For nearly an hour of an hour-long spring game Saturday at Amon G. Carter Stadium, TCU coach Gary Patterson watched five quarterbacks try mightily — some might say futilely — to put the offense in the end zone.
It reminded him of something.
“It’s kind of like 2014,” he said. “We missed some plays on deep routes. We’ve got to be able to do that.”
Well, 2014 turned out to be a pretty good year. It was the first season with the Air Raid offense at TCU, and Patterson is quick to refresh memories about how much of a struggle it was to execute the new system that spring.
Patterson isn’t promising anything about 2017. He merely cautioned about reading too much into a scrimmage with only one score, Shawn Robinson’s 30-yard strike over the middle to Isaiah Graham with 2:25 left in the fourth quarter of running-clock action.
“We had five wide receivers out,” Patterson said. “We got to the end of the spring, and we’ve been a little bit beat up. We’ve got to keep getting better. We felt we got better in the offensive line. We progressed at quarterback, so we’ll see how it goes. It’s a spring game.”
Which means it was a vanilla game, admittedly. Patterson said the defense recognizes what the offense is doing, and the offense went “no gimmicks.”
But the quarterbacks — Robinson, Kenny Hill, Grayson Muehlstein, Brennen Wooten and Jordan Kitna — had trouble moving even against the vanilla looks, mainly because the pass rush wasn’t vanilla.
Six defenders recorded a sack: ends Mat Boesen, L.J. Collier, Gary Overshown and Isaiah Chambers, tackle Ross Blacklock and linebacker Sammy Douglas on a blitz. In the scrimmage format, the quarterbacks were not taken to the ground, and one escape by Robinson was spotted as a sack for Chambers.
Defensive end Ben Banogu tipped a Hill pass that resulted in an interception for cornerback Jeff Gladney. Cornerback Ranthony Texada chased down an overthrow from Hill intended for Taj Williams.
Innis Gaines collected a pick when a short pass from Robinson went through the hands of Desmon White. Safety Ridwan Issahaku got a gift interception when Robinson threw from his back foot after escaping pressure, almost as if he was trying to throw the ball away.
Another turnover came on Robinson’s watch, when KaVontae Turpin fumbled after a catch in the flat to end the best drive by the Horned Frogs’ four-star recruit.
Patterson’s evaluation of the quarterbacks?
On Robinson, who was 10-of-22 for 90 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions: “I thought he had a little nervousness. He overthrew a couple. So he’s got to get better about all that stuff. That’s what I like about doing the spring game. You get to see how he reacts with people in the stands.”
On Hill, who was 3-for-9 for 15 yards and two interceptions: “Yeah. He didn’t start very good. You can’t wish touchdowns. You’ve got to throw when they’re open.”
On Hill’s interceptions: “One was a good play. The other one, he just threw it to us. We’ve got to be better than that. But you’ve also got to say that the defense did a good job, too.”
In the hour, the Frogs offense totaled 14 first downs, six from Robinson, four from Hill and two each by Wooten and Kitna. The longest play was a 50-yard pass from Wooten to Emanuel Porter.
Hill’s first possession might have gone somewhere, but tight end Artayvious Lynn dropped a pass after clearing from a safety for what would have been first-down yardage.
No. 1 tailback Kyle Hicks did not play, as Patterson opted not to expose him to contact until fall. Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua got the bulk of the carries, but neither had a breakout run.
So while the offense didn’t make headlines, at least Patterson’s unit came away with a sense of accomplishment.
“We think we’re better in the secondary compared to where we were a year ago at this time,” Patterson said. “We’ve got more depth. Our 2’s have got to grow up more, and if they do, we’ve got an opportunity to be better.”