Coffee is for Closers

“Put that coffee down.”

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Four simple words that might mean nothing to some, a smile to others, and cause others to break out in a cold sweat.  Depends if you are a fan of the movie Glengarry Glen Ross.  Those four words signify the start of the speech delivered by the high-powered salesman Blake who proceeds to tear down the salesman in the struggling office only to find out that by the end of the week only the top two salesman in the office will have a job.

At one time in my life I have worked as a salesman and while I have never been told that second place this week will be a set of steak knives I have sat through enough sales training seminars to recognize the use of catch phrases such as ABC – Always Be Closing and know that in the end there are the sales you think you will make and the sales that truly close.

In the end it is the latter, those sales that only close that truly matter.  Not what have been promised, those that look promising or that you “know” are going to happen, but in the end only what closes is what pays.  Yes, a successful salesman knows he has to go through the work needed to fill the proverbial sales pipeline.  There is that continued process of working through prospects and each contact must be started with renewed confidence knowing that the failures of the past must be left behind and the prior successes guarantee nothing in the future. It is a cold reality that sales in the pipeline do not pay the bills and in the end, the only thing that truly measures the success of a salesman is the business they have closed.

I am not the only salesman who can make the claim that if I was paid on every sale I “knew” I was going to make, every sale that had been promised to me, and those certainties in my pipeline I would not have to be working today.  That did not happen and I am no longer in sales, but from my time I have developed a great appreciation from the people I have encountered who above all else could close a sale. It is indeed a skill that can be developed, but it is something that very few salesmen truly master at an elite level.

Countless books, seminars, an webinars have been produced addressing how to be a more effective closer.  Guaranteed systems that promise to spur people to higher levels of success and yet over the years and after counting hours spent listening as well as countless pages read there are three key components that I have found in the most successful salesmen I have met and encountered:

  1. Be comfortable with who you are as a salesman and a person. People buy from people they trust and it might sound as horrible self-help book cliché’, but if you do not believe in yourself they will not believe in you.
  2. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Any salesman who has spent much time in the career can tell you a story about going into a sales presentation where everything gets turned upside down and they saved the sale by changing course and adapting to the situation. What often gets missed is that in most sales there are subtle shifts and changes which are made in such an efficient manner the salesman seems to be in complete control of the meeting instead of reacting which can only happen if they knew their product, knew their prospects, and had prepped for that meeting.
  3. Close what you can when you can because you never know what will happen tomorrow. Ask a salesman who just finished the best year of their career, exceeded all their goals, if they closed every sale and I will bet they can tell you about a prospect or two that they did not close that they know they could close if they were given just one more shot at the sale. If a salesman is lucky that second chance does happen, but for most those missed sales are just ghosts, which is why there are more of us ex-salesmen than old salesmen.

When this season was about to begin I wrote about how not this team was looking for an identity, but this program.  Two years of a near misses and played them close had started to erode the reputation it took those years of success to build and while it might have been unfair to Gary Patterson, his staff, and his players that was the harsh reality of college football.  Some programs are an established brand that can repel years of underachievement, off the field troubles as if they were coated with Teflon and others seem to fall out of favor at a whim.

It might sound harsh, it might sound unfair, but in the end, the only things that truly matters is the games you win.  As the seasons pass people forget the reasons why a season might have gone wrong and they do not seem to be interested in what happened behind the scenes.  It simply comes down to how many games you won and how many games did you lose.  Great teams are not measured by their graduation rates, but their win percentages and titles.

Tomorrow TCU plays Texas and the team and the program are in a possible position to do something they have not done since 1938.  The idea of TCU being part of the national title play-offs would have been laughable to most at the start of the season, but it is a real possibility with the Frogs sitting at number five right now in the rankings.  Yes, it is far from a given, but it is a possibility and one they can always count on being there just like sales in a pipeline. Close what you can when you can and let the future play out as it may.

If any team in College Football should understand how dramatically and quickly things can turn for a team and a program it is this TCU squad. It is interesting to me how even when you look back in perspective at the season how what this program has endured over the past 4-5 years is overlooked by others. I was listening to the Texas basketball game last night and at half they were discussing the upcoming football game with TCU and how the Texas seniors have endured so much in their time in Austin.

That is true, but is it any more than say Sam Carter or Kevin White? Both were red-shirt freshmen when they made the trip to California to watch the Frogs beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. The next season they played in half a stadium during the Frogs farewell season in the MWC and got exposed to conference politics as the end of the year game with Boise got moved from TCU to Boise for reasons of construction as if the Broncos were going to bring a number of fans to Ft. Worth. They were part of a program that was rocked by the arrest of four players for selling drugs, two senior leaders, before their first B12 game, and then saw their quarterback attacked by the student newspaper.  Teammates were lost to injury, grades, egos, and idiocy. People outside the program were quick to toss stones and even faster to bury the program.  Media and opposing coaches leapt at the opportunity to proclaim how the first two seasons in the B12 were proof of what they had known all along, TCU’s prior success was more a product of the lower level of competition and not the strength of the team and the program.

Worst of all was that no one cared about the steps Patterson and his staff took to change the direction of the program.  No one wrote articles praising him or the University for taking stances with players who would not conform to rules or when changes in the staff were made over the off-season. To many it was viewed as too little too late and given very little thought.

Maybe we should have taken notice by the change in Patterson’s tone last Spring, maybe we should have believed that there was indeed enough talent on this roster to be competitive, or maybe we should have remembered our TCU football history.  In 1938 Dutch Meyer’s team lead by quarterback Davey O’Brien won their second national championship in four years.  This was the last time the Frogs won a national title.  What is never mentioned anytime people talk about that season is the 1937 season.  In preparing to write this piece I decided to go back and see what type of year the Frogs had in 1937 prior to the 1938 team. You would think that a team that won a title one year would have had a pretty strong year the year before, but that was not the case.  In 1937 TCU finished the year at 4-4-2 for the season and 3-1-2 in the SWC. I have no idea why that team finished with a .500 record nor if Gary Patterson and his staff knew that bit of history or not. The only thing that matters is come tomorrow what they can close against the Horns.

