The No. 7 Texas Longhorns and the TCU Horned Frogs both enter Saturday’s game with big questions at the quarterback position. With Quinn Ewers remaining uncertain to go for the third straight week and TCU junior quarterback Chandler Morris likely to miss his fourth straight game, it may be a battle of the backups will kickoff at 6:30 p.m. Central at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth.
Second-year head coach Sonny Dykes and the Frogs truly exemplify first to worst this season. A team that made it all the way to the national championship just a year ago may have experienced the worst championship hangover in the history of sports in going from the second-best team in college football to unlikely to even make a Bowl game. TCU has been plagued all season with injuries at key positions and incredible roster turnover that have plunged them to a 4-5 record and ninth place in the Big 12.
The Frogs lost eight players to the NFL Draft, the most in school history, and returned only 10 starters this season — three on offense and seven on defense. On top of the departures, they lost Morris in Week Six against Iowa State to a knee injury that has kept him sidelined since.
Five starters are listed on this week’s injury report for the Horned Frogs, all on offense, including wide receivers Warren Thompson, Dylan Wright, and Jack Bech, tight end Chase Curtis, and Morris, who has been listed as out for the upcoming game against Texas.
An absolute nightmare of a season for TCU will likely continue as they finish out the season against Texas and Baylor at home and Oklahoma in Norman. After starting the season a respectable 3-1, the Frogs have lost four of their last five games, falling to Texas Tech, Kansas State, Iowa State, and West Virginia.
“I don’t think the record is indicative of how good they are,” said Sarkisian Monday. “They’ve had a couple of tough losses that could have gone either way and then the record looks different. So, we’ve got to make sure that we look at the totality of the body of work of TCU.”
If the Frogs have any hope to salvage the season, it is critical that they win two of their final three games to remain bowl eligible. Unfortunately for Sonny Dykes and TCU, an 8-1 Texas team comes to Cowtown with sights on a Big 12 Championship.
After the tremendous success this offense saw last season, offensive coordinator Garret Riley left for Clemson to work with Dabo Swinney as his new offensive coordinator. Now, Kendal Briles, the son of former Baylor head coach Art Briles, has taken the reins for this offense that has seen their fair share of struggles in his first season.
A regression to the mean was expected for this offense, but nothing to this degree. The offensive line is the only position group that has seen any continuity from last year, returning senior Brandon Coleman at left tackle, fifth-year senior John Lanz at right guard, and fifth-year senior Andrew Coker at right tackle.
Ten players were brought in through the transfer portal to replace some of the departed players from the 2022 season. Therefore, continuity has been an especially difficult road block for this TCU roster as young quarterback Josh Hoover does his best to keep this offense under control.
The veteran Morris has now been sidelined for four weeks after suffering a sprained MCL against Iowa State.
“[He] is still a little banged up, but he was available in an emergency,” Dykes said. “None of us were really comfortable playing him.”
Hoover, a redshirt freshman, has taken over this TCU offense in the absence of Morris and has had some struggles getting into a rhythm in this offense.
“We’re having him throw the ball a lot,” Dykes said. “We haven’t been very good at running the football, which has put a lot of pressure on him.”
Hoover looked like he might have been a more than capable second option for TCU in his first start against BYU, where the freshman threw for 439 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions with a QBR of 83.1 in the 44–11 victory over the Cougars.
Since then, the young relief quarterback seems to have lost his confidence. After narrowly avoiding a shutout against Kansas State in his second start, Hoover has thrown three interceptions with only one touchdown in his last two games. Hoover went 24/43 for 187 passing yards and an interception with a QBR of 32.1 against the Wildcats.
Now to be fair, Hoover had a decent game against Texas Tech last Thursday, where he threw for 343 yards and a touchdown with a QBR of 71.3. Down 35–28 with 2:18 remaining in the fourth quarter, Hoover marched the Horned Frogs down the field with a chance to send the game to overtime, but was instead picked off on an ugly interception to seal the game.
Hoover was a three-star recruit coming out of Rockwall-Heath in 2022 and the 42nd-ranked quarterback in his class. He is not a particularly mobile quarterback, often remaining in the pocket completing short throws. His lack of experience and confidence in this offense causes him to force throws into double coverage which has gotten him into trouble over the last two weeks.
The younger quarterback does have a solid arm and is able to make throws downfield effectively. He spreads the ball out well, hitting many different receivers and not keying in on just one. Against BYU, Hoover threw a touchdown pass to four different receivers.
In Hoover’s three games starting, he has thrown five touchdowns and five interceptions, which isn’t great. However, he’s also thrown for 1,148 passing yards with a cumulative QBR of 120.3 over 3.5 games, only 365 yards shy of the season total for Morris over a much shorter period of time.
