How TCU’s new play-caller Sonny Cumbie has influenced the offense

Sonny Cumbie, left, will call plays this season for TCU and quarterback Kenny Hill.
Sonny Cumbie, left, will call plays this season for TCU and quarterback Kenny Hill.

New play-caller Sonny Cumbie is going to be judged on Saturdays, as coach Gary Patterson likes to say about everyone.

But through spring training and fall practices, Cumbie’s imprint on the TCU offense at least has Patterson eager to see more.

“There’s going to be a lot more to the playbook than there was a year ago, even in the run game,” Patterson said. “We’ve got things in the run game now that stop people from being able to just tee off on us.”

If that sounds like TCU will run the ball more under Cumbie, Patterson likely wouldn’t mind. The Air Raid offense brought in by former co-offensive coordinator Doug Meacham, now at Kansas, and Cumbie worked wonders for the Horned Frogs in 2014 and 2015 — when Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson fueled a 23-3 record.

Operated by Kenny Hill and a less reliable group of receivers in 2016, the Air Raid dropped by 11 points per game and TCU went 6-7.

“By the end of the year, people were just rushing three and dropping eight and still stopping the run,” Patterson said.

It was noticeable to more than the people in Fort Worth.

“From what I read about the games and following them last year, they want to run the ball more,” CBS analyst Gary Danielson said Thursday in a conference call with reporters. He and play-by-play partner Brad Nessler and sideline reporter Allie LaForce will be the broadcast team for the TCU at Arkansas game on Sept. 9.

“If Sonny uses a little bit more balance in that run game, I think Kenny Hill would be better,” Danielson said.

That’s nothing the Horned Frogs hadn’t thought themselves. Hill attempted the second-most passes in TCU history last season, but wound up with the most interceptions in the Big 12 and was victimized by the most dropped passes of any quarterback in the country.

The Horned Frogs quarterback spoke at Big 12 Media Days about the 'swagger' that coach Gary Patterson likes to see him use on the field.

“You have to self-assess and ask, ‘Why weren’t we as successful?’ ” Cumbie said. “The quarterback didn’t play consistent. We turned the football over. We had crucial drops on offense. Those were the three areas that you look at and say, ‘How do we get better in these three areas?’ before we assess anything scheme-wise. And then you go from there.”

Following Meacham’s departure, Patterson elevated Cumbie to primary play-caller and let him hire a new offensive line coach, Arizona State’s Chris Thomsen, a former TCU player and head coach at Abilene Christian. They had spent 2012 together at Texas Tech.

Thomsen brought a more direct style to offensive line play.

“They’ve kept us off balance,” Patterson said of Cumbie and Thomsen’s approach. “We’ve had to work hard at some of the things that they do. Because you never knew in practice what they were going to come out with and what was going to be their emphasis in the running game.”

To balance the departure of Meacham’s expertise in the Air Raid, TCU brought in former Louisiana Tech and Cal coach Sonny Dykes as an offensive analyst. Running backs coach Curtis Luper, who was part of Auburn’s national championship staff in 2010, was elevated to co-offensive coordinator with Cumbie.

“I thought he did a great job of using the staff,” Patterson said. “That’s the biggest thing. You have a lot of wealth of information. I thought they did a great job of working together.”

Former TCU co-offensive coordinators Jarrett Anderson and Rusty Burns, with 29 combined seasons in Fort Worth, round out Cumbie’s resources.

“When you look at all that experience, it would be foolish not to plug into it, listen to it and ask,” Cumbie said. “ You can’t be the expert in every area. It’s been fun to have all that wisdom and experience to bounce everything off of.”

Cumbie has yet to be tested in a game. The first Saturday has yet to come around.

So judgment awaits.

But the criteria won’t be hard to understand.

“I don’t care what the offense looks like so long as it scores points, moves the ball and doesn’t turn the ball over,” Patterson said. “I’m pretty simple when it comes to that.”

Carlos Mendez: 817-390-7760, @calexmendez

TCU vs. Jackson State

7 p.m. Saturday, FSSW

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