Two common questions when TCU joined the B12 was whether or not they had the talent in the offensive and defensive lines to match up with their new conference opponents and if the Frogs 4-2-5 could hold up against a true power running game. This Texas team presses those questions especially in the area of the Texas defensive line.  Quite simply I think they are the best front the Frogs have faced since that Rose Bowl and that includes Michigan State in 2012, LSU last year, and Texas last year. They have two 2015 NFL draft picks in that front along with another future pick in Ridgeway.  Malcolm Brown is the elite type of talent that can absolute take over a game and will pose the biggest single challenge the Frogs offensive line will face even if they play in the title game this year.

So what will it take to win this game?  First no great team happens by accident nor hope.  Some might scoff at the idea of the 2014 TCU being a great team, but in my mind if this team does finish the regular season 11-1 they have had a great season and thus a great team. It might be laughable to some and I might be well off base in my perception of greatness.  This game is going to require a team with confidence to go out and execute. It will not be given to them as Texas is very talented and well coached. Blake would tell us it will take brass balls.  I will say it will take leadership. Leadership from Boykin, but more importantly the seniors.  One of the positives mentioned coming into this season was the amount of experience on this roster.  I listed above some of the events that have happened over the past 4-5 years. They have seen the highs of that Rose Bowl team, fought through the lows, and realize how fleeting success can be for a team.

Two games ago against Kansas State the Frogs played their most complete game not only on the offensive side of the ball, but defense as well. That is where this effort must start.  It is time for the seniors on the defensive side of the ball, Carter, White, Hunter, Dawson, and Mallet to close this deal. Take anyway any belief from the Texas offense that they can move the ball against the Frog defense. This is the game they came to Ft. Worth to play when they bought into Patterson’s vision for the program and if they want to have the chance to be viewed in the same light as very few teams have at TCU they will need to shut down the Texas running game and avoid the mistakes in the secondary.

Offensively the line came into this season as one of if not the biggest question mark on this team.  To date they have exceeded all expectations and it almost seem unjust to doubt them going in this game. Tomorrow though they will not only go directly against the strength of this Texas team, but its soul. The Horns view themselves as a physical defensive team that has been able to impose their will and dictate game to their opponents. If the Frog offensive line can provide Boykin time to throw the ball and open the running game it will go a long way to take the will to win away from this Texas team. To go into Austin and execute against that front is something I don’t believe this Texas team thinks is possible which is what is needed to close this game.

Finally Trevone does not need to be anything more than what he has been this season. He does not need a game for the ages, but just another good game in a collection of good games this year.  Time to close the deal and then grab a cup of coffee.

No Layups

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The NBA really was not that big on network television when I was in high school.  I can still remember the NBA Finals games played during the week night be tape delayed on Channel 4 in Dallas and played after the 10:00 PM news.

That began to change with the emergence of Magic Johnson with the Lakers, Larry Bird with the Celtics, and the rivalry those two teams had during the 1980’s. Between 1980 and 1989 either the Lakers or the Celtics either played in the NBA Finals or won the title each and every year. Amazingly, for being the highest profile rivalry of that era the two teams only played in the Finals against each other in 1984, 1985, and 1987. They were a contrast in styles of teams, stars, fan bases, and cities.

The differences between the two were so distinct it was almost as if it came from the pages of the Disney cliché’ machine giving us the speed, finesse, and glitz of Los Angeles and the guile, grit, and toughness of Boston.  No better example can be found in Game 3 of the 1984 series when Celtic Kevin McHale close lined Laker Kurt Rambis while Rambis dribbled in for an easy layup.  McHale never made any attempt to play the ball or the man and basically knocked Rambis parallel to the floor.  What triggered such an action by McHale? Celtic star Larry Bird had outwardly questioned the toughness of his teammates after a loss in Game 2 and over the course of that series it became quite apparent that the Celtics mantra became “no layups”.

It is interesting how things from higher levels seep down into the lower levels even if they aren’t completely applicable.  I remember playing in a pick-up basketball game in which the other team had that guy who everyone hates to play against or with for that matter. He was the guy who called palming. three seconds, and offensive fouls.  On one hand it looked like he was trying to be a stickler for the rules except in one area.  Anytime he got beat by someone cutting to the basket and going for a layout he would either grab them from behind or give them a shove.  The only comment he would make would be “no layups man” and hold out his hand expecting you to exchange five with him.

At the time I was too impetuous to acknowledge what he was trying to do nor mentally disciplined enough to ignore him. I would point fingers, make a comment, and even admit to hammer him a time or three in retribution because you can’t foul out of a pick-up game and he deserved it right?

Thinking about it now I understand exactly what he was doing  and why. He knew he was not good enough to beat people physically with his talent, but he was hyper competitive and looked to use every advantage he could to win the game.  It never mattered to him if people at the gym liked him or they made him wait an hour on the sideline before he played in a game. All he wanted to do was in a game, compete, and win.

Last Saturday night in Ft. Worth the Frogs played their most complete game of the year and I will go as far as saying it was TCU’s most complete game since the 2010 season when as the #3 team in the country the Frogs went into Utah and completely dominated the #5 Utah Utes 47-7 in Salt Lake.  TCU controlled both lines of scrimmage like they have not since that game, pounded the run, avoided mistakes, and controlled the game from the start.  TCU went on to beat San Diego St. in Ft. Worth and rolled New Mexico in Albuquerque to earn the Rose Bowl bid.  Potentially the dominating win over KState could be bigger for the TCU program as the Frogs find themselves #4 in the College Play-off Rankings which means that if the season were over today they would be in position to earn a shot at their first national title since 1938.

When you consider where this program was when this season started in terms of local and national perception the leaps that we have seen since that first game at the end of August are nothing short of staggering.  The  conversation now is not just a local one and  can TCU compete to be among the top half of the B12, but instead on multiple national venues and forums as to whether or not the Frogs are truly one of the four best programs in the Country.

There have been multiple columns, articles, blogs, monologues and dialogues as to whether TCU truly is deserving over others and there are many more words to be uttered as this is far from a settled matter.  Here is the most important thing to remember though and it is simply that there is no scenario you can imagine that has TCU playing in that play-off if the Frogs lose one of their three remaining games. Quite simply they must win out.

