TCU has no trouble appreciating the impact of Doug Meacham in three years as co-offensive coordinator in Fort Worth.
“Brought a lot of excitement to us when he came here in the spring of ’14,” coach Gary Patterson said.
Under Meacham’s guidance, with fellow co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie as quarterbacks coach, TCU ranked among the top five offenses in the nation in 2014 and 2015. Heisman candidate quarterback Trevone Boykin and Biletnikoff finalist receiver Josh Doctson thrived in Meacham’s Air Raid offense and led TCU to a 23-3 record and a share of a Big 12 title.
But in 2016, the offense regressed. New quarterback Kenny Hill’s uneven first year as the starter, an injury to KaVontae Turpin and inconsistent performances from the receivers and offensive line were a big part of a 6-7 season.
By the end of the regular season finale, Patterson also blamed a lack of toughness.
Following the Liberty Bowl loss to Georgia, Meacham surprised TCU with a departure to become the offensive coordinator at Kansas, and he now leads the Jayhawks’ offense that visits the fourth-ranked Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium on Saturday.
“We understand what he’s going to do with their offense and how he’s going to attack us,” Patterson said. “We’re having to do all of our self-evaluation to make sure that we’re watching everything that we think he would do.”
Since Meacham’s exit, the Frogs have blended more offensive styles in their Air Raid base. Their offensive numbers remain similar under Cumbie and co-offensive coordinator Curtis Luper as they were under Meacham and Cumbie, but the Frogs now emphasize shorter passes and power running sets with one or more tight ends. The result is that time of possession (32:32, second in the Big 12) and third-down conversion rate (56.7 percent, best in the nation) are up dramatically compared with the previous three years.
Those improvements addressed Patterson’s chief concerns.
Under Cumbie’s play-calling, TCU no longer looks for the big strike as aggressively and instead tries to stretch the defense sideline to sideline with a deep stable of offensive skill players.
He’s also gotten six touchdowns in eight Wildcat formation runs from running back Sewo Olonilua. Against West Virginia two weeks ago, Hill threw for a touchdown, ran for a touchdown and caught a touchdown.
“He’s getting a lot of guys involved,” senior receiver Desmon White said. “We have all our receivers around the same number of catches. Everybody’s contributing.”
TCU is actually rushing for fewer yards per game than the 2014 and 2015 teams, but their 17 touchdown runs are the most in the Big 12. Six players have run for a touchdown, and 10 have caught a touchdown pass.
“The best part of all that is that everybody’s getting it, but not every game, because the coverage dictates who’s going to get the ball,” Patterson said. “And then when you do that, can you make a play.”
Kansas declined to make Meacham available for interviews this week.
Naturally, Meacham figures to know how the Frogs have gotten their offense to this level. He knows Cumbie and the Frogs’ personnel as well as any opponent could.
“He taught me pretty much all the receiving routes,” said White, a freshman when Meacham arrived in 2014 who today is second on the team in catches.
Of course, the Frogs know Meacham’s approach as well as any opponent could.
So each side is sure to have a surprise or two Saturday night.
“But the thing you have to do is, you just still have to play,” Patterson said. “You still have to block. You still have to tackle. You still have to play the deep ball. And offensively, we still have to move the ball and score points. It still comes down to you have to do your job.”
No. 4 TCU vs. Kansas
7 p.m. Saturday, KDFW/Ch. 4