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Photo courtesy TCU Cover design by Ryan Burger

Optimism is a choice, and I’ll do my best to stay in that mindset. The Horned Frogs opened their 2019 campaign against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday night. Quarterbacks were steadily the hot topic in the offseason. Questions remain about the most important position. Senior transfer Alex Delton (No. 16) took the first offensive snap of the season and marched the Frogs downfield with short passes and designed quarterback runs. The drive ended with a field goal after three consecutive pass attempts netted a single completion and four yards. Delton returned for the second drive and hit fellow senior TreVontae Hights (No. 87) – who proved himself a worthy second-best receiver with 108 yards – for a long gain before coughing up the ball to the Golden Lions. From then on, freshman Max Duggan (No. 15) and Delton shared the load and flexed distinctly different strengths.

Delton isn’t a pure passer, but that isn’t a deal breaker in Sonny Cumbie’s offense, which relies on electric receivers to morph short passes and screens into long yardage. The former Wildcat is better outside the tackle box and possibly more accurate on the run than stationary. Delton wasn’t hitting receivers with the pinpoint accuracy that inspires confidence, but his legs make up for it. Fans should be excited when he carries the ball. His speed looks elite – at least, it did against the UAPB defense. Final stats support this analysis,  as he completed only 10 of 22 passes but led all rushers and averaged just shy of 10 yards per carry.

Duggan is the future. Probably the now even. The freshman seemed more polished than former TCU QB and now-coach Kenny Hill did as a junior. The Iowan hit receivers in stride and utilized his legs in a more traditional scramble style when required. Star receiver Jalen Reagor (No. 1) caught a perfect post-pattern toss from the newbie for the lone passing TD of the evening.

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Highs

Defense. I know this is groundbreaking information from Patterson’s purple people eaters. The coach avoids rebuilding by simply reloading. Linebacker Garret Wallow (No. 30) is everywhere. He’s probably right behind you as you read this, but don’t look –– he’s already come and gone. Wallow harassed runners and covered effectively while logging 13 tackles, eight all by his lonesome. He’ll be the man in the middle every snap, and Patterson will keep opponents guessing as to his assignment. We guessed all summer who would rise to the occasion at defensive end, a position TCU has become somewhat famous for during coach P’s tenure. Ochaun Mathis (No. 32) took the job and sacked it. The Predator lookalike is a mere redshirt freshman but owned the edge and enjoyed taking advantage of UAPB’s tackles with his alarming speed and range. Mathis appeared in four games last year while maintaining his redshirt and easily eclipsed his tackle total from the previous season on Saturday night. The final notable strength was placekicking from senior Jonathan Song (No. 46). Song bulls-eyed five field goals and two extra points – a welcome change from the heart arrhythmia experienced by most fans when the Frogs lined up in field goal formation in recent years. A kicker’s importance can’t be overstated, just ask anyone who was around in the Conference USA days when All-American TCU kicker Nick Browne sent the upstart Froggers to the top of the rankings thanks to his clutch kicks.

Lows

I can’t believe we’re having this conversation again. Fumbles. Sweet baby Talladega Nights Jesus! There were seven Frog fumbles. Only two were lost, mercifully. Reagor, unquestionably the leader of this team, was responsible for three of the seven, with two coming on muffed punt returns. Red zone offense reeked of last season’s failures. Why is Cumbie passing the ball repeatedly from the six-yard line? This is a tune-up game, so my hope is that pedantic play calls are concealing wrinkles of what will develop into an efficient offense against opponents who possess the firepower to put games in question.

The final score of 39-7 suggests dominance from the good guys, but it never seemed that way while watching. Duggan inspires hope for dreams this offense can return to its air raid glory. The stable of running backs is deep. Four fleet-footed Frogs rushed the rock proficiently and were obviously limited to prevent injury. If Cumbie is allowed to flex his creativity, this offense is a match-up nightmare with skill position combinations, including two quarterbacks who can run but in different ways. The Frogs are off next week before flying to Indiana to try and derail the Boilermakers. Until then, fix the fumbles. Maybe fans can enjoy watching a game without buying the stadium out of $7 beers before halftime. 

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