If the Frogs have any hope of competing with the Longhorns, Hoover will have to make some big plays in the passing game. We saw this Texas defensive front shut down Kansas State’s run game last week, as they look to do the same on the road this week.
The running game is basically dominated by junior running back Emani Bailey. So far this season, Bailey has rushed for 908 yards for four touchdowns on an average yards per carry of 5.5.
While Bailey is currently the 14th-leading rusher in college football this season, he has had trouble getting the ball into the end zone. Although last week against Texas Tech he was able to get in twice, as the scheme gave him opportunities in the red zone.
Standing at 5’9, 207 pounds, Bailey is a bowling ball able to pick up tough yards, but lacks top-end speed and big-play ability. Other than a 74-yard run against Colorado in Week One, Bailey lacks long rushes on the season, averaging a longest rush per game of 22.4 yards.
Bailey is utilized in the passing game, but only sparsely. Not usually designed running back passes, but bailouts and dump offs. Since Morris has been sidelined, the Frogs have had trouble getting Bailey the ball, only averaging 14.6 attempts over the last three games.
Game flow has forced the young quarterback Hoover to throw the ball out a lot. For instance they were down 20–7 against Texas Tech in the first half, and 21–3 against K-State in the first quarter, so the Frogs have been reliant on their young quarterback and long list of receivers.
TCU does well spreading the ball out to multiple different receivers, not honing in on any one player. They have yet to have anyone eclipse 500 yards receiving on the year, but have 11 players with at least 10 receptions.
TCU currently ranks 16th in passing offense on the season, which has surprisingly been steady with the loss of Morris under center. However they haven’t been the most efficient, ranking 69th in passing efficiency.
The Frogs currently have three receivers listed as questionable for this week’s matchup against the Longhorns, including Wright, their sixth-leading receiver, and Thompson, their fourth-leading receiver.
With the loss of Quentin Johnson and Derius Davis to the NFL Draft, the Frogs looked to the transfer portal to retool their receiving corps, bringing in six wide receivers to add to their healthy stable of 13 total receivers on the active roster, a group including leading receiver JP Richardson.
Richardson is a 6’0, 190-pound junior who transferred from Oklahoma State. On the season he has 33 receptions for 437 yards and two touchdowns. Richardson is currently averaging 48.56 yards per game, leading the team in all receiving categories but touchdowns.
Hoover hasn’t necessarily played favorites in his three starts, but Jaylon Robinson has seen a steady increase in receptions for the young quarterback. In the last three games, Robinson has totaled 13 receptions for 143 yards.
Junior wide receiver Savion Williams plays a creative role in this wide receiving corps. The 6’5 225-pound receiver has a large frame and almost acts as a hybrid tight end in run blocking and receiving. Williams is the second leading receiver on the team with 25 receptions for 310 yards and four touchdowns.
Williams is physical and uses his big frame in many different ways. He is often used in rushing situations as well, almost like a Deebo Samuel type of role for the Frogs.
The offensive line is the only unit in this offense that has seen any continuity from last year, returning three starters from last year’s runner up roster in Coker (6’7, 315 pounds), Coleman (6’6, 320 pounds), and Lanz (6’4, 315 pounds).
Coker is currently ranked the fifth-best tackle in the nation, according to PFF, and has been a dominant force for his entire college career with the Frogs. Lanz has been highly dominant as well, currently ranked the 46th-best center in the nation.
Dykes used the transfer portal to retool both guard positions, bringing in sophomore Coltin Deery (6’4, 345 pounds) from Maryland, and senior Patrick Willis (6’4, 355 pounds) from Jackson State.
Overall, this offensive line has been effective this year in only allowing 14 sacks on the year, which is tied for 36th fewest in the nation.
Joe Gillespie enters his second year as the defensive coordinator under Sonny Dykes, mainly running a 3-3-5 defense, which highlights their veteran linebackers and defensive backs.
Their season statistics are not entirely indicative of their skill, as they are on the field so much due to struggles on offense — TCU currently ranks 122nd in time of possession in the nation.
Their defense is highlighted by their linebacker corps, mainly standout junior linebacker Namdi Obiazor, and their back end.
They blitz from multiple different positions and are able to effectively get to the quarterback with 22 sacks on the season. However, they are not incredibly efficient at creating turnovers with only nine on the season.
Unlike the offense, the defense has been fortunate enough to see continuity from last season, returning seven total starters from their championship run. They are not particularly strong up front, but have a strong back end filled with veteran leadership.
