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How TCU's Offense Has Evolved into a College Football Powerhouse

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterJuly 23, 2015

USA Today

Twenty-one minutes. That's all it took for TCU's offense to show it had changed for the better. 

Twenty-one minutes into the second game of the 2014 season, against Minnesota, it was clear this was not the same TCU offense that barely mustered 25 points a game the year before. By the nine-minute mark in the second quarter, the Frogs were up 24-0 on the Golden Gophers thanks to a B.J. Catalon touchdown. TCU scored just six more points in the 30-7 win, but the damage was done. 

A quick look at the drive chart told the whole story:

Three plays, 18 yards, 35 seconds: touchdown.

Six plays, 45 yards, 1:29: field goal.

Three plays, 27 yards, 55 seconds: touchdown.

Five plays, 39 yards, 1:12: touchdown.

TCU had help from multiple Minnesota turnovers, but the Frogs offense still made the Gophers pay with quick-strike drives. Like the Baylors and Oregons of the college football world, TCU was suddenly making opponents pay for their mistakes. 

TCU finished second nationally in 2014 in points per game (46.5), fifth in total offense (533 yards per game), and quarterback Trevone Boykin averaged about 354.5 of those yards by himself. The most dramatic offensive transformation was complete. Head coach Gary Patterson, who hired co-offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie that offseason, was viewed as a genius for going outside his comfort zone and transitioning to a hurry-up, no-huddle offense. 

The thing is, though, it almost never came to be. 

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

"I think we were all surprised that offensively—because last spring, the spring before, going into last season—we just weren't very good when we ended spring. Some guys were hurt. So you really couldn't tell," Patterson said at Big 12 media days. "Then our kids really came along during the summertime on their own, really bonded and started doing it, and things just happened."

It just happened. 

That's an appropriate way to describe TCU's offense, in a way. The Frogs had so many weapons last year: Boykin, running backs B.J. Catalon and Aaron Green, receivers Josh Doctson and Kolby Listenbee. How does a defense stop all of that? With an attack that athletic run by a collaborative brain trust made up of future head coaches, there's only so much a defense can do before the yards and points pile on. 

Eventually, if you do things long enough, they start to click. 

But just because the transformation happened doesn't mean it happened magically. There are reasons for it. Boykin needed a full offseason to be "the guy" at quarterback to build his confidence and consistency. For the previous two seasons, he had filled in as Casey Pachall's understudy while experimenting with other positions.

"He was the toughest quarterback [to defend] that I've coached, it just had not come to fruition on the field," Patterson said. "Really, I wasn't surprised by his success." 

David Goldman/Associated Press

TCU's receivers needed to come together too. The receiving corp was a long, athletic group but one that underachieved in 2013.

"Guys just bought in," Boykin said. "It was about the want-to. Once you weed out the bad apples, you see the potential you have.

"I knew we had guys who could catch the ball. It was all about being focused and mentally prepared."

The offensive line, previously marred by injuries, got healthy. (Rarely in '13 did the Frogs start the same five O-linemen two games in a row.) Put all of these factors together, and TCU's offense went from a unit that couldn't do much right to one that couldn't do much wrong in the span of one year.

With the pieces in place, TCU's offense just needed the right scheme. This version of the hurry-up isn't complicated, as Patterson and starting center Joey Hunt explained, but it does offer plenty of options. 

"It's a player-friendly offense," Hunt said. "You go, get your play, and go do it. That's what I love about it."

Oh yeah, and the tempo. Hunt, a self-described "more athletic" center, loves keeping defenses on their toes. But the only way this can happen is if TCU's players are executing more and thinking less. Make a mistake? It's not the end of the world, you just have to throw the play away and move on—quickly.

"If you're going to make a mistake, make a mistake full speed," Boykin said.

For Boykin and Hunt, success in the offense revolved around maturing in the decision-making portion of their games. For Boykin specifically, it was about identifying defensive formations and adjusting appropriately. For Hunt, it was about having the confidence to call out more blocking assignments and dictating the pace. 

"The transition was a little different," Hunt said. "For me, as a center, I was controlling how fast we go and snapping it. The snap's on me. Tre(vone) just tells me when he's ready. I make more calls, like which way we're sliding on the line and all that. I call a little bit more than I used to." 

Now in Year 2 of the offense, TCU's players feel there's even less caution than before. Considering practically the entire starting lineup is returning, it's possible the Frogs could improve on their numbers from '14. 

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Patterson, though, was his usual conservative self.

"Everybody has always told me there's always another level second year. Kind of like last year, I'm going to wait and see what the difference is," Patterson said. "When you've been around other kinds of offenses, you kind of know the progression. This will only be my second year of being the head coach with this offense, so I don't know what the progression is besides playing against it. But everyone I've talked to has talked about taking it to another level."

It's definitely possible. Perhaps no back in the Big 12 finished stronger than Green, who had four 100-yard games in the second half of the season. Boykin specifically pointed out Deante' Gray and Emanuel Porter as receivers who have stepped up their game this offseason. 

But what all of those players really give this offense are options.

"You're not going to be perfect," Boykin said. "There are times when we're not passing the ball well and we have to rely on our running game. There are times when we're not running the ball well and we have to rely on throwing the ball."

As for Boykin himself, the extra year as the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback has given him more confidence than ever before. He and TCU's other veteran players have improved as leaders. Patterson said that Boykin has been offered to work out in front of "NFL and quarterback" gurus. Instead, Boykin stayed with his teammates this summer to make sure they were doing seven-on-seven work. 

These are the types of lessons Boykin and Co. hope younger players pick up on so that, one day, they'll teach them to even younger players.

That's how TCU plans to keep its offense on an upward trajectory. Not just for 2015, but for all the years after. 

First up, though: Minnesota, the first FBS team exposed to the new TCU offense last year. 

"We've got a lot of practices before we get to Minnesota, which it's going to be a very tough ballgame," Patterson said. "It's like Custer. The only difference between Custer and us is we know what's on the other side of the hill."

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

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