and it’s safe to say that the Frogs have been a bit spoiled when it comes to quarterbacks over the years. It is encouraging however to see Hill starting to throw the ball deeper, something we also first truly saw against the Sooners with a pair 60-yard touchdown passes to Taj Williams late in the game.
Q: TCU has put together an excellent road record in the Big 12. What have some of the keys been to their success away from home?
Straka: Well, I wouldn’t be so fast to say that the Frogs have been that great on the road in Big 12 games of late. Dating back to last season, the Frogs are 1-2 in their last three Big 12 road games, and the only win was a one-point victory against lowly Kansas that came courtesy of a missed field goal as time expired. TCU was literally blown out of the water in Stillwater last year with a more talented squad, but they were a missed two-point conversion away from completing a miracle comeback in Norman last fall. Keep in mind Boykin and Josh Doctson were absent in that game too.
Nonetheless, the Frogs have won all but three Big 12 road games dating back to their win against Iowa State in Ames in November of 2013, even if just barely. How have they done it? Well, it could be extra motivation. Patterson frequently says “players have to find their own energy” when they aren’t playing in front of their home crowd. One common denominator always seems to be the late-game push, as was the case in Morgantown the last two trips, K-State last season, and even in Lawrence this season. It could also be the amount of effort the team puts in travel preparations, as Patterson said before the Kansas game that prepping for road trips is a tedious process that begins as soon as the prior spring. When the Frogs were blown out by Oklahoma State last year, about everything went wrong on the trip, from the wrong meals being served to the team plane veering off the tarmac and getting stuck. By that sample, there is certainly a correlation. Maybe it’s something else, but in the grand scheme it’s pretty impressive what TCU has done. Now they hope to win their third in a row in Morgantown.