On paper TCU and Kansas is a mismatch, but just as that play-off berth isn’t awarded for games played on paper neither are conference wins.  The Frogs will be going to Lawrence to play Kansas and the only thing that matters is to stay focus on the one thing they can control, how they play, and nothing else. It is a terrible cliché’ and a mind numbingly basic point, but in the end it is all that matters over the next three games.  It does not matter if TCU wins two of the next three by 50 points if they drop the third game and if the past two years has taught these kids anything there are no layups at this level of play.

Yes Kansas has a losing record, yes Kansas fired their head coach, and yes they do not match up well with TCU.  There still is talent on that Kansas team, there are coaches working to keep their jobs, and there are some big variables that will most likely have a big impact on how this game is played this Saturday.

Charlie Wies was fired on September 28th after the Jayhawks were shut out by Texas and he was replaced by the Defensive Co-Coordinator.  KU has gone 1-4 since then, but they have played much better in terms of moving the ball on offense and they try to play a style of game that keeps things close.

One big change has been the insertion of Michael Cummings at quarterback during the West Virginia game. He isn’t a game break running the ball, only 5’10”, and does not post huge numbers throwing the football. What he has done though is excel in the short passing game at ~60%has only thrown two interceptions , and provided KU with a consistent 200+ yards in the passing game.

Their primary weapons throwing the ball are wide receiver Nick Harwell who has had 20 catches for 278 yards in the last 4 games, tight end Jimmay Mundine with 22 for 276 in that time, and wide receiver Nigel King with 14 catches for 270 yards.  Harwell and Mundine have been very effective in the short routes and it will be interesting to watch how Kindred and Carter match up with the KU tight end.  King is the big play threat and then they spread the ball out to the backs some.

Kansas is not built to win the game throwing the ball, but use it to control possession and open up the running game.  In their victory over ISU they ran the ball the best they have all season and everything fell into place. They really don’t use much option or zone read as part of their running game as Cummings hasn’t had much success running the ball.

On paper again, this is the type of offense that struggles against a Patterson defense.  If TCU gets the level of play from their front that they got last week I don’t see how KU will be able to run the ball and that forces Cummings to carry the load against the Frogs back seven.

Defensively the Hawks run multiple looks, like to blitz, and against Baylor flat got run off the field as they just did not have the speed in the make or the physical talent up front to slow the Bear offense. Practically speaking, if this were in good weather conditions on a dry field I would expect them to have the same struggles against the Frog offense, but that brings me to the variables I mentioned earlier in the article.

The weather in Lawrence is projected to be bad with cold, snow, and strong wind.  All the things needed to slow the TCU passing game and narrow the edge in physical talent.  If this game is indeed played in those conditions it becomes much more a mental challenge as TCU needs to be patient in establishing the run game, sure in their defensive assignments, secure in their tackling, and error free in the special teams.

They must be ready for KU’s defense to press the line of scrimmage like WVU and dare the Frog offense to show they can run the ball like they have the last five quarters.   Most importantly is to remember that while impressive wins are good, winning out is the best thing TCU can do to establish their case for being in the play-off and those chances are gone with any loss.

I expect TCU to win on Saturday, but it is important to remember that much like that gym several years ago there will be no layups on Saturday.

You Don’t Live Life In A Vacuum

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A little over a month ago prior to the OU game in Ft. Worth I wrote about how much the TCU program had struggled to gain any type of traction since joining the Big 12.  Bluntly, the Frogs had never won two games in a row against B12 competition and were the very definition of being in an inert position.

Beating OU put the TCU program in a position to change all of that as for the first time we truly saw in the Frogs enough to overcome an opponent and change the apparent direction of  the program.  The Frogs appeared to have broken free from their moored position and appeared to be accelerating forward early into the fourth quarter of the  Baylor game in Waco.

Momentum is defined as a mass in motion and is mathematically expressed as p = m x v.  In effect an object at rest has no momentum and once an object is in motion the only thing that can stem such momentum is a single force or combination of forces that are at least equal to force of the object in motion.  Students for years have been posed with a question that only exists in the minds of their science teachers. The infamous “If an object could be set in motion inside a vacuum would it ever stop?”

For the sake of the test question the answer is no, in a vacuum there would be no opposing force so that object would continue to mover forever, but we don’t live in vacuums and in the real world not only does an object in motion have to contend with directly opposing forces that impedes its movement, but a multitude of other oft smaller forces that compound the resistance and in some cases completely re-direct the object’s course.

I always believed the key to learning is application of concepts and it very easy to apply the principle of an object in motion running into direct and in-direct resistance to that game in Waco. Newton nor Galileo are needed as anyone who watched that game could see the dramatic momentum swing from TCU when the Frogs went up 58-37 with just over 11 minutes to go in the game to the Bears.  The swiftness of this change was stunning, but the reasons ranged from factors coming into that game to how the first quarter played out to missed opportunities to those last eleven or so minutes of play.

Obviously we saw Baylor take control of the tempo of the game almost immediately after Mallet’s interception return for a touchdown as they started to run the ball at will against the Frog defense. Soon Pettey seemed to hit every pass down the field, the Frog offense struggled to sustain itself, a few questionable events followed, and the Frogs stunningly found themselves on the wrong end of a 61-58 final.  Many focused on the events of those final 11 minutes, but I want to briefly address issues coming into the game and during the first three quarters that set up the dramatic swing.

First, TCU this year has struggled with giving up big plays which isn’t new, but has been at a level never seen against a Patterson defense.  Yes, the defense is prone to give up big plays, but not at this rate.  Consider that in the first year in the B12 the Frogs defense gave up 21 pass plays of 20 yards of more with 10 of those being 40 yards or more. In 2013 those numbers were 22 pass plays of 20 yards or more with 9 of those being 40 yards or more. This year in only 5 B12 games the TCU defense has given up 21 plays of 20 yards or more with 13 being 40 yards or more.  Opposing offenses’ completion percentage is the lowest in three years, 3rd down conversion rate the lowest, and turnovers the highest which are all great stats, but with 4 games to go in the B12 the defense has been exposed multiple times and that was very obvious against Baylor.  Call it schematic arrogance on Patterson’s part, consider it Briles setting up the Frogs, but the pace and style of that game in Waco exploited the Frogs defense’s aggressive style, game plan, and lack of depth.

