Road warriors. Duggan’s homecoming. What to watch as TCU travels to Iowa State

Rain is in the weekend forecast in Ames, Iowa, providing another layer of intrigue to TCU’s first conference road game against Iowa State.

But the Frogs will be ready rain or shine at 11 a.m. on Saturday. They’ll be trying to hand the Cyclones their first loss in October since 2016.

“Whatever weather shows up, you’ve got to play in it,” TCU senior right guard David Bolisomi said. “It’s just like the Baylor game my freshman year (2015) when it was pouring down rain. Whatever Mother Nature wants to give us, we’ve got to be ready for it.”

Outside of the forecast, here’s what to watch for in Saturday’s game:

Duggan’s homecoming

TCU coach Gary Patterson isn’t concerned about true freshman quarterback Max Duggan returning to his home state and any emotions that might come with it.

“I don’t know why [they would]. I don’t get emotional going back to Kansas,” Patterson said. “If anything you’re more fired up that you want to go do that. His parents have come down; they were here last week. For us, there’s only one goal and that’s to win.”

Still, it’s different when a veteran coach returns to his old stomping grounds compared to an 18-year-old who was named Iowa’s reigning Gatorade Player of the Year in 2018 as a high school senior.

But Duggan has handled himself well since stepping on campus in January and has taken strides since becoming the starter two weeks ago against SMU.

Duggan enters the Iowa State game as the only TCU quarterback who has thrown a TD pass, completing 47-of-88 passes for 523 yards with seven TDs and no interceptions.

Iowa State coach Matt Campbell raved about Duggan to reporters earlier this week, recalling the Cyclones’ pursuit of Duggan in the recruiting process.

“The thing about watching Max is you watch him continue to do the things that I thought was really impressive in high school,” Campbell said, via the Des Moines Register. “He never panics. He plays with really good poise, and you can see him being a great asset to that team — because they’ve got a lot of great skill players, as well as those two great running backs. So you see him have the ability to distribute the football when it’s time to distribute the football. I think he’s been a huge asset to them.”

Establishing the run

TCU has the makings of a smash-mouth team and co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie is playing to that strength. The Frogs have to continue being effective in the ground game behind a veteran offensive line and seniors Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua.

This is the eighth-best rushing attack in the country early on this season, and the best in almost two decades at TCU.

With that being said, a strong rushing attack should open up more passing lanes to find outside playmakers such as Jalen Reagor. Senior receiver TreVontae Hights spoke about this earlier in the week.

“When you’ve got Jet [Anderson] and Sewo running the ball, and even the freshmen backs, running the ball like that it opens it up for the receivers,” Hights said. “Max makes throws against single coverage, or sometimes double coverage, that we probably wouldn’t have if the running game wasn’t working like it is.”

Pass rush promise

The pass rushers received an “average” grade from Patterson through three games, but they continued to improve in the KU game.

Graduate transfer Shameik Blackshear registered a half-sack in the KU game, TCU’s first defensive end to show up in that category. But pass rush is graded by more than just sacks.

KU had 12 plays where the quarterback held the ball for three or more seconds, Patterson said, and TCU’s ends had seven hits on those plays.

Patterson went on to say it’s hard to expect a redshirt freshman such as Ochaun Mathis to duplicate the success of Top 50 NFL Draft picks such as L.J. Collier and Ben Banogu from last season.

“The key is we’re getting closer,” Patterson said. “I think there’s a lot of people that would trade for our defensive ends, our young ones. They’ve just got to keep getting better.”

Getting healthy?

TCU had to start third-stringer Keenan Reed at cornerback for the KU game. Reed handled himself well, but Patterson didn’t sound overly optimistic about the cornerback depth earlier this week.

“I think I’m going to take some reps today,” Patterson said, jokingly during his weekly Tuesday luncheon.

But Patterson had better news on his radio show Thursday night. Patterson said Frogs senior cornerback Julius Lewis, who has missed the first four games, will return for the Iowa State game. Lewis’ backup, freshman Kee’yon Stewart, continues to recover from an injury as well.

More news on the injury front, Patterson mentioned linebacker Ben Wilson and defensive tackles Izaih Filikitonga and George Ellis III as closer to returning to game action. Ellis is expected to play in the Iowa State game.

So is Hights, the senior receiver and special teams ace who missed last week’s game with a foot injury.

“Whatever the training report was this morning will be different this afternoon and it’ll also be different tomorrow morning,” Patterson said. “It’s like every day is a month.”

Road warriors

Patterson has a simple answer as to why his program has become so successful on the road. The Frogs are 40-15 away from home since 2009, the third-best in the nation.

“I think it’s because we learned a long time ago when we played in the Mountain West and C-USA that you have to take your own energy,” Patterson said.

That’s what happened last month when TCU rolled to a 34-13 victory at Purdue, and the hope is it happens again in Ames. Players recalled how quiet the flight to West Lafayette, Indiana had been for the Purdue game, and how focused guys can get without the distractions that sometimes come with being at home.

As Bolisomi explained, “Coach brings this great mentality to TCU. Your back is against the wall so what are you going to do? Are you going to fold or are you going to fight back? Anytime you go on the road your back is against the wall; you don’t have 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 in the stands.

“It’s essentially we’re all we got and we’re all we need. Are we going to do what we’re supposed to do or are we going to fold?”

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