For TCU Horned Frogs junior quarterback Trevone Boykin, life is not particularly good right now.
Sure, he's the starting quarterback for a BCS team, which was hardly a guarantee when he came out of high school at West Mequite as a consensus -- prior to Casey Pachall leaving for rehab last fall, Boykin had been spending some time at running back.
The problem for Boykin, who has thrown seven interceptions to just five touchdowns this year and is completing only 58.8% of his passes, is that his wide receivers aren't helping him out. Well, that and the fact that his center was having trouble getting him the ball against Oklahoma State, consistently snapping the ball low and disrupting the rhythm of numerous plays. And his offensive line has been a revolving door of awfulness.
Back to the receivers, though -- junior wide receiver Brandon Carter underwent hand surgery in fall practice and hasn't emerged as a No. 1 receiver yet, as expected, having only caught 14 passes for 170 yards this year.
But it has been been smaller moments that have defined the season for Boykin, who can often be seen expressing quite visible frustration on the field. While that does raise some questions about his leadership ability in how he handles those negative situations, much of the blame lies on his receivers.
Take this play from the Kansas game:
On the surface, it looks like a terrible throw from Boykin that the cornerback was able to jump for the interception return for a touchdown. However, the FOX Sports 1 cameras caught Boykin's reaction after the interception and it provides a different story:
Junior wide receiver Cam White didn't catch the hand signal from Boykin to adjust his route based on the alignment of the cornerback, leaving Boykin exposed to throwing the interception.
Later in that quarter, White made a catch down the sideline that would have gone for a reasonable gain, but carelessly stepped out of bounds, killing the drive.
Earlier in the game, Boykin had suffered another interception when a short pass that was on target went off the hands of senior running back Waymon James and found the hands of a Jayhawk defender.
Against Oklahoma State, Boykin tried to hit White on a post route on the drive following some poor luck on a tipped pass that was intercepted:
It wasn't a good throw by Boykin, as Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert was in good position for most of the route, but once again Boykin was left frustrated on the play, as White never attempted to make a play on the ball and merely let it fly over his head and into the arms of Gilbert.
The result is a quarterback who appears to have little trust for his wide receivers, the type of issue that can undermine the entire offense in more ways than simply resulting in interceptions on the field.
And that's not to say that Boykin doesn't deserve his own share of credit for his own mistakes, as he can be inconsistent with his accuracy and doesn't always have the best pocket presence, which can result in short, unproductive scrambles.
On the other hand, many of those scrambles are forced, as Boykin has been sacked 12 times and hurried numerous others because the poorly-performing offensive line hasn't held up well in run blocking or pass protection.
One area where Boykin and TCU can be dangerous, however, is in the short passing game out of their four-wide or five-wide sets that force defenses to play in space with few players around the football. While it would perhaps benefit the TCU running game more to play with an H-back at times, the Horned Frogs have avoided that despite the issues along the offensive line, choosing instead to show a two attached tight end look at times, but not consistently.
Against Kansas, Boykin was able to find junior wide receiver David Porter on a short pass that Porter took 75 yards after simultaneously breaking tackles from two Jayhawk defenders.
If the play looks familiar to Texas fans, it's because the Longhorns secondary has made similar mistakes in the past -- it's not hard to see safety Adrian Phillips and cornerback Carrington Byndom once again reprising their Keystone Kops routine on exactly this type of play.
TCU is tied for 108th nationally in plays of 30 or more yards offensively, so this effort by Porter was the exception rather than something that happens frequently for the Horned Frogs. However, it does illustrate just how easy it can be for an offense that consistently spreads the field with four wide receivers as the base personnel package -- all it takes is two missed tackles.
For Iowa State wide receiver Quenton Bundrage, it didn't even take a missed tackle, just a poor angle from junior safety Mykkele Thompson. Texas should be less susceptible to that type of play because the Horned Frog running game probably isn't good enough to force the Longhorns into the same type of risky coverages they have been playing defensively in order to stop the run, though that may depend on how the run defense performs in the early going.
