TCU hoping spring’s offensive struggles do not carry into fall

As a harbinger of things to come, statistics compiled during college football spring games typically are as reliable as long-term weather forecasts for Texas cities during tornado season. In other words: not at all.

Coaches can tweak play calls and lineups on both sides of the ball to create April heroes, if they choose. Or they can play it straight and let nature take its course in efforts to settle position battles.

Either way, outside observers won’t know until September if what they’ve seen in a spring game is a taste of the future or a merely a mirage.

For TCU fans counting on an offensive revival next season under new play-caller Sonny Cumbie, the suggestion here is to pray that Saturday’s effort in Amon Carter Stadium proves to be a mirage. If not, the Frogs will be hard-pressed to win any games beyond their Sept. 2 opener against Jackson State in Fort Worth.

Saturday’s spring finale included more turnovers (five) than touchdowns (one) and the team’s top two quarterbacks, Kenny Hill and Shawn Robinson, combined to throw four interceptions (two each). Neither completed as many as half of his attempts on a day when the final score read: Purple 6, White 0.

Dropped passes, once again, ruled the day. Just like last fall, when a study by Pro Football Focus showed Hill had more passes dropped (38) than any Division I quarterback.

“We’ve got to catch the ball a lot better if we’re going to win any ballgames,” coach Gary Patterson said, summing up Saturday’s effort. “As I say, you can’t just blame it on quarterbacks.”

No official stats were distributed by TCU. But unofficially, the Frogs’ offense took possession for 16 drives and scored only once, on a Robinson-led march in the fourth quarter that ended with a missed PAT by kicker Cole Bunce. Hill, who threw 13 interceptions last season while leading TCU to a 6-7 record, threw two in nine attempts Saturday.

The senior from Southlake Carroll completed 3-of-9 passes for 15 yards. Robinson, the freshman phenom from DeSoto who enrolled in January to take part in spring drills, completed 10-of-22 for 90 yards but was intercepted twice. He had the most telling strike of the day, a 30-yarder for a touchdown to Isaiah Graham, as well as the biggest head-scratcher of the day: a pass aimed directly at safety Ridwan Issahaku, who picked it off with no receiver in the area.

The uneven, ragged offensive performance drew a shrug from Patterson, who has seen this sort of thing before. During TCU’s 2014 spring game, its first in its current spread offense, the Frogs’ offense managed only one field goal in four quarters. The ensuing fall, TCU set a school scoring record, posted a 12-1 record and won a share of a Big 12 championship.

“It’s a spring game. I just wanted to get it over,” Patterson said during a break in postgame autographs for fans. “All I cared about is everybody got a chance to play and got a chance to enjoy the fans. We’d already done a lot of work in the first 14 [practices].”

Clearly, lots of work remains on the offensive side of the ball. But it’s worth noting that TCU played its spring game without five receivers who were sidelined by injuries. Running back Kyle Hicks, a 1,000-yard rusher who also led the team in receptions last season (47), did not take the field for precautionary reasons, a Patterson edict.

What did resurface was last year’s defining offensive issue: dropped passes. Hill’s second throw hit the hands of tight end Artavious Lynn, a redshirt freshman, then the ground. Other throws suffered similar fates as TCU trotted out five different quarterbacks in search of a spark.

Asked if his receivers were catching the ball as well as he would have liked, Patterson said: “No. They’re not. You watched it.”

As for his quarterbacks and offensive line, Patterson spotted progress despite Saturday’s numbers: 16 drives produced 14 first downs and six points. But more strides must be made between now and September.

In regard to Hill’s interceptions, Patterson said: “One was a good play [by the defender]. The other one, he just threw it to us. We’ve got to be better than that ... You can’t wish touchdowns. You’ve got to throw when they’re open.”

Robinson, he said, showed some nervousness in his first appearance in a TCU uniform but eventually calmed down.

“He overthrew a couple. So he’s got to get better about all that stuff,” Patterson said. “That’s what I like about doing the spring game. You get to see how he reacts with people in the stands.”

Before people return to the stands for the Sept. 2 opener against Jackson State, Patterson envisions making strides in multiple offensive areas.

“We’ve got to keep getting better,” he said. “We felt we got better in the offensive line. We progressed at quarterback, so we’ll see how it goes.”

The proof comes in September, when the stats will carry a lot more significance than they did Saturday.

Jimmy Burch: 817-390-7760, @Jimmy_Burch

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