Let’s finish up our schooling on the Cheez-It Bowl with our final crash course on the TCU Horned Frogs. We spoke with Melissa Triebwasser of Frogs O War to get a fan’s insight into the team before they face our California Golden Bears.
1. Which player on offense should Cal fans know about?
Melissa Triebwasser (MT): TCU has one of the best wide receivers in the country in sophomore Jalen Reagor. The 6’1” standout can catch just about anything, jumps over everybody, and has speed to burn—and as the offensive coordinators have figured out more and more ways to get the ball in his hands, he has found more and more ways to deliver touchdowns. He has scores of 50+ yards on both the ground and through the air this season—even doing both in the game against Baylor last month—and is a threat to house it on every touch. He is one of those players whom you love to watch play, until he’s playing you. Oh, and he returns punts and kicks, too.
Other than JR, it’s a total crapshoot on offense for TCU this season, as we have no idea who will be healthy enough to play on a week-to-week basis. So that’s been fun.
2. Which player on defense should Cal fans know about?
MT: Ben Banogu is a potential first-round draft pick this spring at defensive end, and is a one-man wrecking crew on the line for Gary Patterson and TCU. He’s fast, he’s strong, and he plays angry—everything you want in a QB Hunter. Banogu has all of the tools to be a great pro at either DE or LB and he has wreaked havoc in the backfield the past two seasons for the Frogs. He is bookended by another all-conference DE in LJ Collier and between the two of them—along with DT/space eater Corey Bethley—the Frogs are capable of dominating the trenches on that side of the ball. Which they have to do, because the linebacker and secondary corps are down to duct-taped players and random fans being pulled out of the stands at this point. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Ty Summer as well—the senior was on pace to break the all-time single-season tackles record at TCU before injuries derailed his senior season, but he is hoping to suit up one last time in the bowl game. Ty plays linebacker, defensive end, and I am pretty sure will be the backup QB if Grayson Muehlstein gets hurt—a position he starred at in high school before Patterson convinced him to switch sides.
3. Who’s one under-the-radar or X-factor player who could swing this game for TCU?
MT: I will give you one on each side of the ball. On offense, TCU has two super-speedy slot receivers in true freshmen Taye Barber and Derius Davis. Davis took his first collegiate touch—a punt return—to the house, but has been in and out of the game plan since. He has game-breaking potential, though, if you get him the ball in space. Barber has been a key part of the offense, especially since KaVontae Turpin left the team (more on that later), and is another guy with serious wheels. One of those guys is probably going to have to have an impact on offense for TCU to get the win. On defense, we have all been waiting for the Garrett Wallow–breakout game. The true sophomore surprised most everybody when he won the starting linebacker job over a couple of veterans, including highly-touted transfer Jawaun Johnson, this fall. The former safety played well early, though he had a penchant for going for the big hit instead of wrapping up, but was moved to safety about halfway through the year due to injuries in the defensive backfield. He is currently listed as a backup safety as the Frogs have gotten two starters back from injury, but I think he could end up making a big play at some point in this game.
4. What does TCU need to do to win the game?
MT: Find a way to run the ball behind a piecemeal offensive line with whatever running backs actually play (The Frogs will be without starter Darius Anderson while backup Sewo Olonilua has been dealing with injuries himself. That leaves third-stringer Emari Demercado as the likely bell cow) and keep QB Grayson Muelhstein from having to do too much. The defense needs to penetrate and keep the young Cal QB from being able to set his feet and make his reads, while the line has to hold up against the run game and help the thin linebacker unit hold up. Ben Banogu is going to need to get a couple sacks, maybe force a fumble, and just have one of the big play-making games that he is capable of. TCU has to win the turnover battle—when they do that, they generally win.
5. What does Cal need to do to win the game?
MT: If the Golden Bears can get out to a lead early and put the game on the back of Muehlstein, they have a good shot of pulling this one off. I would expect them to play ball-control offense behind their solid running attack and if they can move the sticks consistently against a good TCU run defense, they can control the clock and thus, the scoreboard.
6. How do you see the game going?
MT: I think both fanbases expect this to be a slog of a ball game, meaning that we are likely to see a vintage Big 12 shootout, right? In all reality, Cal is really young and TCU is really injured, so this might come down to coaching. To some degree, Justin Wilcox learned at the knee of Gary Patterson and may game plan this one with a sense of something to prove. Meanwhile, the wiley ol’ veteran could have a trick or two up his sleeve. I think Patterson is really good at taking away what a team does best and in this case, will focus on slowing down the run game and asking a redshirt freshman to win it with his arm. Chase Garbers looks like a talented young QB—and he can certainly make all the throws—but GP is really good at confusing quarterbacks and tends to let loose in bowl games a bit, so we could see some fun blitzing and such. On the other side, the Frogs have a guy behind center who has been there for forever, but had thrown just one pass in his career prior to being thrust into action when passer after passer fell apart with injuries. I think the Frogs turn an early turnover into points and it’s a one score game going into the half. Cal will make a big play in the third quarter, meaning that The Mule is charged with leading a game-winning drive late. The fifth-year senior is the latest in a string of backups making big plays in bowl games, throwing a late touchdown to give the Frogs the 14–10 victory.
7. Unrelated to the bowl game, TCU had former Cal head coach Sonny Dykes as an offensive analyst in 2017. How was the offense with his help? Do you think TCU’s offensive struggles in 2018 are related to Dykes’s departure?
