Mac Engel

TCU’s key to success: QB Kenny Hill needs the help he didn’t get in 2016

A TCU assistant coach warned me about comparing quarterback Kenny Hill to his predecessor.

“Come on now,” the coach told me. “He’s real good, but he ain’t that good.”

Not many college quarterbacks are going to be as good as Trevone Boykin, who spoiled his offensive linemen, his receivers, his fans and his head coach — and who got his coaches paid.

Remember when co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie were the smartest guys in football, and given fat raises after the 2015 season which concluded a two-year, 23-3 stretch?

The duo didn’t look so smart the following fall when Boykin was with the Seattle Seahawks. Without Boykin completing passes to Josh Doctson, the “great relationship” between Cumbie and Meacham predictably soured; Meacham was shoved out the door to pursue a “wonderful opportunity” at national power Kansas.

The problem for Meacham, Cumbie, and seemingly all of TCU, is that Kenny Hill is not Trevone Boykin.

For the third time Hill has had the hardest job in sports: Replacing The Guy. You never want to be the guy who replaces The Guy. You always need a buffer.

At Southlake Carroll, he replaced Daxx Garman, who went to Arizona, Oklahoma State and Maryland. At Texas A&M, Hill followed Johnny Manziel. At TCU, it was Boykin.

Hill is neither Manziel nor Boykin, but that does not mean he’s a bum. Kenny Hill is a college quarterback who needs help — help from his offensive linemen to block, receivers to hold on to his passes and kickers to make kicks. He also doesn’t need his coaches expecting him to be his predecessor. If he does not receive that help fast, he’s going to be replaced.

Because Hill is not Boykin, the only way for TCU to be the team that a handful of pundits are predicting is that we see a more collaborative effort than the pile of barely mediocre we witnessed last season.

Hill is a fifth-year senior, and he likely knows that in his final year of college his leash won’t be too long because of a true freshman. And TCU head coach Gary Patterson told me Thursday he has no intention of redshirting DeSoto quarterback Shawn Robinson.

“He is by far the best No. 2 guy,” Patterson said.

Whatever off-the-field problems Hill had at Texas A&M, which were legendary and mostly self-inflicted bouts of teenage stupidity, they have ceased to be an issue since he arrived at TCU.

By all accounts, he has not been a concern for his coaches, and is a willing student who is on track to graduate.

The part that is missing is the on-the-field success that he flirted with at A&M and last season at TCU. Sometimes it’s him. Sometimes it’s his teammates. Sometimes it’s his coaches, from College Station to Fort Worth, who continually asked him to be something he’s not rather than focusing on what he is.

On Thursday Patterson sounded eager to change because everyone in the Big 12 is running the exact same offense with nearly identical language, and because his quarterback needs it.

“There are some things we had to change (offensively) to win championships,” Patterson said.

When I followed that up with, “What is that?” GP declined to be specific.

“We will still have pace but you still have to be a power football team,” he said.

This is what TCU fans should want to hear.

Start with slowing down and then run the ball more.

Patterson has no intention of altering the pace, but last season the problems of an up-tempo scheme surfaced. Start with time of possession; a defense that lacked serious playmakers returned to the field too frequently.

These PlayStation, XBox, Air Raid, Cutsey Spread Offenses typically have quick expiration dates. They need a dynamic quarterback to fly — Boykin, Manziel — or they will be exposed against a defense that has real athletes.

TCU ranked 64th nationally in third downs last season, 46th in rushing offense and 96th in time of possession. Those are wonderful ingredients to build a 6-7 record, which is how the Frogs finished in 2016.

Last season, the Frogs saw defenders rush three and drop eight into pass coverage.

“And they were still stopping the run,” Patterson said.

That is a terrible indictment on the state of his offensive line. Running back Kyle Hicks is not a spare; he just had no help up front.

“You have to force people to put people in the box,” Patterson said.

That can’t all be on Kenny Hill. That has to be the line blocking, Hicks running, and Hill’s receivers actually holding on to the ball, something they were not good at last season.

Before Boykin won the starting job in 2014, TCU had never been a quarterback-centric team under Patterson. They were a collection of complimentary parts. This included Andy Dalton’s time as the starting QB.

For TCU to return to their status as a Top 25 team, that’s what they will have to be this season. Because Kenny Hill is not Trevone Boykin.

Because Kenny Hill is a quarterback who just needs some help.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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