Consider that Baylor ran 33 plays for 234 yards in the first quarter. That number of plays and those yards gained became apparent when an exhausted Frog defense collapsed in the fourth quarter unable to stop the run or pressure the passer.  Remember that TCU not only entered this season without its single most talented pass rusher DeVonte’ Fields, but also Jon Lewis.  Some scoff at how much Fields could or would have helped and the simple response is that when motivated Fields 10 sacks and 18 1/2 tfl’s are numbers no Frog defensive end has come close to posting nor project to post this year. Additionally, Lewis might have been an unheralded reserve defensive tackle, but he was also the Frogs best interior pass rusher with 4 1/2 sacks last year as part of 11 tfl’s.

During the game we saw TCU’s offense fail to sustain the running game and twice had to settle for field goals when the Frogs were unable to run the ball near the Baylor goal line. Finally, the Frogs in an attempt to address coverage concerns in their secondary had young players who weren’t ready to face the Baylor offense on the field during the third and fourth quarters. There is a huge difference making decisions facing even the best high school passing attack and what the Frogs saw against Baylor.

My point simply is while many focus on the events of those last eleven minutes what I truly did as much to derail the Frogs momentum was personnel losses, young players, and issues this team was still trying to address.  I can’t argue that point, but what I will point to is the easiest example for people to picture of force in motion is a wave. The energy is transmitted across the medium of the water and if an object is placed directly in the path of the wave, say a jetty for example it will abruptly disrupt the wave. Also remember though that the reason that wave crests prior to striking the breakwater is not the visible object it is about to strike, but the unseen resistance of the ever shallowing bottom that causes the wave to lose velocity and begin to collapse upon itself.

How does this poor man’s Mr. Wizard’s physics lesson having anything with TCU football and specifically this season? In order for this program to not only win that game against OU as well as the three-game streak against OSU, Tech, and WVU this team had to address all those other factors to ensure that each week they have put themselves in the best position possible to overcome the resistance they face from the opposing team.

Offensively the Frogs had to continue to get better line play and they needed to do a better job of running the ball. Consider last weekend  when in the middle of the third quarter behind by double digits the Frogs left their struggling passing game and took control of the game by running the ball. WVU might not be the best run defense, but the Frogs this year haven’t also had success running the ball and the situation on the road was as tough as any they will face this year unless they get into the play-off. The response was over 160 yards rushing in the second half and two scores with Catalon and Green doing a good job running inside.  Boykin did struggle last week and he must get better, but he is so, so far ahead from where he was last year. Simply consider the quarterback who with less than 2 minutes to go on the road calmly worked through his progressions to hit Listenbee for 40+ yards to put the Frogs in field goal range last year had 10 catches for over 100 yards.

Finally, the Frogs cut loose their two of their top returning receivers in Carter and Brown and have gotten great production from the entire group. Doctson has continued from last year, Gray and Listenbee have 10 touchdown catches this year compared to 11 combined career catches period coming into this year, and production has come from each of the four receiver positions ( Z-WR 47 for 671 yards, Y-WR 43 for 503 yards, H-WR 47 for 615 yards, and 33 for 624 yards.).

Defensively we have seen the Frogs adjust their coverages (playing two deep safeties last week to help on WV’s Kevin White), have shown great depth upfront, are getting great play from their linebackers (how is no one talking about Paul Dawson when he is the only player in the B12 to be ranked in tackles, tfl’s, sacks, int’s, forced fumbles, and fumbles recovered), and the continued maturation of the younger players in the TCU secondary.

Two quick players of note in the secondary last weekend.  First Derrick Kindred. Remember that it was two years ago at WV that Kindred played that great game in the TCU upset of WV led by Gino Smith. Kindred has struggled early this year, but last week played his best overall game with 10+ tackles. Also we got a glimpse of what makes this defensive staff so great and that was Torrance Mosley. Mosley was an Arkansas commit who the Hogs pulled their offer and that led to both he and Corey McBride signing with TCU.  Many at the time questioned where Torrance would play and someone came out and said he just didn’t have the feet or hips to play cornerback. Less than a year later in the biggest game of the year (to date) there is Mosley in the game for Ranthony Texada.  Yes, he struggled some, but he also showed quickness and some toughness.  Bottom line is much like Nick Orr against Baylor the TCU staff isn’t afraid to give players a chance when no one else believes and continually it has paid off for the staff and the program.

This Saturday presents the biggest challenge for TCU this season in quite simply what is the biggest game played in Ft. Worth in damn near 80 years or so.  Some point to the Utah game a few years back, but the stakes are much higher and the challenge much tougher.

TCU sits in the #6 spot of the college play-off system and it is not impossible to pose a scenario where they end up in the final group of four.  Whether they belong there isn’t the debate.  The committee has put them in a great position and the only thing they can do is win out.  Quite simply if they don’t go 4-0 they aren’t in, but if they do they can make a solid argument.

Consider that during this six week stretch they will have played and beaten at the time #4 OU, lost to at the time #5 Baylor in Waco by three, beat handily at the time #15 Oklahoma State, destroyed Tech, won at #20 WVU, and possibly beaten #7 KSU. That would mean in six consecutive weeks they would have played five ranked teams, three top 10 teams, gone 5-1, and gone 2-1 against the top-10 teams.

Simple right except that TCU faces most likely the worst possible option Kansas State. The Wildcats have talent, but what makes this such a tough match-up is how they play.  This is a team that offensively and defensively work to control the tempo, look to exploit your mistakes, and if you aren’t careful you fall into their style of game. Using boxing analogies, Baylor was Marvin Hagler standing you in the center of the ring daring you to fight knowing he had both speed and power. K State is the older Mohammed Ali laying on the ropes daring you to try to beat him into submission.  Lost however is that Ali still hold more speed in his hands than most and definitely enough power to exploit any openings.

So how does it play out? How does a TCU that is physically beaten up and as pointed out by Gary Patterson mentally spent once again regain its focus to win in what has been the toughest six game stretch in the history of the program? It might be cliché’, but draw from the advantage of playing at home, from the courage and conviction garnered over the past five weeks, and once again find the single mindedness to find a way at the end of the game fulfill one of Patterson’s favorite quotes and have one more point than KState.

