It's hard not to feel better about this game than the Rice game. It's true that this game could easily have been more of a blowout, but you can't mention that without mentioning that we were a goal line fumble away from bringing the game to within a possession with a chance to recover an onside kick. There's still a lot of progress to be made and it was far from a well-played game, but I feel a little more optimistic than I did this time last week.
In the first half, Dayne Crist actually looked pretty good for the most part. He did make a WTF throw just one play after we recovered a fumble, which resulted in an interception, but he improved from then on. After halftime, however, we abandoned our ineffective running game, and Crist's completion percentage dropped like a rock. Crist also left a lot to be desired in his decision making at times, waiting far too long before taking off running on a few occasions, and throwing a few balls that should never have been thrown. The accuracy issues were still there as well, but I do feel for Crist because he simply doesn't have open receivers to throw to on most plays. On the plus side, his adjusted yards/attempt was by far his highest of the season, at 6.74.
Running Backs - B-
It's hard to fault the running backs for the lack of running game. While the team averaged just 3 yards per carry, the RBs put up a serviceable 4.2. They didn't make any mistakes in pass protection, and aside from a play where I noticed Cox stayed inside when there was wide open space to his left, I didn't see them make any mistakes in the running game. A new wrinkle in the offense was Tony Pierson's involvement in the passing game. Between some screen passes and a beautiful catch on a wheel route, Pierson grabbed six passes for 99 yards and looked great doing it. I feel like this could be a sign of his new role in the offense next week when James Sims returns, and likely reclaims his starting job.
Receivers - D-
There was a glimmer of hope in this group as Andrew Turzilli looked, at times, like the downfield threat this team needs to keep the defense spread out. The problem is, Turzilli is not a polished receiver, and in addition to dropping an important third down pass, his route running left quite a bit to be desired. That said, the speedy 6-4 receiver hauled in three passes for a total of 100 yards, and may add an element to the offense that keeps future opponents slightly more honest when defending us. Outside of that, there was a lot of receivers unable to release from press coverage, and unable to get a step on the opposing DBs. This is now officially a trend, and I don't look for it to get much better. Unfortunately, this means I don't look for the passing game to get much better, either.
Offensive Line - C+
I'll credit the offensive line (specifically the interior) with doing a pretty good job of pass protection. Crist usually had plenty of time to throw, though it frequently didn't do a lot of good. TCU did end up recording 3 sacks and 4 QB hurries though, and while some of the blame rests on the receiver's inability to get open, our tackles were looking a little slow at times. In the running game, the line was just ok. We basically abandoned the run in the second half, but the line was getting knocked back a bit more than I would like to see in the first. An acceptable performance by the o-line, but not a whole lot more.
Defensive Line - D+
This was easily the worst our defensive line has looked out of our first three games. Now, that's to be expected given we were playing our toughest opponent, but I saw way more linemen picking themselves up off the ground than I would have liked. TCU's running backs averaged 6.4 yard per carry, and it started with our interior line's ability to occupy blockers. The line still looked much better than last year, but unfortunately that still leaves them a lot of room to be bad. To give credit where it's due, Opurum was difficult for TCU to contain, and Josh Wiliams made a few nice plays as well, which is the reason for the "+" here.
Linebackers - F
Tackling, anyone? Anthony McDonald had a solid game, notching 6 tackles and a fumble recovery, but overall this group had multiple mistackles and at times simply looked weaker than the Horned Frogs' ballcarriers. They were pushed backward and occupied far too easily, and the three starters combined for just 12 tackles, compared to the secondary's 30. Huldon Tharp played the whole game, but didn't appear near the ball very often, which is troubling, as was the fact that we simply didn't seem to have any defenders in the middle of the field on a lot of plays. The linebackers don't get all the blame for the defense giving up 500 yards, but to me they looked the worst of any unit.
Secondary - D
We all know what the secondary is at this point. They're good tacklers who do a solid job of assisting in run defense, but they just can't stick with a receiver. Unfortunately, the latter is the more important part of their job. Casey Pachall managed to complete 80% of his passes for 335 yards and 2 TDs with no interceptions. That's 11.2 yards per attempt, if you're keeping track. Sure, we could have pressured him a bit more, and sure, the kid has a very accurate arm, but those are excuses. Our corners can't defend wide receivers, and that's a big problem. I noticed true freshman Tyree Williams getting solid play time, and while he looked pretty bad on a medium-deep pass in the second half, maybe he can offer some relief as the season goes on. They were saved from an F by Mr. Bradley McDougald, who notched 12 tackles, a sack, 1.5 TFL, and 2 forced fumbles.
Special Teams - F
No unit on special teams looked impressive Saturday. I suppose Ron Doherty's hit on a 37 yard field goal for KU's first points of the day was a pleasant surprise, but we shouldn't have to hold our breath on field goals from inside 40 yards. Doherty followed it up with a miss from 45, after which he appeared to limping. For the first time this year, he had a poor game punting as well, averaging just 34.3 yards across three punts, with the longest going 36 yards. TCU's average starting field position off those three punts was their own 38 yard line. DJ Beshears only managed 16 yards per kick return, so Tony Pierson got a shot and only picked up 12. Our average starting field position following kickoffs was our own 21. Considering touchbacks put you at the 25, that's awful. I'll give some credit to TCU's kicker, who did a good job of putting a ton of loft under the ball, but this shouldn't happen. Beshears, while not exactly Devin Hester, is the school's all-time leader in kickoff return yardage, and we've seen him take a couple to the house over the years. That leads me to believe that his 16 yard average this year is a blocking issue. Since our offense needs all the help they can get when it comes to field position, I'd say this is an issue that needs fixed quickly.
Overall - D+/C-
Sorry for the wishy-washy overall grade, but I'm torn between how badly pieces of the team played Saturday and how promising it is that we nearly made this a one possession game at the end. I think time will tell that TCU is definitely not the 15th best team in the country, but right now the result was that we made a highly ranked team sweat a little bit, which is something we haven't seen from this team recently (outside of last year's Baylor game). At the same time, we did give up 500 yards. We didn't run the ball very well, and then for some reason abandoned it in the second half so we could throw the ball not very well. Crist is still falling short of even the skeptics' expectations, once again completing under 50% of his passes. As always, opposing receivers are just getting far too much room to make plays. Plus there's our alarming inability to bring players down in the open field.
I know I don't feel as hopeless as I did last year, but there is clearly a long way to go. Next week's game against Northern Illinois is likely our easiest remaining game, and we'll still no doubt come into it as underdogs. Hopefully the coaching staff can make some corrections and we can get ourselves a win, and some momentum heading into the rest of our arduous Big 12 schedule.