It’s been a long time since TCU went three consecutive years without winning eight games. More than two decades, in fact. Before the first camera phone, Facebook and YouTube. Before Gary Patterson.
But now it’s on the veteran coach to avoid the driest three-year stretch at TCU since the 1999 team led by Dennis Franchione went 8–4 to end a run of 14 seasons without eight wins. The following year, the Horned Frogs finished 10-1 in the regular season, and Patterson was promoted to the head coach after Franchione left to be the head coach at Alabama prior to TCU's bowl game against Southern Miss.
If and when the 2020 season begins, getting back to eight or more wins has to be high on Patterson’s mind. Right?
“I’m not trying to get back to anything,” the Frogs boss shrugged, talking to reporters March 2 after the third of what turned out to be four spring practices. “We just need to develop guys so they become good.”
The long hiatus to combat COVID-19 kept the Frogs from getting a jump on those plans, which took on heightened importance with the loss of four starting offensive linemen, the return of offensive assistant Doug Meacham, and the arrival of former Minnesota coach Jerry Kill as an offensive consultant for a team that had only one healthy scholarship quarterback in the spring, sophomore Max Duggan.
TCU also lost its best defensive lineman, cornerback and left tackle in a sizable exodus to the NFL following a 5–7 year, only the third without a bowl in Patterson’s tenure. “To be honest with you, our kids were a little bit embarrassed,” the coach told Sirius XM in February of the 2019 campaign. “This gave me an opportunity to start with myself and evaluate every part from the football aspect to academics to offseason program — all of it. Good programs, you just keep tweaking it.”
Previewing TCU's Offense for 2020
Duggan started the final 10 games and played the last six in their entirety after sharing time with Alex Delton. The four-star signee from Council Bluffs, Iowa, set TCU true freshman records for passing yards and touchdowns, and he also ran for six scores. But the jump from Iowa high school ball to the Big 12 left a mark, as he threw 10 interceptions in a 2–4 closing stretch.
The Frogs aim to take pressure off him with a slew of talented runners, led by redshirt freshmen Darwin Barlow and Daimarqua Foster, junior Emari Demercado and incoming freshmen Dominic Richardson, a top-10-rated back in Oklahoma, and Kendre Miller. The ground attack got some extra help when five-star prospect Zachary Evans ended his recruitment and decided to join the roster for 2020. But only Demercado has more than three games of college experience. Taye Barber headlines a similarly green group of receivers after becoming Duggan’s top target over the final seven games. The junior’s twisting mid-air catch for 51 yards sealed a victory against No. 15 Texas.
Of course, the skill positions need time and space to work, so a major priority for TCU is meshing an offensive line. Only center Coy McMillon returns as a full-time starter for assistant Jarrett Anderson, who shifted back to offensive line coach, his staff position when TCU won 23 games in 2014-15.
Previewing TCU's Defense for 2020
TCU got only about half the sacks that it’s used to, just 22, and the best defensive linemen, Ross Blacklock, left early for the NFL. Star newcomers Patrick Jenkins, Jaquaze Sorrells and Khari Coleman have a wide berth to show what they can do alongside veterans Ochaun Mathis (DE), Parker Workman (DE), Colt Ellison (DE), and Corey Bethley (DT). Oklahoma transfer Mark Jackson is another name to watch up front.
At linebacker, senior Garret Wallow returns after leading the Big 12 in tackles and TCU with 18 tackles for a loss. Trevon Moehrig and Ar’Darius Washington combined for nine interceptions last season and were rated the Big 12’s top returning safeties by Pro Football Focus.
La’Kendrick Van Zandt got a turn at linebacker as a sophomore, but he will take his speed back to the secondary at safety. After losing their top two cornerbacks, Jeff Gladney and Julius Lewis, the Frogs have a fast new crop led by sophomore Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson (nephew of LaDainian), sophomore Kee’Yon Stewart, who started six games, and incoming four-star Keontae Jenkins, the 17th-ranked cornerback in the country by 247Sports.
Previewing TCU's Specialists for 2020
Griffin Kell hit a 52-yard field goal at the halftime gun against Texas, so he has a head start on performing in the clutch. Jordy Sandy had only five touchbacks on 61 punts and held for kicks. The Frogs will have a hard time replacing Jalen Reagor’s explosiveness as a returner, but junior receiver Derius Davis brings a key ingredient — fantastic speed.
TCU has a year of experience at the game’s most critical position, but without a strong backup, the season could derail if Duggan is unavailable for any reason. With Duggan, the Frogs boast a playmaker who stung Big 12 foes Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma with his legs as much as his arm. Meacham’s input should strengthen the passing game with a re-infusion of Air Raid concepts, but the Frogs can’t wait to showcase their running backs.
Defensively, if the pass rush returns to its traditional levels, the young cornerback group will get time to get up to speed. TCU has fallen off its standard win totals of late, largely because of quarterback instability. But talent continues to pour in, and eventually, it should show.
National Ranking: 43
(Top photo by Ellman Photography/TCU Athletics)