Saturday turned into a half-full, half-empty day for TCU.
There was a comfortable win — 41-20 against Iowa State — but not without three injuries, two on a defense that had its best day of the season but continues to keep coach Gary Patterson nervous and the other to the offense’s top gamebreaker.
Five sacks and a turnover-free day from the offense were good things. But there were no turnovers forced by the defense. Still, at the end of the half-full, half-empty day, the Horned Frogs were winners, perhaps back on track in time for the first road game of the season Friday night at SMU.
But before we head east down the Tom Landry Freeway, here’s what we we took away from the Iowa State game:
1. KaVontae Turpin’s spark is going to be missed. He suffered an ugly-looking knee injury Saturday against Iowa State and had to be helped off the field. That he walked to the locker room later without help seems encouraging, but knee injuries are knee injuries. Even something mild likely still means weeks of recovery. Turpin’s game is built on cutting and darting and accelerating. He wouldn’t be the same at 75 percent, and it’s doubtful TCU would rush him back. But the Frogs have dealt with a lot of injuries the past two seasons. They know the drill. “We all know the risk. We could be injured at any moment,” teammate Deante Gray said. Bottom line, the offense’s most dynamic player is out of the picture for a while, and with him, the threat of a game-breaking punt return or short pass that can go the distance. That hurts an offense that moves more deliberately than the offenses of the past two years.
He’s been a bright spot. Guys who practice well play well. That’s why Kyle Hicks is one of our four captains. On and off the field, he does everything that you want.
TCU coach Gary Patterson
2. On schedule, Kyle Hicks is starting to emerge. Gary Patterson said two weeks ago he expected Hicks to need three or four games to warm up to speed after having been held back from contact part of the time in fall camp. Saturday, he looked his sharpest of the season with a 64-yard touchdown run and a 25-yard touchdown catch. Both plays showed textbook technique from the senior. His performance drew the only postgame praise from Patterson: “He’s been a bright spot. Guys who practice well play well. That’s why Kyle Hicks is one of our four captains. On and off the field, he does everything that you want.” Hicks is only going to get more work. Maybe his increased impact helps close the gap created by Turpin’s absence.
3. Other weapons may yet be discovered as the season goes on. Like John Diarse. The polish and experience of the LSU graduate transfer is becoming more evident by the week. From his first days on campus, he impressed Patterson with his maturity, intelligence and near professional approach to the game. A sports hernia in the summer slowed him down, but he could be ready to make an impact in the passing game. His 35-yard catch to the 1-yard line against two defenders showed impressive athleticism. He had a career-high seven catches. Co-offensive coordinator Doug Meacham moved him around the line of scrimmage. And he long ago gained quarterback Kenny Hill’s respect by initiating throwing sessions. “He’s big-time,” Hill said. “But we knew that coming in. He’s smooth, man. He’s smooth.”
TCU improved to 32-11 in the regular season following a loss under coach Gary Patterson. The Horned Frogs last lost consecutive games in the final two weeks of 2013.
4. There are some tough puzzles on defense for Gary Patterson. He’s talked around it for weeks. Saturday, he was more explicit: “We just don’t have enough players. The key is we ran a lot of people in, but we’re short on safeties. Guys that are playing have just got to play better.” In other words, what you’re seeing is what you have. Deante Gray was given a shot at corner. He was fine in coverage, but missed two tackles. Ty Summers got a start at linebacker and collected 16 tackles. Sammy Douglas, who had 17 tackles the week before, was sent to the bench. Patterson called him “a reaction player” last week, and it didn’t sound like a compliment. Mat Boesen played and had a sack and a half, but Patterson shrugged. “Good to have another guy to rotate.” After Week 1, Patterson harped on his safeties, saying they’re supposed to “fix things” and weren’t. The defense has one fumble recovery and no interceptions in three games. Now throw in injuries to starting end Josh Carraway and starting cornerback Jeff Gladney. The head coach has some things to deal with.
5. Better game and better throws for Kenny Hill. At least, better decisions. For the first time in eight games, going back to his last five starts at Texas A&M, he didn’t throw an interception. There was one throw that was close — he nearly got baited into a pick on an outside throw. And one or two other passes didn’t line up where he wanted. But he moved the offense. Hill produced five touchdowns and a field goal. There were four three-and-outs, but nothing forced. “I want to be better, but I think it’s been pretty good so far,” he said. “It’s just about getting better every single week, so that’s what I’m trying to do.” True, Iowa State did not bring the caliber of athletes that Arkansas did. (Maybe not even South Dakota State in some spots). But it was a clean day – a confidence-building day – for the quarterback and his team.