Maybe Gary Patterson just needs a Snickers.
If you’re not yourself when you’re hungry, it certainly seems like the TCU Horned Frogs head coach has been hungry a lot since the loss to the SMU Mustangs, the aftermath of which included unsubstantiated claims that an SMU player knocked down TCU assistant Jerry Kill following the game.
After Saturday’s 32-27 loss to the Texas Longhorns, during which the Horned Frogs came within a yard of allowing the Longhorns to take a 39-20 lead, Patterson claimed that TCU played better despite getting out-gained 414-351, allowing 272 rushing yards, and losing the turnover battle, 3-1.
Then on Tuesday, Patterson tried to use Texas sophomore running back Bijan Robinson’s workload against TCU to excuse the poor usage of his own sophomore running back, Zach Evans, launching into an explanation that lasted for nearly two minutes.
“Number one, I would never do it 35 carries a game like they did for the guy at Texas if you want to make it four years,” Patterson said. “I mean, you’ve got to be very careful about that. So, that’s his call, it’s not mine.”
Yeah, the last part is correct and important — it’s not any of Patterson’s business how Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian allocates touches to his running back. And while Patterson admitted that Evans isn’t likely to be at TCU for four years, he somehow conveniently forgot or failed to realize that Robinson almost certainly won’t spend a fourth year at Texas.
Other claims by Patterson don’t stand up much better to any sort of scrutiny.
“If you watch, I think was one of the reasons why we were able to stop Texas on that fourth down is because he was tired,” Patterson said.
Maybe so, but Robinson had come out of the game for two plays on that drive after runs of 17 yards, 14 yards, and 17 yards and still had enough energy left to close out TCU with six straight runs on the final drive, including the crucial 3rd and 6 that iced the game.
As for concerns about Robinson’s workload moving forward, Patterson’s insinuation that Robinson will continue receiving 35 carries a game is absurd.
“You look over 12 ballgames and you go, 35, that’s a lot,” Patterson. “That’s a lot of touches, for the body when you’re getting in big ball games, now you’re getting into Big 12 play, that’s a lot of touches.”
But Robinson isn’t carrying the ball 35 times per game — his season and career high before the TCU game was 20 carries against Louisiana in the season opener — and nothing in Sarkisan’s history suggests that Robinson will receive that many carries in more than one or two games for the rest of the season.
The heaviest workload for a running back under Sarkisian came in 2013, when Washington’s Bishop Sankey finished No. 3 nationally in attempts per game and No. 4 in overall attempts. Sankey carried the ball 35 times against Illinois, 40 times against Arizona, and 34 times against Washington State. A heavy load, to be sure, but Sankey didn’t seem to wear down — he ran for 474 yards on 78 carries (6.1 yards per carry) with six touchdowns over the final three games that season.
Then Sankey avoided any concerns about how many carries he might receive as a senior by declaring early for the NFL Draft and becoming a second-round selection.
Beyond Patterson’s lack of familiarity with Sarkisian’s history of running back usage and the utter meaninglessness of his opinion on Robinson’s workload, Sarkisian feels confident about his star running back’s durability moving forward.
“We’ll monitor it between myself, Coach [Stan] Drayton, and Coach [Kyle] Flood,” Sarkisian said on Monday. “We’ve got a lot of experience dealing with running backs and workloads and how to manage that and specific days and build up to the game. So we’ll definitely manage it, we’ll monitor it, but you know, Bijan feels great if you ask him, I think he feels really good. I think he came out of the game extremely healthy. He’s obviously in really good physical condition. That helps.”
But, again, no one was asking for Evans to get 35 touches on Saturday and Patterson just wanted to use Robinson’s workload to deflect from the fact that his staff failed to get the ball to Evans often enough.
Patterson argued that it’s easy to fans or writers to have opinions about the distribution of carries and he’s right — it was easy to recognize, even in real time, that 15 carries for Evans wasn’t enough in a game during which the Horned Frogs desperately needed the type of explosive plays Evans is capable of producing to overcome the fourth-quarter deficit.
After the game, Patterson argued that Evans was tired, but that still doesn’t explain why Kendre Miller and Emari Demarcado received nine combined carries that only produced 32 yards.
Most egregiously, after Evans asked out of the game one carry after running for 33 yards in the third quarter, he wasn’t on the field for the crucial three and out after Texas took a 32-20 lead in the fourth quarter. Patterson can deflect all he wants about how the TCU staff used Evans, but he can’t successfully defend keeping his best player on the sideline for the game’s most important drive.
Even if Evans was too tired to get back on the field for that key possession, Patterson is the one ultimately responsible for ensuring that a second-year player who was able to gain plenty of muscle during the offseason is well conditioned enough to receive more than 20 touches in a game.
But maybe the need for a Snickers isn’t the problem and Patterson is just reacting to the dawning understanding that he’s now incapable of sustaining the success that helped the Horned Frogs make it into the Big 12 and win consistently — TCU is 20-19 since the start of the 2018 season.
Whatever Patterson’s major malfunction may be, he can stop worrying about Bijan Robinson. He’s going to be fine, and if someone is giving him 35 carries in a game in 2023, it’s not going to be at Texas.