Well, fudge. Not exactly the start most of us were expecting. We were all certainly shocked, but not necessarily in the end result. Rather, it was pretty shocking for TCU to have had a chance at all considering how the first 3 quarters went for us. A young team showed a lot of resiliency, but, as is often the case, the veterans found a way to win a close game. Considering most of the guys on our sideline have only played in one close game in two years, this should not have been all that surprising. No matter the end result, it was a thrilling game that showed us we didn't give Robert Griffin's off-season development enough credit, and that we gave our team's off-season development too much credit.
Normally here I would highlight the offensive, defensive and special teams stats and then give a wrap up, but I don't think that's what we need to do here. Much like the team, I'm not sure how to handle a loss because it's been so long since I have had to, so let's change things up. Here are the positives and negatives from last night:
- Looks like we have ourselves a Quarterback. I think with all of the off-season turmoil directly relating to our signal caller situation, even the most enthusiastic of Casey Pachall apologists would've admitted they weren't quite sure exactly what we were going to get in game one. Fortunately, there seem to be few worries there. 25/39, 252 yards and 4 TDs isn't too shabby, despite the final score, and without a well timed pass interference penalty on Antoine Hicks, those numbers would've been higher. He also rushed 9 times for 23 yards and a score, although the way he was hobbling towards the end of the game might suggest we should keep him in the pocket more often than not if we want him to stay healthy. I will say I was somewhat surprised how un-lithe he looked running the read-option when you consider how the biggest thing we've heard about him is how much faster he is than Andy Dalton. But, the read option is almost more about quickness than speed, and it looks like, much like Dalton, it's going to take conditioning and practice before he reaches that high level. But that's not to knock him because the bottom line is without Pachall there's no way we're in that game at the end. He looked every bit as confident as a guy who has gone through three off seasons should and will only get better from here. Andy Dalton went 7-5 his first year, I have a feeling Casey will do him a couple better.
- The offensive line didn't hurt us. Clearly the biggest worry for just about everyone heading into last night was how our patchwork offensive line was going to fare against Baylor's front seven. Fortunately, it looked like that's not going to be a worry, either. The run blocking could use a little work, but the pass protection was very solid with Pachall only being hurried a couple of times. As we're accustomed to in the 4-2-5, the Bears sent rushers from everywhere to try and get into the backfield and blow up plays and our five blockers held their own, no matter who was in there. I'd love to be able to point out anyone that memorably stood out, but considering I was fighting back nausea the majority of the game, I won't lie and say I was paying THAT much attention.
- Josh Boyce and Logan Brock. Without too much elaboration, we knew what to expect from Boyce, and we got it. 9 catches for 96 yards and a TD. Of course, had he come down with that last 2 Pt conversion we might be singing a different tune this morning, but that's nitpicking and I can't honestly tell you that felt like a game we would've won. But at least we know who Pachall's #1 receiver is going to be. As for his number two? Well, that's a later issue, but I liked what we saw out of Logan Brock. I've always been a BIG fan of getting the tight end involved in the passing game because it opens things up that much more, but it's something we haven't seen since the dark days of Schultz. 4 catches for 41 yards and 2 TDs might not be enough to suggest that we're clearly having a paradigm shift in our offense towards the tight end position, but it's a nice step in the right direction.
- We played six freshmen last night. This one will come up again in this wrap, but we need to look at it from both angles to properly gauge what we saw. The six freshmen in question were Brandon Carter, Cam White, Deryck Gildon and David Porter III - so I guess DP3? - Chuck Hunter and Jon Lewis. Porter clearly made the most obvious impact, making his once reception count as it went for a TD, but Brandon Carter got LOTS of playing time and, despite only having one reception, is going to play a big role in this offense as the season goes on. Cam White had one reception as well, near the end of the game when we were driving to potentially win the game. Chuck Hunter and Jon Lewis will both show up on the stat sheet with one tackle a piece, although our defense did not have too many superlatives. I do not recall seeing Gildon, but apparently he did play, so I am assuming special teams. Strangely enough, Ladarius Brown - who looks like a BEAST on the sidelines - did not play. Six freshmen is the highest number Patterson has ever played in an entire season. Glass half full? These guys are too good to keep on the sidelines and their development will aid us going forward. Especially Lewis and Hunter, who both helped bury the incumbent and highly thought of Jeremy Coleman on the depth chart.
- The run game is going to be fine. 215 yards isn't great. Nor is Funderson's re-implementation of the Mike Schultz short side option. But considering Ed Wesley didn't get his usual reps last night - apparently Patterson benched him for missing class and didn't want to play him at all but relented on Ed's insistence - we did fine. No one put up huge yards, but Waymon James looked like a greased bowling ball on his six carries, and Matthew Tucker, who led all rushers with 12, looked confident in his. Perhaps it's concerning that Skye Dawson was our second leading rusher, but if we can run him on jet sweep plays and give him space, I'm all for it. I still think we need to give Aundre Dean more opportunities, but I understand there are a lot of hands to get the ball into and you have to earn your carries. It's game one, and even with all rushers from last year returning there are adjustments to make. I trust that the staff will do just that.
- The return game is on track. Greg McCoy looked VERY solid in this area, especially, although Baylor seemed to figure out our blocking schemes more and more as the game wore on. I was confused as to why Waymon James was always back with either he or Dawson, although I'm guessing it's more as a decoy blocker. McCoy had a 73 yards return early that set up our first score and looks to have locked down the role. I wish I could say more about the punt return but as our defense couldn't buy a stop, we didn't get to see it.
