At his Tuesday press conference, TCU coach Gary Patterson sounded optimistic about the offense.
“I expect the offense to just keep getting better and better,” he said.
Now that he’s lost another linebacker and his top returning defensive end needs toe surgery, maybe Patterson would rephrase: “I need the offense to just keep getting better and better.”
If so, the Horned Frogs must start at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in their home opener against Stephen F. Austin.
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It is the first of two nonconference home games that give the Frogs their only chances to get the offense in a groove before the start of the Big 12 schedule.
By the time the Frogs get to Lubbock on Sept. 26, they will need the offense performing at peak — or close to peak — potential to protect a defense that is missing four starters.
Linebacker Sammy Douglas is out for the season. Linebacker Mike Freeze is out on a personal leave. Defensive end James McFarland is having toe surgery next week. And defensive tackle Davion Pierson remains doubtful with an unannounced injury.
But the offense?
It’s missing only slot receiver Deante’ Gray, who’s recovering from knee surgery. It has far more tools at its disposal.
“We need to play better this week, and we need to play better the following week,” Patterson said. “Offensively, we’ve got to go back and do what we do and get back in sync. And I expect them to do that.”
First, three of the biggest playmakers on the offense have to return to form.
Patterson said receiver Josh Doctson is not in the shape he was in last year because he wasn’t able to practice consistently in August. He said the same is true of running back Aaron Green, who missed spring training with a groin injury. Last week, Kolby Listenbee had only one catch and two targets.
“Those are three guys that I think felt like they need to play better,” Patterson said. “We have the potential to play a lot better football than we played last Thursday, which is a great thing.”
Second, newcomers with bigger roles — Emanuel Porter, Desmon White, Ja’Juan Story, Shaun Nixon — have to get in midseason form earlier than expected. The Horned Frogs are still adjusting to the loss of veteran Cameron Echols-Luper, whose transfer was announced 12 days before the season opener.
In his college debut last week, running back Shaun Nixon had more receptions than rushes. He caught five passes and carried twice.
In the Air Raid offense, balls have to be caught. And there are a lot of them in the air in every game.
“The thing about this offense is the guys who are going to end up catching the balls are who the defense dictates by the coverages and what they want to do and how they want to do it,” Patterson said. “That’s why you see every week, somebody has a great game and the next week he doesn’t — because defenses decide how they want to play coverages and how they want to take people away. And that opens it up for the next guy.”
Third, the offense can’t hurt itself. There were five false starts at Minnesota last week. Even a veteran such as Listenbee was flagged for one.
“We may win a lot of football games, but it’s not going to be as easy as it was last year,” Patterson said. “And we can dissect it any way we want to. But the bottom line is, this week we’re going to try to beat Stephen F. Austin by one point. I would hope we’d do a better job than that.”
We may win a lot of football games, but it’s not going to be as easy as it was last year.
TCU coach Gary Patterson
Finally, the offense’s performance — if not the whole team’s fate — rides on the arm and legs of its best player, quarterback Trevone Boykin. Patterson said the Horned Frogs would not have won last week without the senior, who despite missing a handful of chances at touchdowns, still got the team enough points to win.
“We ask him to do a lot of things,” Patterson said. “If anything he was guilty of, it’s that he tried to do too much. You just need to let the offense take care of itself. But I thought he did a great job.”
Patterson was proud of his quarterback. He kept his optimism. Even after two days of unwelcome news.
“They’ll all get back in the swing of what they need to do,” he said.
Three to watch
The linebackers. TCU has to break in two new ones, now that their Week 1 starters are gone. Patterson is high on Montrel Wilson’s measurables.
Offensive sharpness. The Horned Frogs committed five false start penalties last week. Can they smooth out the rough edges after only one week?
All hands on deck. TCU coach Gary Patterson laid out a list of players who will see their first action: Jaelan Austin, Deshawn Raymond, Arico Evans, Julius Lewis, Breylin Mitchell, Tipa Galeai.
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