All you need to know about spring football games is that college head coaches think so little of them, they used to let sportswriters coach the two teams.
The late, great Jim Wacker did it at TCU once, and I think Wacker went to his grave wondering why Mike Jones didn’t run the ball more.
I covered another spring game where the score was growing lopsided, so the head coach switched the No. 1 quarterback to the opposite team.
And even last Saturday, amidst apparently considerable angst over the Horned Frogs’ offensive inconsistencies, TCU coach Gary Patterson spent the second half roaming the grandstands, signing autographs and shaking hands with the patrons.
I’ve seen Patterson’s spring “games” before, and I wouldn’t want to play offense in them. He says he considers it “just another practice,” but you know Patterson, forever a perfectionist on defense.
Between Patterson earnestly signaling in defenses in the first half, and his defensive unit knowing every play that offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie was allowed to call, it was a mighty struggle to reach the end zone.
TCU followers saw the final score – Purple 6, White 0 – and freaked out. Nightmares of last year’s 6-7 season are still fresh in their heads.
“No. 1, we weren’t going show anything on offense, breaking in a new offensive scheme, that anybody coming to the game would see,” Patterson said.
Patterson compared it to the 2014 spring game, which ended in a scoreless tie. That team went on to set school scoring records and post a 12-1 record the following fall.
The other notable thing about the 2014 Frogs:
The starting quarterback job was thought to be wide open heading into fall. Fans – and media, too, I must confess – thought transfer Matt Joeckel would win the role over a wildly inconsistent returnee named Trevone Boykin.
Boykin would eventually end up fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
“I think our quarterbacking will be better,” Patterson says, not sounding alarmed at all over Saturday’s one-touchdown result.
He ran through a litany of guys – “anywhere from 30 to 40” – who didn’t participate Saturday because of injuries or whatever.
Patterson praised the growing leadership that Kenny Hill, listed as No. 1 on the quarterback depth chart, has shown, and he seemed impressed with newcomer Shawn Robinson from DeSoto, an early enrollee.
“We’ve just got to be smart about not throwing the ball to the wrong-colored jersey, and we’ve got to catch the football – those two things,” Patterson said. “The bottom line is we’ve just got to win ball games.”
The coaches, he said, aren’t going to let what happened in a windswept Saturday, one-hour scrimmage overshadow what they saw for 14 days of spring practices.
Five wide receivers expected to see substantial playing time in the fall did not play in the spring game. The Frogs are also counting upon help from incoming freshman receivers, such as Jalen Reagor, Kenedy Snell and Oman Manning.
After an injury-disrupted 2016 season, playmaker KaVontae Turpin is expected to return as well.
Hill and Robinson are listed as one-two on the quarterback depth chart after spring practices, but the starting job still seems anything but decided.
“Competition,” Patterson said, “is an amazing thing.”
No one, as he knows, ever won a national championship in a spring football game.
But it was a nice day for autographs and lounging in the sunshine.