The formula isn’t hard, but few can do it because of what it requires from a group of individuals working to become a team.  My son ran in high school and is a big Steve Prefontaine. Pre was an interesting guy who never saw himself as exceptionally talented, but a guy who could take more pain than anyone else.  Here is one of my favorite Pre quotes:

“A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more.”

In a vacuum there is no resistance and there is no pain. We don’t live in a vacuum and in real life there is very much resistance and pain. Pain from loss and pain in competition.  There is also joy and come Saturday the TCU players find themselves in a position that no other team program has been in for over 80 years. To write a new history for this program and do something very few have ever done, but do to that will require pain and maybe in the words of Pre hit KState with a “suicide pace” on both sides of the ball because to give anything less is to sacrifice the gift this opportunity provides to them.

Hail to Thee……

The Second Shot Curse

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I  have mentioned on this site from time to time that I play golf and over time I have gotten to the point that when I am play with some regularity I can play on most courses and score in the mid 80’s to lower 90’s. Nothing spectacular, but solid and if you asked me what was the one part of my game that is holding me back from consistently scoring lower I can give you an immediate answer.  The second shot.

Now that might sound confusing so let me explain.  When playing regularly I am fairly consistent off the team and at times can be very good.  Putting the ball right where I want it to set myself to score well on the hole to only unravel far, far, far too many times on that next shot. The curse of the second shot.

All sincerity when I say I have  screwed up more great drives and tee shots with second shots and putts that are as utterly horrific as they are inexplicable to me.  The curse has covered the gambit from terribly read putts that left me farther from the hole than my first putt to line drive wedge shots that scream past the green and down an embankment leaving me to hack around in my knee high weeds looking for my ball and my personal favorite the  skulled approach shot that combined with my drive has me less than 350 yards from the tee box and still out.

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The funny thing is I can visualize what I want to do with that second shot, try to go through the same routines, same setup, approach, etc…. and yet the result is darn near 180 from a shot less than 5 minutes before.  Maybe that is where golf mirrors live in that we get some of our greatest joy from the opportunity we save from what looked to be sure disaster and our biggest hurts is blowing what looks to be set up perfectly for us.

Last Saturday did not execute perfectly on any side of the ball in their win over OU.  It does not take too much effort to compile a quick list of chances missed (penalties, blown coverage, dropped interceptions, fumbles, missed field goals, blocked extra point, etc…..), but to do that misses the great job this team (staff and players) did in coming out aggressively, playing with confidence, and taking control of this game when it mattered.  I have found it interesting to hear fans and media talk about how OU just had a bad day, how they failed to execute at times, and paint a picture of TCU almost playing a flawless game.  Beautiful yes, passionate yes, flawless though? Not even close as the Frogs left points on the field and let OU hang around in that game.

Yes, the Catalon touchdown was called back by a phantom holding call and both fumbles lost  where as much byproducts of the OU defense as Boykin and Catalon failing to secure the ball.    My point was that after the Sooners scored on the opening drive of the third quarter TCU took control of the second half of the game and the Frog defense especially imposed their will when it mattered most.  The result was the Frogs win of their highest ranked opponent ever in Ft. Worth and the game they have been looking for since they joined the B12.

As great as the game was it was how the game unfolded to me that was better and bodes well for the Frogs.  Boykin continued to be solid throwing the ball, he did make a back footed throw on the interception, but he is getting better and better with a couple of throws that were textbook.  OU basically dared him to beat them and he did a great job especially throwing the ball on 2nd and 3rd downs.  Trevone was 14 of 23 on 2nd and 3rd down for 232 yards and the Frogs converted 10 of 18 3rd down conversion possibilities.  The receivers also continued to improve as Kolby Listenbee had his best day as a Frog with 5 catches for over 100 yards.   Both Boykin’s big game of almost 400 total yards, Kolby’s career day as well as the others was only made possible by the effort of the Frog offensive line.

From the start of that game they showed cohesion and early I saw one play that caught my eye as it was the type of aggressive play we have not seen from the o-line since the Rose Bowl group. On the play in which Josh Doctson catches the tipped ball OU had blitzed and it was a jumping Sooner defender who tipped the pass. If you watch the play from the shot behind Trevone you will notice that Brady Foltz locks onto the Sooner defender and drives him into the ground. That immediately told me the line that had looked so passive at times against SMU came into the OU game with a completely different mindset.

Defensively the Frogs did struggle in the first half with Kindred getting isolated on Sheppard.  I won’t try to say what happen, but it is something we have seen in the past  with Derrick and something teams will try to exploit going forward. What is important though is the defense adapted to the Sooner offense. The front six was able to control the run in the second half, the Frogs got pressure from their front, and this allowed the linebackers and secondary to cut off the Sooner passing game.  Patterson had talked about the need for depth and you could see it in this game especially in the defensive line. The Frogs played 8-10 defensive linemen once again and in the second half were able to cut off the running lanes and pressure Knight.

It continually amazes me how Patterson and his staff always seem to have one or two freshmen who no one knew about contribute early and in big situations on defense. Two years ago it was Derrick Kindred in a 10+ tackle game at WVU. Last Saturday it was Chris Bradley.  Chris was a late recruit out of Shreveport who got hardly any notice from the recruiting experts. Last Saturday on the big 4th and 1 play you will notice that after Pierson got hurt the Frogs had Chris lining up next to Chucky Hunter at defensive tackle for easily the biggest defensive play Patterson’s team has ever had in that stadium. All I can say is that all the overlooked, under the radar defensive line recruits from Louisiana are more than welcome to make their way to Ft. Worth and play for the Frogs.

One catch about last weekend. It was just one game in a season composed of many.  Granted, it validated a few things, should give some people some confidence, and provides a great opportunity, but it guarantees absolutely nothing.  The Frogs now find themselves standing over that second shot that has bedeviled me for so long in my golf game. They crushed the drive and with another great shot can be on the green in two with a good chance at birdie and possibly eagle. Simple enough, just follow the first great shot with a second great shot.  Sounds simple, but winning at Baylor will require nothing less. This is a very good Baylor team and the Frogs are not sneaking up on them in any shape, fashion, or form.

TCU must re-gain the same type of focus they had for the OU game, but also do so while dealing with a new form of distractions this team really has not had to deal with in some time.  Talk about where the season could potentially go, rankings, praise, and all the things that can make continued success tough for a team that has been struggling for so long to find traction.

