A couple of weeks ago, TCU’s receivers met without coaches to figure out what was holding them back.
At the meeting, organized by juniors David Porter, Brandon Carter and sophomore LaDarius Brown, the players discussed their inconsistent play. In short, they weren’t living up to their high expectations of themselves.
“We all felt like that,” said Porter, a junior from DeSoto. “We all knew what we were capable of. We go against our DBs in practice, some of the best DBs in the country and we succeed against them and then we go out in the game and it’s not as we planned. We didn’t live up to what we thought we should do.”
Through the first eight games, there were more head-scratching drops than highlight-reel catches from the group of 10 receivers.
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Something changed, however, since the players-only meeting. And it’s not just Casey Pachall returning to quarterback, according to Porter and Josh Doctson.
In the last two games, TCU has 60 combined receptions — all thrown from Pachall. That’s nearly as much as the four previous games when the Frogs combined for 65 catches. Even when some tough catches were being made earlier in the season, routine passes were dropped, routes were incorrect and drives were stalling out regularly.
“It’s definitely a mind-set thing,” said Doctson, who attended Mansfield Legacy. “I know my first pass was a drop [vs. West Virginia]. You’ve just got to have a short memory. It’s one of those things where you know that you dropped it, accept it and move on. That’s how we all think. It gets to you when you drop a pass, especially in a game, or even in practice.”
TCU’s receiver corps appeared young, but stocked with potential playmakers in August, when some figured it would be one of the Horned Frogs’ strengths. But Brandon Carter, the team’s leading returning receiver has been distracted with personal issues and highly touted Florida transfer Ja’Juan Story has rarely seen the field. Story has played sparingly in seven games and has just three catches for 70 yards, although that does include a 56-yard touchdown.
“At the beginning of the season, we definitely held ourselves to a high standard in that room,” Doctson said. “We know we can create a lot of plays for the offense and we have a big role.”
But until Pachall returned as the starter Nov. 2 against West Virginia after missing five games with a broken arm, the receivers had done little to inspire confidence from Pachall’s replacement Trevone Boykin.
Boykin’s own struggles to find open receivers was acerbated by a struggling offensive line providing him little time. That, in turn, made him force throws before he was ready and the receivers more often than not were not making the best adjustments.
“It was all of it mixed in together and just wasn’t looking good at all,” said Porter, who leads the team with three receiving touchdowns. “We probably weren’t as focused as we should have been. And that can cause problems. Now we’re more focused than we have been and it’s showing.”
TCU coach Gary Patterson’s credits Pachall’s return for the improved play.
“I think it has to do with Casey giving us a spark quarterback-wise,” he said. “But we still dropped some balls Saturday. We had some great catches. The two vertical routes to LaDarius Brown and Brandon Carter were both great plays.”
The unit has often been held after practice by first-year receivers coach Curtis Luper, the team’s third receivers coach in three seasons. He followed Trey Haverty, who is now at Texas Tech, and Rusty Burns, who was promoted to co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach before the 2012 season.
“If we’re dropping stuff in practice he doesn’t allow that,” Doctson said. “We’re doing up-downs or some kind of activity after practice to limit those drops. ... We hold everybody to high standard. It’s just mental things, small areas of mental awareness. We have so many athletes it’s just focusing on the ball more.”
During the meeting, players offered encouragement to one another and reminded themselves that they were better than they were playing.
“We all just kind of had our little inputs on what we felt we need to do better and what we need to work on,” Porter said. “We all just sat down and talked and figured out what we needed to do. [Since the meeting] we’ve been a little more focused than we’ve been. So we’ve played pretty great the last two weeks.”
TCU had been plagued by inconsistent wide receiver play for much of the season before the unit played its two best games the last two weeks. Here’s a look at the Frogs’ receiving leaders, including Trevone Boykin who has only played parts of five games at receiver: