Going into the season, coach Gary Patterson felt optimistic about the TCU offense. So did almost everyone else, too.
And Brandon Carter seemed primed to take over as the No. 1 receiver.
All of that, combined with a star-studded defense, made the Horned Frogs the players’ preseason pick to win the Big 12.
But somewhere along the way, it all went wrong. And as a result, TCU is in danger of missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 2004.
When did the offense begin to go south?
“I think everybody feels good going into (a season),” Patterson said. “You lose a starting quarterback -- but I don’t know if I can actually answer that question for you. Obviously, we’re not doing well, but I don’t feel like we felt like we were going to go south; but I’m not sure we did that. We just haven’t done what we needed to do.”
TCU (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) ranks 114th nationally and ninth in the Big 12 with an average of 320 yards per game. The Horned Frogs have 19 touchdowns. They have 18 turnovers, only one shy from tying for the Big 12 lead. And they have produced just five first-half touchdowns offensively all season.
The truth is, there were early signs this offense might have problems.
Before the first day of practice, starting right tackle Tayo Fabuluje quit the team. A few days later, guard Michael Thompson had to give up football due to injuries. That left the thinnest unit on the team with two less bodies.
The problems have only ballooned from there.
TCU actually put up 27 points in the opener against LSU. But that came on only 13 first downs and 259 yards of offense, as Catalon’s 100-yard kickoff return turned out to be TCU’s only first half touchdown.
After Pachall was picked off on the first play of the third quarter, Patterson replaced him with Boykin. And the quarterback position has been a disaster ever since.
The following week, Pachall was lost to a fractured forearm for five games. And although Boykin was more effective than Pachall the first two games, he struggled once he took over as the full-time starter.
Boykin ranks 15th in the Big 12 with an Adjusted QBR of 39.4 (scale of 0-to-100, with 50 being average).
Pachall, who returned from the forearm injury last week, hasn’t fared any better. He produced a QBR of just 13.1 in the 30-7 loss to Texas while completing only 38 percent of his passes.
But the offensive woes can’t all be pinned on the quarterbacks.
“When it’s not going well,” Patterson said, “there are a lot of ways to point fingers.”
Carter has been a major disappointment this season. While flanking Josh Boyce last year, Carter had 36 catches for 590 yards and six touchdowns, positioning himself to become TCU’s primary receiver after Boyce declared for the draft.
But since getting benched in the SMU game on Sept. 28, Carter has just four catches for 41 yards.
Without a true go-to guy, the Horned Frogs’ receiving corps has been wildly inconsistent. In the Texas loss alone, the Horned Frogs had seven drops.
With the passing attack posing little threat, defenses have loaded up to shut down James and Catalon. And for the most part, the two have been contained. Catalon ranks 10th in the Big 12 in yards per carry (4.95); James is 13th (4.75).
“We gotta find a way to score points,” Patterson said. “Gotta find a way to move the ball.”
The Horned Frogs have four games left to find a way. If they don’t win three, they won’t go to a bowl.
“At this time of year, you don’t end up really being able to fix a lot of things,” Patterson said. “You are what you are, so how do we make it better? And that’s what we’re trying to get accomplished.
“If you don’t do that, then you go home for Christmas.”