Baylor will be aggressive on both sides of the ball. Offensively they have great speed, a scheme that looks to score every play, a big offensive line, and a very good quarterback. Defensively they play fast and look to intimidate. They will try to rough up the Frog receivers and Boykin to throw him off his game.  It will not be a matter of physical execution, but composure and focus.

I do think though this is a very winnable game for the Frogs and felt better about this one than the OU game.  First, the Frogs have been a very good road team under Patterson especially in the last five years.  They are 5-2 versus ranked opponents  on the road, 5-5 on the road in the B12 ( w wins in Austin, Morgantown, and Waco), and are won 17 of their last 22 conference road games.  Second, Patterson and his staff are 2-2 versus Briles at Baylor and have won in Waco.

Third, the offensive has played with continued confidence and I really think we saw it take big strides in the OU game. TCU went after the OU defense from the start and was aggressive in the passing game.   More importantly we continue to see multiple players have a positive impact on the offensive side of the ball.  Five Frog receivers (Doctson, Gray, Listenbee, Porter, and Slanina) have over 13 or more catches this year with the team leader being Doctson with 19. Four of those five have over 150 yards receiving and all five have already passed their career totals as a Frog or on track to exceed them by season’s end.  We have seen Catalon develop as a threat running the ball and catching it out of the backfield and the Frogs have real depth at running back.  If the improvement we saw in the offensive line continues (Baylor will not lay back like OU, but will attack Boykin) I think the Bear defense is going to be in for a big surprise come Saturday.

Defensively, the Frogs have never backed off when they have played Baylor and at times the schematic arrogance has hurt TCU.  They must once again stop the run with their front -6, pressure with four, and make plays with their safeties and linebackers.  Paul Dawson had a big game last year against Baylor and he and Mallet had big games last week. Dawson has started for basically a year’s worth of games and leads this defense in career total tackles. Think of the number of 2 and 3-year letterman on this defense and consider that stat.  He and the other linebackers have to help cut of the Baylor running game to make the Bears’ offense dependent on the passing game. When that happens TCU must get pressure from their defensive front. This is a game I thought the loss of Fields would hurt and it would be great if one of the young defensive ends could make that leap forward and provide the consistent pressure from the outside.

I am confident TCU is very capable of winning this game and I hope last week’s game is the template. The biggest lesson I learned that helped my golf game was stop trying to make picture perfect swings and make sure you get the clubface square on impact each and every time. Last week was not a perfectly played game, but it was a perfect result.  In the end how you got the win is not as important as did you get the win.  Saturday I truly believe this TCU goes into Waco and finds a way to win this game. They find a way to beat the second shot curse.

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I apologize to each and every member of the TCU offensive line and the staff working with them.

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Fabuluje, Naff, Hunt, Foltz, Vaitai, Schlottman, Pryor, Noteboom, Thompson, and anyone else who played today.

There were alot of great plays today, but many different Frogs, but without the level of toughness, brains, ability, and heart you showed today the Frogs don’t win.

Enjoy your victory, be smart, and kick Baylor’s ass.

Hail to Thee…..

Staking a Claim or Fool’s Gold?