- We played six freshmen last night. See what I did there? Look, I realize these guys are among the most lauded athletes to ever be recruited to TCU. But the fact that we had to turn to so many of them so early has to be somewhat of a concern, doesn't it? I think Hunter and Lewis are here to stay, and I am fine with that, and I feel the same way about the receivers, but at the same time I hoped that Skye Dawson and, glaringly, Antoine Hicks would be 2A and 2B to Boyce's 1A. It'll be nice to "grow these guys up" and have them ready down the road when this team is loaded with talent and veterans, but seeing how it was the highest number ever to play under Patterson was pretty eye-opening.
- Receivers not named Josh Boyce. Hicks clearly had the worst game of the bunch, dropping passes which resulted in him pacing the sidelines behind the bench alone for much of the second half. But no one else really showed much either. We never let Skye show his straight line speed. Our third leading receiver was Matthew Tucker, and it was one catch for 30 yards, albeit a GREAT catch. And is Ladarius Brown really not better than Johnathan Jones? Not to say that Jones didn't deserve to be on the field, but I think it had to surprise TCU fans to see him out there on so many crucial possessions. Spreading the ball around is great and all, but it's very, very obvious we have no true #2 option.
- The secondary. Whew. Where to start? Jason Verrett STRUGGLED to make the leap from JUCO to D1 in his first outing. Greg McCoy, despite being the fastest guy on the team, still has a tendency to get burned deep. Sam Carter and Johnny Fobbs didn't demonstrate much either. Other than Tekkerin Cuba, who had a team leading 9 tackles, Patterson won't have much positive reinforcement to work with during film this morning. Now, they weren't always the root cause - on a couple of those long TD passes Robert Griffin looked like John Elway lofting a perfect pass precisely where only his receiver could catch it and there was nothing even the most talented Patterson defense could've done. He also got a little help on a VERY QUESTIONABLE no call on a push off on McCoy, but I'm not going to beat that drum. But, if we went into the game with the intention of derailing Griffin's Heisman campaign, mission FAILED. 21/27 for 359 yards and 5 TDs. It should be noted that last year TCU game up 54 points and 7 TDs in all five road games combined. We also only gave up 10 passing TDs all year - last night we gave up 6. We haven't given up 50 points in 6 years, either. The coaching staff clearly made some semi-successful second half adjustments by getting more pressure on Griffin and rushing throws, but it's hard to say whether it was our players stepping up or the Baylor coaching staff pulling on the reins a little bit. But as problematic as the secondary was...
- The front seven wasn't much better. One sack. Three tackles for loss. 150 yards rushing, including 124 and 1 TD for Terrance Ganaway, the one guy who had a self made target on his chest and who I thought we might really put a hurting on when possible. But I saw a LOT of sloppy tackling which resulted in second push efforts for 3-4 more yards than were necessary. I think the most shocking thing was how invisible Tank Carder seemed to be. He had 7 tackles, but do you honestly remember any of them? And Tanner Brock went an entire quarter without even getting on the field, something I have yet to see an explanation for. Kris Gardner filled in fine in his absence, but my goodness we need Brock out there if we want to be at our most effective. Stansly Maponga had what was almost the play of the game where he stripped Robert Griffin and recovered the ensuing fumble, but was otherwise average. If these guys don't figure a couple of things out in the next seven days, it could be a LONG afternoon in Colorado Springs.
- We still don't have a consistent kicker, and haven't for some time. I'm not going to use this space to rip Ross Evans because what would be the point? We all know experience hasn't made him any more confident in situations where he HAS to make a kick. I believe we have a kicker committed in our upcoming class. Let's make sure this one doesn't defect to the ACC. Does Nick Browne have any more eligibility?
There are more things I could say about this game, but I'm kind of out of steam at this early Saturday morning hour. If we want to be comically optimistic/sour grapey we could say the game came down to three missed opportunities: One was the brilliantly timed HB pass to Robert Griffin on third and long when TCU had all of the momentum. Two was the no call on Griffin's TD where the receiver clearly pushed off on McCoy for the score. And three was the final play of the game where Pachall threw a pick in an area that would've given us a legitimate chance at a field goal when Pachall threw a pick, although along those kicking lines you could also say leaving 7 points on the board in that area didn't help matters, either. Some people in my section threw their hands up in the air when this happened and to them I say, REALLY??? Pachall was leaps and bounds the most positive thing to come out of last night's game, and he had absolutely no choice but to make the throw he made. I have no complaints with his night.
However, I think we have to put things in perspective: We are a young, inexperienced team and, given our losses, were probably over-ranked to start the year. From reports from folks who attended Patterson's luncheon on Thursday, he stressed the first part of this fact on maybe 10 separate occasions. I don't think anyone genuinely believed a third undefeated regular season was in the cards, and now those expectations and the pressure that comes with them are gone and we can just play some football. What I saw last night was a young team who grew the F up in a big way and gave themselves the confidence going forward to know they can win a game like this when they have no business doing so. There are CERTAINLY a lot of kinks to work out between now and the showdown in Boise, but Patterson always says winning the Conference is a top priority, and right now we are tied for first place with everyone else in those standings. A BCS berth should not be the realistic goal this year, but although that took a MAJOR hit last night, I wouldn't say we are out of that race by any means.
At the end of last season, their best in two decades, Robert Griffin pointed to the humbling in Fort Worth as a turning point in the psyche of the Baylor team. Perhaps we will look back and do the same.