Well, that was close. TCU opened the season Saturday night with a 59-41 victory against South Dakota State that left everyone thinking the same thing — “That was close.”
But it was a win, the 14th straight for TCU at home and an overall success for new quarterback Kenny Hill and his offense.
Here are five of our takeaways from Week 1:
1. Kenny Hill and Taj Williams might have something going. They were both playing their first game at TCU, but it looked like they had been working together for years. Williams, a junior college player last year, had 11 catches for 158 yards and a touchdown, although one play was a bonus — a ball that went off the hands of Desmon White and to Williams, who caught it to complete a 46-yard scoring play in the fourth quarter. It was a right-place, right-time moment. Maybe that’s fitting. Williams, whio caught 128 passes and scored 20 touchdowns in two years at Iowa Western, could have timed his arrival in Fort Worth just right.
2. R-e-l-a-x. Aaron Rodgers spelled it out. So did Kenny Hill. Saturday night, he threw interceptions on back-to-back passes. The first one surprised him. The second one, he knew was a mistake the moment it left his hand. But he was thinking to himself, “It’s all good, I’ve got this,” and he told his new team the same. “I was just trying to let everybody know — ‘I got you, I’m not about to make any more mistakes. I know, defense, you’re going to get us a stop when we need it, and we’re going to go put points on the board.” What happened next? Touchdown, field goal, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown.
3. This is going to be an interesting relationship between Hill and the head coach. After the second interception Saturday night, Hill allowed himself a smile on the sideline. It was more for his teammates than himself, he said, just to reassure them. Gary Patterson didn’t exactly get that vibe. “I told him it wasn’t that funny,” he said. “After they scored a couple of touchdowns in a row, it wasn’t that funny.” Hill was asked after the game, “Did Coach P really tell you it wasn’t that funny?” He laughed. “Yes, he’s like, ‘It’s not that funny!’ ” Hill smiled big, win already in hand. “But it’s all good.”
4. Speaking of the head coach, he wasn’t that impressed with the pass rush. But it generated four sacks, one each by end James McFarland and tackles Aaron Curry and Chris Bradley, and Curry and safety Denzel Johnson shared one. So the defensive line was responsible for 3.5 of the 4.0 number, and it came from three spots — an end and two on the interior. There are certain areas on this TCU team brimming with potential, and one of them is the defensive line, particularly the tackles. Look out if they prove to be pass-rushers, too.
5. Yes, was a lot of points to give up. TCU hadn’t given up 41 points at home since the last time it lost at home — to Baylor in the 2013 season finale — and hadn’t given up 41 points since, um, well the 2015 season finale, against Oregon in the Alamo Bowl. And yet this time, it was against an FCS team. But Patterson’s explanation was reasonable. South Dakota State receiver Jake Wieneke looks like NFL material, his team had a game plan that pops things open for him and a very nice tight end, and quarterback Taryn Christion executed it well when he got the chance. Plus, three of TCU’s top defenders — linebacker Travin Howard, safety Denzel Johnson and cornerback Ranthony Texada — missed a lot of fall camp. But still, there are some basics Patterson expects, and he didn’t get them. “Our safeties fix things,” he said. “Their job is to fix things, and we didn’t do a good job of fixing. The only person I can blame is me. Obviously I didn’t do a good job of helping them get it fixed.”
6. One more. This is a bonus takeaway. Redshirt freshman Ryan Graf deserves credit for hitting a 32-yard field goal with two seconds left before halftime that tied the game. Without that kick, the Frogs have to sit a half hour knowing they were trailing an FCS team being paid to come to Fort Worth to lose. Graf was on the spot, facing a pressure kick in his first attempt after winning the job to replace Jonathan Song, who hurt his leg early in fall camp. When he made it with room to spare, Graf rewarded both the staff’s confidence in him and Kenny Hill’s two-minute work to get the team in position for points before the half. Good make.