On Saturday, for the first time in almost 22 months, TCU football played a game in front of a full crowd at Amon G. Carter Stadium, and there was no shortage of interesting events that occurred.
TCU converted on fourth down on their opening drive, receiver JD Spielman ran over half of the Duquesne defense, the Dukes asked for a shortened second half because of fatigue and Oklahoma transfer Chandler Morris even threw for a touchdown on his first-ever pass as a Horned Frog.
Despite being against an FCS opponent, the game was a great way for TCU to judge the chemistry they’ve built as a team, especially on offense.
“We looked very clean,” wide receiver Taye Barber said to the media Tuesday. “Since I’ve been here the past three years, a first game hasn’t looked that clean for us, so I was very excited for that.”
The smooth nature of the TCU offense started with quarterback Max Duggan, as he made completions on six of the 10 passing plays the Frogs had on their opening drive.
The junior finished 14-for-19 (74%) with 207 yards and a score, with his one real mistake coming on an interception in the second quarter that the Duquesne safety read like a book.
Barber said it’s good for his quarterback to get those mistakes out in the early, less important contests.
“As soon as we got to the sideline, I just said [to Duggan], ‘It’s cool. Just forget about it. Just get it out early,'” Barber said. “We won, and that’s really all that matters.”
Cheez-It Bowl rematch
Learning from mistakes and having each other’s backs is something TCU is going to have to do quickly, as Pac-12 opponent California comes to town Saturday for what will be a much tougher matchup for the Frogs.
“We need to play a lot better to beat Cal,” Patterson said. “I would’ve said that, probably, about anybody you played.”
In his 21 years as TCU’s head coach, Gary Patterson is undefeated (7-0) against the Pac-12, but his last matchup with the Golden Bears was undoubtedly the most memorable.
The two teams faced off for the 2018 Cheez-It Bowl in a game that featured nine total interceptions and has been consistently brought up and trolled on social media ever since.
“We won. That’s really all I remember,” Barber said of the game. “Our team is different and their team is different, so it should be a different ball game than back then.”
Barber, who was a freshman on that TCU squad, caught two of the eight passes the Frogs completed that day for a whopping three yards.
A different team?
Contrary to Barber’s point, though, Patterson does not believe that California is too different from that fateful day in football history.
“Defensively, they’re the same,” Patterson said. “It’s the same head coach.”
California head coach Justin Wilcox has been at the helm of the Golden Bears since 2017, and Patterson said that his defensive scheme has largely remained the same, even dating back to when Wilcox was the Boise State defensive coordinator from 2006-2009.
The Frogs faced the Broncos twice during that time, beating them 17-16 in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl and falling to them 17-10 in the 2009 (January 2010) Fiesta Bowl.
Following TCU’s win over Duquesne, Patterson commented that this California team might be “one of the best defenses we play.”
Hours later, that same Golden Bears defense gave up 22 unanswered points to Nevada to drop a heartbreaking season opener 22-17, hinting that California might not have as much defensive juice as Patterson thought.
“I’m sure he [Wilcox] was not happy. Their kids weren’t happy,” Patterson said of California’s loss. “I’ve read all their articles over there.”
Regardless, the Golden Bears will certainly be the most advanced defense that TCU has faced this season. Their 61 rushing yards given up with two sacks force display a strong presence up front that could put the pressure on Duggan, Zach Evans and the rest of the Frogs’ running back group.
Despite having two preseason All-Pac-12 players in the secondary, California struggled to defend against the pass against Nevada, giving up 312 yards and two scores through the air by Wolfpack quarterback Carson Strong.
With that in mind, all signs seem to point to this being the game where Frog fans really find out how good of a quarterback Duggan can be at the national level, especially given the talent and depth of TCU’s current receiving corps.
Ten different receivers caught a pass from TCU on Saturday, and their depth layered with a desire for each other to succeed displays what has become a common theme for this Horned Frog roster.
“We’ve got a good group,” Barber said of the wide receiver room. “Everybody is just worried about winning. We all just want to be on the same page no matter who the ball goes to.”
Defensively, TCU will have their hands full with California running backs Damien Moore and DeCarlos Brooks, who combined for 125 yards on Saturday on just 17 carries (7.4 yards per carry).
“Out of the film we’ve been watching, they’re [California] run-heavy,” defensive end Dylan Hornton said. “We’re just preparing for that, doing what we can to stop them.”
Through the air, the Golden Bears were less than effective last week, as quarterback Chase Garbers finished with a measly quarterback rating of 29.0.
Patterson did note, though, that Garbers is a threat on the ground, as he often catches defenses off guard with his ability to run (718 rushing yards in his career).
“This guy from Cal [Garbers], that’s one of the things he does. He hurts a lot of people running in the passing game,” Patterson said. “You drop back. Everybody drops because it affects your coverages.”
TCU should have extra support in the pass-rushing effort this weekend, as defensive tackle Terrell Cooper is set to make his return against the Golden Bears. The senior started the last nine games of 2020 and is set to have a breakout season this year.
Also returning are young safeties Abraham Camara and Deshawn McCuin, who will provide Patterson depth in the secondary but primarily on special teams.
Senior cornerback Noah Daniels and sophomore defensive Khari Coleman are questionable for the game, with Patterson saying he doesn’t know whether either of them will play.
Regardless of who plays, Patterson and the Frogs are not taking their feet off the gas, especially against a team from the conference that closed their doors on TCU just two weeks ago.
“If you coach them to be perfect, then you’ve got a chance to be great,” Patterson said of his high coaching standard. “If you coach them to be great, then they’re going to be good. If you coach them to be good, then they’re going to be average.”
TCU kicks off against California this Saturday in Amon G. Carter Stadium at 2:30 p.m. on ESPNU.