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It is funny how simply changing one letter in a word can completely change the context of a sentence or more specifically in this case a posed question. When it was announced that TCU would be joining the B12 instead of the Big East a common question I was asked was “Could TCU compete in the B12” which struck me as odd. Considering the history of the Baylor and Kansas State programs there was no evidence to indicate either program had a decided advantage over TCU and in my mind, there was then nor is now any legitimate reasons that TCU could not compete in the B12.
The better question would have been “Would TCU compete in the B12”. An immediate response by many TCU alums and fans is that the Rose Bowl team could have competed which I agree with, but that team was not the one stepping on the field when TCU started play in the B12. Yes, that group of seniors played in some big games against some very good opponents and won most of them. I truly believe had they been in the B12 with that group they could have held their own very well, but while I am playing the “what if” game hoping to make it true I think I will focus on what if DeVonte’ Fields was on the roster and lining up at defensive against OU.
When TCU took the field two years ago that roster in my thoughts was not ready to truly compete in the B12. It could have been had certain things not taken place, but the reality of it was that TCU’s losses while significant were not unique to their team in the B12 and that flaws in the program were exposed. Changes were needed not just on the roster, but the staff-scheme-recruiting process. Over time, those changes have been made and I do truly believe the program over all is in a much better place than where it was just two short years ago. The same elephant is still in the room. When the games start of real this year, will TCU be able to compete? Is this this moment the program stakes its claim among the B12 or is the improvement we have seen fool’s good?
One thing I want to make clear is that winning this game against OU will not immediately validate the program no more than a loss would indicate TCU simply could not compete at this level. That is something that can only be established over the course of the season. I think the efforts of the team over the next three weeks is far more important for the program than anyone game, but don’t think I believe this team doesn’t need a victory soon over one of the top B12 teams to help overcome the inertia this program has endured since the Frogs joined the B12 two years ago.
Furthermore, this team is loaded with underclassmen starters who are on the front end of their college careers. If you look at the career reception totals for the wide receivers, #5 on that list is the starting quarterback Trevone Boykin. No one receiver has more than 750 career-receiving yards nor more than 8 career touchdown receptions. Fifteen different Frogs though have had at least one reception this year and fourteen of those are projected to return next year. Three different Frogs have led the team in catches in their first three games and three different Frogs have had two touchdown catches in those same three games. All four of those players involved project to be back next year. Same story at running back and in the offensive line there is only one senior getting playing time.
Defensively the Frogs have five senior starters who are key players, but when you look at the two-deep and the roster they have more depth and talent than they ever have under Patterson. In short, the Frog seems to be in position to push into the top tier of the B12, but for that to happen this team at some point has to stop playing teams close and actually winning games Close losses do not buy many points in polls it does not garner bowl invitations, it does not get you media exposure, and it does not swing recruits. So is the OU game that game to break through the resistance this program has encountered the past two seasons?
No deference to Baylor, Cowboy, Kat, or Longhorn fans, but beating OU today is the biggest possible plumb on the Frogs B12 schedule. For that to happen however there must be some significant trends that have to be reversed from the past two games. If you go back and look at the stats from the last two games as well as re-watch them TCU have struggled put sustained drives against the OU defense. In 2012, the Frogs scoring drives were 1 play 6 yards for a TD, 1 play for 80 yards for a TD, and 4 plays for 6 yards for a FG. The two longest drives that year ended up in a missed field goal and the ball being turned over on downs at the end of the game. Last year’s first half was historically bad and while the second half was better the first two scoring drives only covered 80 yards combined. My point is that you cannot count on short fields to happen just as you cannot count on turnovers. You can play a style of defense that emphasizes forcing turnovers and you can try to create opportunities through special teams to flip the field, but you cannot depend upon them. Pull those turnovers out of the past two games and TCU is not close in either game and that is part of the challenge faced by the Frog’s offense.
TCU must establish some degree of success on first down against the OU defense. During the past two years, the Frogs have found themselves in a 2nd down and long situation 26 of the 38 offensive snaps they have taken against OU. Pull out Brandon Carter’s 80-yard touchdown catch against OU in the second half of the 2012 game and TCU has averaged less than 3 yards a 1st down play in 2012 and the first half of 2013. The immediate response by many TCU alums and supporters will immediate castigate the Frogs’ former OC duo as being too conservative and that might have been true for the first half of the 2012 game as TCU ran the ball 10 times for 19 yards on 1st down with only one passing attempt. That trend however, did not extend into the second half of that game ( 6 runs for 27 yards and 4-8 passing for 104 yards) nor the first half of last year ( 2 called runs for 7 yards and three pass plays with no completions and one sack for -3).
The TCU offense simply did not get the job done as OU controlled the line of scrimmage, pressured Boykin when TCU threw the ball, and did not allow big plays aside from the one Carter catch and run. Sorry folks, but one big play out of thirty first down snaps will not win this game. TCU must do a better job in their execution and they must be aggressive. I did not say stupid, but the OU defense has a similar strategy to the Frogs. They want to win first down and force the offense into second, third, and long. It is not an accident that TCU has been 6 of 29 against the OU defense the past two seasons and the reasons are not solely poor execution on third down. OU is very aggressive with their secondary like the Frogs in those early downs and that means there are opportunities for big plays. TCU hit with Carter, but did not do this consistently and they must not only take those shots, but Boykin has to hit these deep throws. OU is going to compress the field on first and second down until TCU shows they can threaten down the field and you do not do that by merely make a random, off target throw down the field on first or second down. The Frogs must be aggressive when they throw the ball on early downs and use the speed they have at receiver and backs.
Sounds simple, but for that to happen two big things must take place and I am not sure one can or will. First is that Boykin has to make those throws and not let the moment overwhelm him. He has struggled at times this year with accuracy on deep throws and in the past he has rushed his reads and missed open receivers deep (i.e. the Bowl game against MSU). Maybe it is just iron pyrite, but the second half of last year to me gives me hope that he can make the plays TCU needs to be in this game. TCU was 6-8 for 98 yards on first down in the second half of last year in a game they had nothing successful to build upon from the first half. OU had their way with the Frog offense for most of three halves and yet Boykin led TCU back into that game. My bigger concern is not him, but the offensive line. One point I made early was that TCU had to change some parts of the program and one area was the type of athlete they were recruiting in the offensive line. I think the profile they had in the MWC was big strong guys, which is great, but they did not have the lateral quickness needed to compete against many of the better defensive lines. If you look at the TCU roster at this time if you look at the offensive linemen they have recruited the past three years compared to those prior I think you will find the younger linemen are more athletic. You can see this especially inside with a player like Schlottman versus Naff and Foltz. Offensive tackle has been a struggle for the past two years and I think Big V has provided some stability at right tackle. Left tackle however has been a struggled and I do have big concerns about Tayo matching up against the Sooners speed off the edge on his side or the Frogs guards inside. If and that is a big if the offensive line can finally take that big step and work as cohesive unit and give Boykin time I think the Frogs have a chance, but it they can’t I just have a feeling things could once again be ugly for the TCU offense.
Defensively, TCU has not shut down OU, but they have slowed the Sooners attack. Especially when you consider the extreme situation they faced last year in Norman with the Frogs offense have 5 consecutive three and outs in the first half. Patterson has worked to build depth in the front and more speed in the back. It has looked great so far, but OU will stress the defense more than anyone to date and possibly anyone all season. They have a big, physical offensive line, bigger backs, speed at receiver, and an OC who understands the importance of being balanced on offense against a group like TCU. If you look at the Sooners first down snaps against TCU they have been fairly balanced with a shift to the running game in the second half.
Big keys will be the ability of TCU to defend the run with their front six and discretionarily using a safety as well as pressuring the passer with their front four. The strength of the TCU defense is being flexible on the field without changing personnel and that requires TCU dictating the situation versus reacting to their inability to stop a particular facet on an offense. If they have to continually move a safety down to stop the run that restricts their coverage options and stresses the rest of the secondary against an offense like OU. I am confident in the Frogs top three d-tackles holding up against the run, but they need big efforts from their defensive ends and it is imperative their linebackers stay disciplined against the run. It might sound harsh, but in this game, there is little room for the occasional mistake. Look no further than early in the fourth quarter last year where a TCU linebacker takes a false-step, does not get over to proper gap, and OU hits them for a 75-yard touchdown run. While I am not blaming the linebacker for the loss that run was the deciding score in the game.
The other big area to watch in the TCU defense is the play of the safeties. The trio of Carter, Kindred, and Hackett are very solid and each a very good story. Each however has weaknesses that have flashed at times in games the Frogs have lost in the B12. No one on the TCU roster has come farther than Derrick Kindred. He was a late recruit three years ago; played OLB and DE much of the time in high school, and in his first year at TCU had over ten tackles in the Frogs win at WVU. Derrick is physical against the run and gotten better against the pass. He is better though coming forward or playing the ball in front of him than going back. If you remember the 2012 game, he was caught looking in the Sooner backfield as the receiver got behind him on the wheel route just before half and he does struggle at times when he is isolated down the field. Chris Hackett had a great career at Tyler John Tyler ending up among the states leaders in interceptions, but the single biggest knock on him in recruiting was a lack of great speed. Three years later, he is the leader at the back of the TCU secondary and a multi-year starter. He has shown the great instincts he did in high school and he is physical at the point of contact. Some place him among TCU’s best safeties ever under Patterson, but the one issue that has shown up from time to time is that lack of speed specifically when he is trying to get over to cover an outside receiver against multi-receiver sets. Tech got him twice last year where he made the right read, but just did not get over as well as Baylor, K-State, and WVU. Granted, what I am talking about does require great speed and why Patterson has made an emphasis to recruit safety prospects with that great speed. I am curious if OU can exploit this or if Hackett is up to the task.
Finally, Sam Carter and this is guy who is a great story. Sam is a fifth-year senior who is already in graduate school. A team leader, tireless worker, and one of the best safeties in the B12. He however has the same flaw as Kindred in that he is stronger playing the ball in front of him and coming forward than covering crossing routes or at times when being isolated on deeper routes. I am not trying to nitpick on these three guys, because I do not see the Frogs winning without a great effort from this trio. No different than I think they need great play from their linebackers or d-line. Simply that this game to me comes done to which offense can exploit the weaknesses of the defense.
In the end, I do not think the TCU offensive line is ready for the OU defensive front. I hope they are, I hope the Frogs win, but I do not think they are ready. I do think though they can win two of the next three and feel certain they win one of three. The question though is this start their first step in staking a claim or fool’s gold?

