TCU needs improvement from defense to make playoff

The Horned Frogs' offense has been excellent to start the season, but the defense is falling way short of last year's level.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

TCU needs improvement from defense to make playoff

The TCU Horned Frogs are 6-0, but in several of those games (most notably versus Minnesota, Texas Tech and, last week, Kansas State) they have been on the ropes.

What’s the issue? So far it appears to be on the defensive side of the ball.

PFF’s third-ranked unit a year ago, the TCU defense has been just average, struggling most notably against the run. The Horned Frogs had to replace two standouts from last year’s team in Paul Dawson (No. 1 ILB) and James McFarland (No. 4 OLB), and it’s been clear that those losses have hurt. Dawson was easily the most productive linebacker on a per-snap basis in college football. He was incredible in run defense, leading the nation in run-stop percentage at 23.2 while also grading as the third-best linebacker in pass coverage.

Filling the shoes of the departed Dawson and McFarland have been Montrel Wilson and Travin Howard.  While both players have graded positively, neither are near the level of dominance we saw from Dawson and McFarland. Both have been fine in pass coverage but neither have come close to Dawson’s run-defense production or McFarland’s pass-rushing ability.

It’s fair to say that TCU’s defense won’t compete at the level we saw last year. Its bowl game decimation of the Ole Miss offense was a beautiful mixture of a great game plan and perfect execution. In that game, zero defenders had a negative grade and every starter was +1.3 or better leading to an overall +36.6 grade for the team. In six games this season, the defense has an overall grade of +36.0.

D-lineman Aaron Curry is having a great start to 2015 (+10.1), as is SS Denzel Johnson (+18.5). The next two games should be easier for the Horned Frogs, as they travel to Iowa State (2-3) this week before a bye and a home game against West Virginia (3-2). It’s also important to note that the Horned Frogs’ dynamic offense makes it so that the defense doesn’t have to be exceptional, with QB Trevone Boykin showing enormous improvement as a passer this season (he ranked No. 67 in our passing grades last season, but is currently No. 3 this season) and Josh Doctson emerging as our top-grade wide receiver. The only area in which the offense hasn’t earned a positive grade is in its run blocking.

But with three ranked teams in the final four weeks, including high-flying Baylor at season’s end, TCU needs to improve its defensive efforts if they want to avoid another playoff controversy.

| Analyst

John is an analyst for Pro Football Focus and former safety for the University of Kansas Jayhawks (2004–2006).

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