This defensive line does not see the veteran leadership as the rest of the defense. The two leading tacklers and sack leaders of the defensive front are freshman Paul Oyewale and sophomore Dominic Williams. With the loss of Dylan Horton, who was drafted by the Houston Texans in last year’s NFL Draft, the Frogs have had trouble filling the hole he left.
Oyewale has been a standout player for this defensive line off of the right end. He leads this unit with three sacks on the season and can be dominant off the edge. The 6’4, 275-pound end from Houston has been a great addition to this TCU defense.
Another rising star for this defensive line is Williams at nose tackle. Williams is massive, standing at 6’2, 320 pounds, he plugs massive holes on the interior of this defense. Williams is an effective run defender with his massive frame, on the other side of the coin lacks tremendous speed in the rush. Currently, Williams 29 tackles and two sacks on the season.
Senior defensive end Caleb Fox is seemingly the only veteran presence on this defensive front. At left defensive end, Fox stands at 6,3 295 pounds and can be effective off the edge. So far on the season Fox has totaled 20 tackles and two sacks.
With a lack of efficiency on the defensive front, the middle of the field is the strongest area for the Frogs this season. They send linebackers on blitzes often and also utilize them in coverage.
The injury to Marcel Brooks that took him out for the entirety of this season was a big blow to the defense. He was the leader of this linebacker corps and the only former five-star recruit on the 2023 roster. In his absence, the linebackers of this unit have stepped up and made big plays on the defensive side of the ball.
Junior linebacker Namdi Obiazor (6’3, 225 pounds: has stepped into this role well, leading the Frogs in tackles with 72 and sacks with four. He is a great in the open field at the SAM position, totaling 42 solo tackles on the season.
Obiazor is flanked by senior linebacker Jamoi Hodge (6’2, 235 pounds) at middle linebacker. Hodge on the season has 51 tackles and 2.5 sacks so far.
Sixth-year senior Josh Newton holds the left side cornerback position and is projected by many to be selected highly in the 2024 draft. At the beginning of the season, Newton was ranked the seventh-best college football player in the state of Texas according to Dave Campbell’s Texas Football, but has certainly had trouble living up to those expectations this season.
Other than a single interception against TCU that he returned for 53 yards, he only has three pass deflections and 17 tackles on the season. Newton does provide veteran leadership to this roster and still has the tremendous skill set buried somewhere to turn it on when the defense needs him.
On the other side of the field is the only starting transfer on this TCU defense, junior Avery Helm from Florida.
The back end of this defense might be the second strongest position group behind the linebackers. They do not create many turnovers, but they are effective in the open field, and great at limiting big breakout plays through the air or on the ground.
Fourth-year junior Bud Clark has been the driving force protecting this secondary on the back end. Clark leads the team in pass deflections with five and interceptions with two.
Clark is flanked by senior safety Mark Perry, who is an efficient run defender and strong in the open field with 31 solo tackles, which allows him to limit big plays down field.
The kicking unit is led by senior kicker Griffin Kell, who has had some struggles in the field goal game. Kell has gone 11-for-18 for 61.1 percent on the year. Needless to say there have been issues in this side of the ball for the Horned Frogs.
The punt return team has yet to make any impact flipping the field for the Frogs this season. Freshman wide receiver Major Everhart controls the punt return duties and just nine returns for 84 yards, 9.33 yards per return.
The special teams defense has found success this season against kicking units with one blocked punt and two blocked field goals.
There is no secret that TCU should not pose a particularly difficult threat for Sarkisian and the 8–1 Longhorns. However, Fort Worth is a hostile environment with a well-coached team. The Embrace the Hate tour remains in full effect, as this will likely be the last time Texas plays at Amon G. Carter Stadium in a long time.
“I’m sure that they’ll be all fired up and there’ll be a blackout and whatever else,” Sarkisian said. “I mean, it just kind of seems like a little bit of a common theme. That’s what we talked about before the season started, that we know that we’re gonna get everybody’s best shot that way.”
The key for Texas on defense shouldn’t be too difficult. Continue to dominate the line of scrimmage and make that rookie quarterback uncomfortable. Hoover has certainly lost his confidence after the K-State game, and this can’t be the day he gets it back. Long third downs, limit the run game, and force him to make mistakes. Basically play the way Texas played in the first half against Kansas State.
On offense questions still remain who will be leading the Longhorns in Cowtown, Ewers or Murphy. If Ewers is unable to go for a third straight week, and Murphy gets the nod, the game plan needs to be to block out the noise from the hostile road environment. Even against an inferior opponent, Texas can not afford to make the same mistakes in offense that allowed the Wildcats to crawl back into last week’s game.
Texas is a heavy favorite in this game, but the late season trap game is never out of play.
The Longhorns are favored by 10 points, according to DraftKings.
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.