A Work in Progress

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Sometimes when you are in the middle of something it gets tough to remember that the overall objective isn’t to excel at that immediate point and time, but instead to stay on task and achieve the ultimate goal when you started the process.

Last season TCU never seemed to play a game that was clean for them. Even in the games they should have won like SLU and SMU the team struggled and made what should have been easier wins far harder than most expected of the game.  Sure, there were reasons for that and I will not argue that losing Casey in the SLU game and the struggles of a young offensive line made it seem like every game last year was an uphill climb.

As I have pointed out earlier this year though other teams had injuries, other teams had to replace older players, and they still found ways to win games.  I have no doubt then that the experience of the 2013 season has tinted the optics cast by the first two games of 2014.

The Frogs easily won both games and I think even the most ardent doubter of the club would have to admit that at this point the 2014 team looks far, far different than the TCU team we saw in 2013.  It is important to consider two points about this team and where it stands going into the SMU game.

First, this team is not ready to beat the better teams in the Big 12.  I am not saying TCU cannot beat the better teams only where this team is after two games is not ready for those challenges. Some will automatically dismiss me as an idiot and point to the 23-point beating of a mid-tier Big 10 School in Minnesota as proof as the Frogs are more than ready for their impending three-game stretch of OU, @ Baylor, and OSU.

My contention is the Minnesota game and specifically the second half showed there is enough work to be done that the Frogs are not ready to open Big 12 play.  I will acknowledge that defensively TCU held up against the run and in regards to that side of the ball the issue is more we have not seen the defense challenged by an offense that can ran and throw as well as team with great speed on the offensive side of the ball.  We all would agree we do not know if Texada is ready to be a starting corner because he has not been challenged in the first two games.

Additionally, we really do not know just how good the depth is along the defensive line because to date neither Samford or Minnesota ran over 68 offensive plays. Yes, the defense has done a great job and they held those offenses done for the most part, but neither tried to push tempo like TCU will see in the Big 12 and the offensive lines they saw do not begin to compare with what the Frogs will see when OU comes to Ft. Worth.

The past two years in the Big 12 tell me Patterson, Bumpus, and the rest of the defensive staff will have the Frogs in position to compete with this group in two weeks.  I do agree that this might be Gary’s best defense ever at TCU and one that could be good enough to ensure a winning record for the season, but does anyone truly believe Patterson broke camp with a goal for this team to slide over .500 for the season?

Something tells that CGP, his Staff, and this Team are shooting for higher goals which means that this offense must make big strides from last year to compete in the conference. Immediately some will use the points scored and the yards gained as proof that change has taken place on the offensive side of the ball. Great, the Frogs kicked the crap out of two schools they should have which is nice after seeing the struggles of the past two seasons, but that is not enough. This team has not faced near the speed they will see in the secondary’s of the B12 nor in the defensive fronts as well as schemes designed to address the HUNH and the short passing game.

I am not trying to be contrarian just to argue, but did see some things in the Minnesota game that brought back a bad case of deja’ vu from last season. Things like the offense being 2 of 12 on third down and 10 of those 12 third down plays being third and  six yards or further to go for the conversion.  Lost yards or penalties early in the downs that put the Frogs in long yardage situations early in the series and they struggled in those situations.

They failed to capitalize on field position be it with stalled drives or failing to execute when they had a chance for big plays.  Silly penalties squashed drives and there seemed to be a sense the offense was fighting itself and not the Gopher defense in the second half.

Specifically, too many penalties from the offensive line and a poor second half throwing the ball from Boykin.  Yes, the TCU site will point to the fact that his completion percentage is the best he has ever had in two consecutive games at just under 60%, but consider this factor on that number. The Frogs averaged 9.6 yards per catch and 5.6 yards per throw against Minnesota which means most were near or behind the line of scrimmage. A quarterback’s completion percentage needs to be above 65% in that type of situation for there to be any offensive continuity. Furthermore Boykin has got to consistently put that ball in a place where receivers and backs can make a play after the catch.

For this offense to be effective against the better teams on the Frogs schedule they must get more out of the passing game in terms of yards after catch on the shorter throws and hitting the deep throws when the receiver is open. Perfect example is the deep seam route where Echols-Luper is wide open and a good pass is a score. Unfortunately, the ball is not even close enough for Cam to make a legitimate play on the ball and the chance at the touchdown is lost.

It might seem like picking nits, but the Frogs cannot miss those opportunities if they indeed want to finish in the top third of the conference and I think that is a legitimate target. Too many yards have been left on the field because of poor execution which is why I believe we saw Boykin stay so late in both of these games. The potential is there in the offense if the Frogs can get solid pass protection, a semblance of a running game, and consistent play at quarterback.

Which brings me to my second point and that this team still does not have to be ready, but there does need to be improvement which is why tomorrow’s game is important. I could care less about the Iron Skillet as I never even heard of it while I was in school at TCU and do not feel any type of hatred for SMU.  Instead I want the Frogs, specifically the offense to show continued progress from where they started this season because in one more week this all gets very, very real.