MT: Sonny was a nice add to the coaching staff in that advisory role a year ago, but I don’t know that he had much impact week-to-week on what the Frogs were running. I mean, SMU went down in pretty much every meaningful offensive category once he took over—partly due to the loss of current pro Courtland Sutton—but, he didn’t exactly light the world on fire in his first season in Dallas, despite Chad Morris leaving a really solid foundation. I think it comes down to QB play and turnovers—the drop-off from senior Kenny Hill to sophomore Shawn Robinson was precipitous.
8. Just looking at the statistical profiles of each team, explain to me which team will get to 17 points first and why that will be enough to win the game?
MT: I already called my shot at 14–10, haha. But in reality, it’s probably more likely the team that approaches 20 is the victor. The Frogs did something you don’t see very often in the Big 12—won games while scoring 17, 14, and 16 and lost where the victor put just 17 on the scoreboard. This defense is really good, despite the fact it’s been a carousel of injuries all year long. 2018 has been a really weird year for TCU fans who are used to seeing more points on the scoreboard—TCU hasn’t averaged fewer than 30 points per game since 2013, but the offense still has a couple of dynamic players who are capable of breaking things open. At the end of the day, I feel strongly that Jalen Reagor is the best player on the field—period—and if he can break off a big play or two, that could be the difference.
9. In a game that’s likely to be pretty low-scoring, special teams very well may swing the game. How have TCU’s special teams performed and do you see that unit impacting the game one way or the other?
MT: Well, you see... TCU used to have the most exciting return man in college football in the form of 5’9” (maybe) waterbug KaVontae Turpin. But, Turp decided to get himself in trouble with the law and Patterson has no time for that. So he was kicked off the team several games ago. The Frogs still have a couple of interesting guys in that position—namely the aforementioned Davis and Reagor—but Turp could flip the field/change the game like few in college football.
When it comes to kicking, Adam Nunez used to be a weapon for the TCU special teams, specializing in pinning opponents deep inside their ten-yard line. But he was never one with a big leg and his accuracy has struggled in 2018 as he has been dealing with injuries himself and has not been nearly as effective as he previously was. Kicking has been kind of a disaster the last few years—injuries and inaccuracy has rendered field goals an adventure, as Patterson rotates guys in and out depending on distance and how he feels about them at any given moment.
But hey, we have a really good freshman long snapper!
10. Hey, another team that’s used three quarterbacks this year! QB controversy–twins! Catch Cal fans up on the ins and outs of TCU’s quarterback carousel.
MT: Sophomore Shawn Robinson started the season and vacillated between effective and “oh no what the hell are you doing” before being taken out during the Oklahoma game and being replaced by Michael Collins, a Penn transfer. Not Penn State—Penn. Robinson, it was revealed, had been playing through injuries of his own and that certainly contributed to his struggles—as did his need to constantly run for his life behind a subpar offensive line and his penchant for throwing it to guys in the wrong jerseys. Collins wasn’t much better, but turned it over a lot less—but, he lost to Kansas, so it’s not like he was lighting the world on fire. Collins got hurt during the first quarter of the second-to-last game of the year, leaving the reigns to Grayson “The Mule” Muehlstein, who went out and didn’t screw things up too badly on his way to back-to-back wins and bringing the Frogs to bowl eligibility. All the while, Justin Rogers (a five-star QB recruit before blowing his knee out in the second game of his senior season) sat on the bench trying to recover from multiple surgeries and a case of drop foot, not unlike what former Notre Dame and current Cowboy linebacker Jaylon Smith finally overcame nearly three years later.
That leaves us with The Mule starting; a not fully healed, but fully cleared Justin Rogers as a backup (mind you, he has yet to take a collegiate snap and hasn’t played football in 16 months); and something called Karson Ringdahl if all else fails. Muehlstein has been in the program for five years and was a highly-regarded recruit in his own right—he is more than capable of leading the offense, but he doesn’t have a huge arm and hasn’t been in a ton of big moments. He will have had a full month to prepare as the starter, has completed 68% of his passes in his two games truly running the offense, and doesn’t turn it over. I will be very interested to see what OC Sonny Cumbie draws up to best utilize his skill set against a really good Cal defense.
11. This game is sorta a preview of the Cal/TCU home-and-home. Grab your Magic 8 Ball, dust up on your palm reading, and tell us the state of the TCU program entering the 2020 season as the Bears prepare to travel to Fort Worth.
MT: I am really excited for 2020... it feels like that could be a really special year for TCU. The Frogs will have, what I expect to be, a really solid P5 program on the schedule in Cal and will have a favorable Big 12 schedule that will ask them to leave the state of Texas just twice in conference play. Additionally, they will have at quarterback either Justin Rogers (who has star potential written all over him if he can get healthy) or Max Duggan (an intriguing prospect out of Iowa who will be enrolling in January). The defense looks to be built for the long haul with some great players signing on last year and the offensive line should be much better as well. I also love the two running backs in this signing class—both are among the best stat compilers in the country and look the part of big-time college football players. Assuming a couple of the highly touted receivers live up to their billing, we could get back to the Frog Raid offense of old and have a defense that can back it up. I think most of us who follow the team expect 2020 to be a year where the program has a chance to be a player in the CFP discussions... but, it does mean relying on a lot of unknowns currently and expecting a QB whom we have yet to see on the field be great.
12. Whom do you most want to punch in the face?
MT: Art Briles. No question.
Thanks to Melissa for answering all of our questions and teaching us about our postseason—and soon to be out-of-conference—opponent. Check out Frogs O War for their coverage of the game and our half of the Q&A—featuring world’s greatest wordsmith (Nick “The Noun-ophile” Kranz), boomtho, and Vincent Sheu.
What is your prediction for the Cheez-It Bowl?
This poll is closed
Big Cal win
Close Cal win
Close TCU win
Big TCU win