Steven Johnson: TCU handled its business vs. Nicholls, but now the real season starts

A win is a win, even if it’s over a FCS team like Nicholls State.

The TCU Horned Frogs (1-1) did what they were supposed to for the most part in Saturday night’s 41-6 win over the Colonels.

I could spend this column focusing on things I liked from the game like Chandler Morris’ scrambling or how TCU’s young players shined. Or I could spend it pointing out a few concerns like run blocking and the lack of deep balls thrown.

The reality is that we didn’t learn much from Saturday’s game. And we weren’t supposed to learn much. The goal in these buy-games is to win big, get some young guys some development and get out of the game healthy. The Horned Frogs checked all those boxes, but now things are about get serious.

TCU begins Big 12 play on the road at Houston in a game that suddenly means a lot for both programs. In the preseason, many, including myself, already counted this as a victory for the Horned Frogs.

Two weeks into the season and now I can’t tell you what’s going to happen. I’m not sure even the coaching staff would be able to do at this point either.

Here’s what we know about the Horned Frogs through two games. Not including the special teams touchdown from last night, the TCU offense is averaging 38 points per game. Pretty good, right?

It is, but the offense is still working through some growing pains like how the roster has more depth at receiver, but no clear cut No. 1 guy. Or how the offense has struggled in the redzone with three turnovers in two games. Emani Bailey has clearly emerged as the top running back, but the depth behind him is questionable even with Trey Sanders.

The offensive line hasn’t given up a sack, but wasn’t able to dominate Nicholls like it was supposed to. On defense, the entire unit remains a question mark after the Colorado game, but there was some strides made against Nicholls after hard conversations last week at practice.

“I think (the mentality) was a lot more intentional,” safety Mark Perry said. “We know we left a lot of plays out there, we were nowhere near satisfied with the performance we put out. We went back to work the day after the game and harped on the things that make you a good defense: alignment, assignment and technique.”

The Colonels didn’t have a high-flying offense, even by FCS standards, but TCU still was able to keep them out of the endzone which is hard to do against any team for a full game.

Questions that persist around the program will start to gain more answers as TCU faces Houston on Saturday. It’s the first road game for this year’s Horned Frogs and it’ll be in a primetime slot.

The Cougars started the season with an impressive win over UTSA thanks to a strong defensive performance, but Houston followed that up by falling in a 28-0 hole to Rice and upset by its cross-city rival.

Just like TCU, I’m not really sure what to make of Houston just yet which is why Saturday’s game is so compelling. The winner will leave Houston feeling much better about its chances in the Big 12 and the season in general. The loser will be 1-2 and will face an early crisis.

For the Horned Frogs that could mean the realization that the dropoff from last year’s team will be bigger than expected and could lead to some tough discussions regarding the depth chart. It would also make the SMU game the following week a must-win opportunity and only increase the stakes in what will be a heated game.

For Houston a loss could mean coach Dana Holgorsen could begin to feel his seat warm after the Cougars underachieved last season in the AAC.

The game could also be the start of new age conference rivalry between Fort Worth and Houston and between two programs that had to fight tooth and nail to get an invite to the Big 12.

Because both teams have come out of the gates wobbly, the pressure is going to be high for both sides.

Last year TCU rose to the occasion time after time in these pressure packed situations. Does this year’s squad have the same mental makeup?

We’re about to find out.