Steven Johnson: TCU’s offense still seeking greatness

Through three games TCU is averaging 39.7 points per game, more than 200 yards rushing and 500 total yards a game.

That sounds pretty good right? So, why in the immediate aftermath of the Horned Frogs’ 36-13 win over Houston does it still feel like TCU’s offense isn’t gelling yet?

One reason is obvious and that it takes more than an offseason and three games for an offensive coordinator to really figure out what works for his offensive personnel.

The other is that many underestimated just how great players like Max Duggan, Steve Avila, Quentin Johnston and Kendre Miller were a season ago.

One final reason is that TCU hasn’t played a clean game yet with a third straight red zone turnover and the offense continues to struggle on third down. Those were two biggest factors in why Houston was able to hang around in the fourth quarter despite being shut out in the second half.

“If you look at the stats you would probably think it was a different game,” Dykes said. “The two kick returns hurt us and the turnovers were missed opportunities.”

Growing pains were always going to be a reality of this season, but the loss to Colorado intensified the pressure for the offense to get up to TCU’s standard from last year.

“We’ve just got to execute better,” Dykes said. “If you say how have we been so far, I would say a little unsettled. I think we took a step in the right direction in getting more settled, but we’re still making a lot of mistakes.”

It should be noted though that the only team that has been capable of slowing down TCU’s offense through three games is the one that’s been wearing purple and white.

“Early on it was penalties (on us),” Dykes said. “We get the opening kickoff and we go down the field and have the best drive we’ve had all year. Then we get a series of penalties that hold us back. There was a holding penalty, crack back block penalty. Then we got the turnover (in the second quarter) and seems like we were shooting ourselves in the foot.”

In the end Houston was never able to punish TCU for some of those mistakes thanks to a defense that kept the Cougars out of the endzone.

The offense understands how crucial those mistakes are and the message after the game was that if the Horned Frogs can cut down on those errors then this offense could be special.

“Coach Dykes said it in there, we’re so close,” Chandler Morris said. “If we can get those things cleaned up we have a chance to be a really good football team.”

Right now, the Horned Frogs have some really good individual pieces that are still seeking cohesion to become the offense the program envisions.

Wide receiver Savion Williams is one of those individual pieces still trying to find his rhythm in the new scheme. The leading returning receiver from last year, Williams had his best game of the year with three receptions for 54 yards including a 31-yard touchdown and another reception where he showed off his impressive catch radius by snagging a ball thrown behind him.

It took Quentin Johnston a few games to find his footing in last year’s offense. Williams isn’t Johnston, but there’s hope this is the game that could get him going.

“It was important for us tonight to get him the ball,” Dykes said. “He’s had some misfortunes, he’s been banged up and just different things. He needs to be that guy we can count on to make those big conversions when we need them. He did it tonight, he made a couple big catches and we’ve got to continue to get him the ball down the field. He’s the guy that can make plays on the football when we give him an opportunity.”

If Williams can become the de facto No. 1 it would be a big for a receiver group that is deep, but still building chemistry with Morris.

As for the run game, believe it or not TCU is averaging more than it did last year. Three games are a small sample size compared to 15, but there’s no doubt that the Horned Frogs’ running game is in good shape with Emani Bailey, who had 23 carries for 126 yards.

For the season Bailey is up to 357 yards and averaging 6.4 yards per carry. His latest performance came after he dealt with a nagging injury all week at practice.

“I was really concerned Emani might not play, but he fought through it,” Dykes said. “He’s just so productive. Every time he gets the ball it’s positive yards. He finishes runs and he’s got the ability to scoot out of stuff and has good ability in the open field. He’s a really productive player, playing at a high level.”

The final ingredient to a great offense is a top notch quarterback. Dykes believes Morris is making strides in becoming the quarterback TCU needs.

“I thought Chandler played excellent, he converted runs on third down when he had to,” Dykes said. “I thought he threw the ball well, he’s learning. I think the great thing about him is he’ll come on the sideline and say ‘I should’ve done this or I should’ve done that.’ You want your quarterback to be able to recognize those things. He made a lot of plays for us tonight.”

Morris did have two more turnovers, but one was an interception that bounced off the body of Jared Wiley. Morris threw 314 yards and rushed for 53 yards on the ground. There’s been progress made since his first start against Colorado.

In what’s amounting to be a wide open Big 12, if TCU can get its offense functioning at a more efficient level then there’s no reason the Horned Frogs can’t contend for one of the two spots in the Big 12 title game.

TCU plays host to SMU on Saturday at 11 a.m.