The odds are high that the Texas defenders will have several chances to come up with interceptions, too, especially if there is more miscommunication between Boykin and his wide receivers. Even if that doesn't happen, it's likely that the talented but inconsistent receiving corps will leave some plays on the field.
It is as a runner where Boykin is the most dangerous at this time, especially to Texas. Last season, a 36-yard run in the third quarter helped set up a Horned Frogs field goal in a game that was eventually decided by a mere touchdown:
It's a basic zone read from Boykin with the fullback arc blocking for him and unable to find a defender to engage, as defensive end Reggie Wilson had crashed on the play, similar to the problems Texas has had many times this season.
As always, the Longhorns should force the ball to the running back instead of allowing Boykin to carry it, unless it's an inverted zone read or Power Read with BJ Catalon headed towards the edge, where the small but elusive is dangerous in the same way that Iowa State's Aaron Wimberly and Ole Miss' Jeffrey Scott were dangerous. At that point, it's ideal to keep Boykin with the ball in the middle of the field where there are more defenders.
How dangerous was Catalon to Texas last year? He broke off a 41-yard run that should have led to a score had kicker Jaden Oberkrom not missed a chip shot 33-yard field goal:
Notice that Texas twists the playside defensive end and defensive tackle, leading to the Longhorns losing the edge, in addition to a defensive back coming in with poor leverage and overrunning the play, further allowing Catalon to get outside and pick up a good block downfield to spring the big run. A sharp inside cut nearly allowed Catalon to get past Thompson, who was lucky to end up with a handful of Catalon's jersey as the TCU running back made his cut.
Still, the biggest threat to Texas from Boykin may not be the designed quarterback runs, as head coach Mack Brown believes that Longhorns are much more prepared to deal with the option game after weeks of working on it following the return of Greg Robinson as defensive coordinator.
"He can run-option but where he hurt us so much last year was off schedule," Brown said on Wednesday. "He made, time and time again, a first down on third down, like (QB) Sam Richardson did at Iowa State, and he's faster. I mean he is really, really hard to tackle in space, so even if you get a linebacker spying on him or a defensive lineman they're not going to tackle him. That's the problem he gives you. He's really athletic in space and powerful. He's not that tall, he's got strong legs and he's hard to tackle."
Indeed, Boykin is built like a running back at a listed 6'2 and 215 pounds, though 247Sports had him at 6'0 coming out of high school, a height that appears more accurate, but doesn't make him any easier to tackle -- as Brown mentioned, he has a powerful lower body and low center of gravity for a quarterback.
So the Longhorns will have to continue to be disciplined with their pass rush on third down after Boykin ran three times to convert 3rd downs last season and set up a fourth-down conversion with another run. If the game is close on Saturday, as it probably will be with the strength of the TCU defense and the weakness of the TCU offense against an improving Texas defense, those third-down conversions could tilt the game in favor of the Horned Frogs.
In all, Boykin carried the ball nine times for 78 against Texas in 2012. Along with the turnovers by the Longhorns and the success by TCU running backs on the ground, Boykin only attempted nine passes on the day, reminiscent of the 2010 loss to Kansas State when quarterback Collin Klein threw only four times in the Wildcat victory. The Horned Frogs gained 217 yards on the ground against Texas last Thanksgiving on 48 carries.
An early lead for the Horned Frogs and some short fields could allow TCU to once again grind the ball on the ground and shorten the game. Otherwise, it will probably take some big plays on the ground from Boykin and Catalon for TCU to put up 20 or more points in this game. A healthy dose of the quarterback run game getting Boykin and Catalon out on the edge are the best bet for that happening unless there is a fluke play in the passing game like Porter achieved against Kansas or Boykin can get free on a scramble.
Texas has the defensive line to control the line of scrimmage against perhaps the worst unit they will face all season. Play with discipline there and avoid big mistakes in tackling by the secondary and Boykin should experience more of the frustration that has to this point defined his season.