EDITOR’s NOTE: In the two weeks leading up to the 2017 college football season, The Franchise columnist and co-host John E. Hoover previews the Big 12 Conference. Today: TCU.
Although all bend a knee to Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, who twice worked his magic around a brief retirement, TCU’s Gary Patterson is now the Big 12’s longest single-tenured football coach.
And that means Patterson has been around long enough to know what’s what.
“I tell everybody that the good news is we have everybody back,” Patterson said, “and the bad news is we were 6-6 (and) we got everybody back. So how do you make that work?”
Sharp-tongued coaching humor aside, Patterson is realistic. A .500 record at TCU isn’t good enough. Not with the kind of equity Patterson has built. Now starting his 17th season with a 149-54 career record and just two years removed from a Big 12 championship, Patterson is keen on the idea of chasing another title.
Now. With this team.
“Our standards are a lot higher, football-wise, the way we want to play and how we want to do things,” Patterson said. “Because the ultimate goal is to get in the playoffs and win the Big 12 Conference.”
Are such goals attainable with this Horned Frogs bunch? Maybe. Like Patterson said, there are 20 starters back, including 10 on offense and seven on defense.
TCU finished fourth in the Big 12 in scoring defense (28 points per game), fourth in run defense (185.8 yards per game), fourth in passing defense (238.9 yards per game) and second in total defense (424.8 yards per game). The defense needs to retool up front, but returns two linebackers (Big 12 tackles leader Travin Howard and Ty Summers, who has worked a little at rush end this preseason), two cornerbacks (Ranthony Texada and Jeff Gladney) and two safeties (Nick Orr, Niko Small). Disruptive d-tackle Chris Bradley also is back.
The offense wasn’t as accomplished last season, but does bring back everyone but tackle Aviante Collins. That includes senior quarterback Kenny Hill, who has fully distanced himself from any self-promotional nicknames and says he just wants to play football.
“We have a lot of guys,” Patterson said, “who have played a lot of football.”
In Hill, Patterson has a guy who figured the world was his oyster as a freshman at Texas A&M, when he opened the 2014 season with a school record 511 passing yards in a dramatic victory over South Carolina and picked up the odd nickname “Trill.” But by midseason, Hill had lost his swagger and his starting job. By the end of the year, he was suspended for violation of team rules. The Southlake, Texas, product left College Station and went home to the Metroplex, landing at nearby Tarrant County College before enrolling at TCU.
“I feel like I’ve just grown more mature,” Hill said. “Understanding more what to expect. Understanding how to lead a team and how to get the guys going and to get myself going. Really just growing up, man, is really just the biggest thing.”
Hill apparently endeared himself to teammates by working hard. He also got himself into trouble on the field from time to time last season, perhaps trying too hard to make plays and be special instead of just distributing the ball to teammates and trusting the offense.
Hill passed for 3,208 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2016, completing 61 percent of his throws. But he also threw 13 interceptions. Still, he was dynamic, rushing for 609 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“I judge quarterbacks on Saturdays,” Patterson said. “Obviously, we went through a season where that was his first time. For me, I think I’ve got to do a better job of helping him with his swagger. I was pretty tough early doing things. And … we’ve got to give him help. We’ve got to catch the ball better. I think we’re going to be better up front offensive line-wise. We only lost one wide receiver. So I think all those things benefit him and then we’ve got to put him in an offense too that bends toward his strengths.”
That’ll be the job of co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie, who helped work miracles with ex-Frog Trevone Boykin. But that was with Doug Meacham calling plays. Now, with Meacham at Kansas, Cumbie both calls plays and coaches quarterbacks. Patterson said “not much” will change because of Cumbie’s previous level of involvement.
“I think what we have to be able to do is, we have to do what we need to do to move the football,” Patterson said. “If that’s running it, then you run it. If it’s throwing it, being able to be more of a vertical game, then be more of a vertical game.
“How much it will change, I don’t know. We’re teaching the same thing. If anything, we’ve gone back to — it’s more back to the essence of making sure that we can run a base offense and run it really well and then add things to it and not change on a game-to-game basis.”
Four starters are back on the offensive line, and senior running back Kyle Hicks rushed for 1,042 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, so the Horned Frogs should be very good at running the ball.
Hicks led the team with 47 receptions (for 417 yards and two TDs), and Taj Williams (39 catches), John Diarse (33), KaVontae Turpin (30), Desmon White (30), Jaelan Austin (23), Ty Slanina (17), Emanuel Porter (15), Daniel Walsh (14) and Jarrison Stewart (12) are all back, so the passing game could be spectacular.
In reviewing 2016, Patterson sees flare-ups like a 41-38 double-overtime loss to Arkansas, a 52-46 loss to Oklahoma, a 27-24 double-overtime loss to Texas Tech and a 31-23 loss to Georgia as problem areas that need to be addressed. Those outcomes, all with late, regrettable errors, are the difference between a 6-7 season and a 10-3 season.
So the offseason was spent gaining muscle in the weight room (Howard made 130 tackles at around 200 pounds last year; he’s now up to about 215, Patterson said) and improving fitness and endurance. Patterson also went big in recruiting, adding four defensive tackles and three defensive ends and swelling his d-line’s average weight from around 270 pounds to closer to 300 this year.
“At the end of the year, we got beat up in the second half against a couple of teams,” Patterson said. “We’ve got to be stronger. We’ve got to be more physical and mentally tough.”
And that’s Gary Patterson: embracing the hard truth, and turning it into success.
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.
- 2017 TCU SCHEDULE
- Sept. 2: Jackson State
- Sept. 9: at Arkansas
- Sept. 16: SMU
- Sept. 23: at Oklahoma State
- Oct. 7: West Virginia
- Oct. 14: at Kansas State
- Oct. 21: Kansas
- Oct. 28: at Iowa State
- Nov. 4: Texas
- Nov. 11: at Oklahoma
- Nov. 18: at Texas Tech
- Nov. 25: Baylor