Key plays of 2020 in the Big 12: TCU finds Quentin Johnston against Baylor

Ian Boyd

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There is one overarching reason why TCU has major, breakthrough potential in 2021. The reason is the return of a quarterback-wide receiver tandem in Max Duggan and Quentin Johnston which is unlike any the Frogs have had since Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson left.

Since those days TCU had one year of solid quarterback play from Kenny Hill and a few games of decent work from a handful of other guys at one time or another, often throwing to Jalen Reagor, but very little overlap between any of those brief, bright moments. Jalen Reagor was a freshman in 2017 when Kenny Hill had worked out the position and offense and while he caught 33 balls for 576 yards and eight touchdowns, it was a shadow of what should have been possible in Reagor's later seasons.

TCU had a similarly exciting freshman season in 2020 from Quentin Johnston, a 4-star recruit from Temple, TX the Frogs had to fend off Texas for late in the recruiting cycle. Johnston caught 22 balls for 487 yards and two touchdowns (also a two-point conversion) and was very plainly one of the most impressive wide receiver talents in the entire conference. At 6-4, 190 or so he has size and reach to be a problem for your typical cornerback but he's also fast and fluid as a route runner and already largely immune to the sorts of physical jams and tricks corners like to use on big, young wideouts.

However, he was also just a freshman.

TCU's trial and error season

For much of the season, this was one of TCU's primary ways to target Johnston.


Periodically they'd give Max Duggan the alert to say, "hey is the coverage giving me a 1-on-1 to Johnston? Time to chuck it deep!" and he'd try to time a fade route to the big freshman. This actually worked from time to time, but the chemistry wasn't always there and there were bigger problems. In particular, TCU's pass protection was absolutely abhorrent early in the year until they established T.J. Storment at left tackle.

TCU also tends to put a clear emphasis on the run game and haven't had a particularly reputable offensive line coach in some time. Between some injuries and shuffling along the line and then the clear priority for establishing the run game and a strong blocking scheme, fleshing out the dropback passing game appeared to be more of an afterthought and certainly not a strength.

Finally, the Frogs didn't have a bowl practice after 2019, didn't have a spring practice due to COVID, and then had the same sort of bizarre offseason as everyone else. Determining a true freshman's potential and building out a section of the playbook to maximize his value was always going to be difficult but TCU's run game focus combined with the Pandemic made it exceptionally unlikely.

So while Quentin Johnston was the most devastating offensive skill player on the roster, it wasn't until late in the season when he really took off. In particular, in the last two games of the season he dropped three catches for 114 yards against Oklahoma State and then five catches for 133 yards and a score against hopelessly outmatched Louisiana Tech. Much of the damage was inflicted simply by connecting with Johnston on those fade routes, such as the one Duggan missed above.

As an aside, this was also a useful peak at Oklahoma State's fate on defense in 2021 sans Rodarius Williams. Ro was outmaneuvered by Johnston for one deep catch and then Christian Holmes, Jarrick Bernard, and Jabbar Muhammed were all torched in turn by the emergent Frog Z receiver.

Against the Bears TCU hit Johnston on a couple of throws which reveal his potential impact in 2021.

Burning the Bears

Baylor played solid defense in 2020, helped in part by having some experience at cornerback with veteran and returning starter Raleigh Texada. They matched up promising but young and inexperienced Kalon Barnes on Johnston some in this contest though and it didn't work out terribly well.

The Frogs landed one of their typical fade shots...


But this one was far more interesting:


It's a typical RPO with the boundary receiver running a glance inside and the quarterback hitting it if the boundary overhang steps up to play the run. The middle safety is clearly playing with anticipation of a quick hitting pass and he's there to try and light Johnston up for going over the middle, but QJ completes the catch and then doesn't go down with the contact.

There's a couple of open doors for TCU next season hinted at here. One is to more regularly involve Johnston in the RPO game. If he can regularly get to spots on the field and isn't afraid to go over the middle the Frogs could throw to him a lot more often in 2021 without having to invest as much in the drop back passing game.

The other open door is to give Johnston more targets and option routes outside for the occasions when they do use the traditional dropback game. A sophomore Johnston running a fuller route tree with an offseason's worth of reps working with Max Duggan could make an enormous leap and fill out his game in accordance with how the coaching staff bolsters his share of the playbook.

If this spring, summer, and fall two-a-days go like I think they could, the Frogs could add the most important dimension you can have to their offensive system. A deep threat wide receiver who cannot be controlled in man coverage without safety help either on the post or over the top can trigger a domino effect on the overall defense which makes it susceptible across the board.

In particular, TCU's run game with Duggan quarterback keep options and all of their talented running backs (particularly Zach Evans) becomes very difficult to defend if you're worried about keeping Quentin Johnston out of the end zone every snap. Between this developing dynamic and the certain growth from TCU's defensive line, there's a strong case to be made for the Frogs as the second best team in the Big 12 heading into the 2021 season.
 

bHero

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Between this developing dynamic and the certain growth from TCU's defensive line, there's a strong case to be made for the Frogs as the second best team in the Big 12 heading into the 2021 season.
What about TCU's offensive line? I definitely agree with you on TCU making a last run at the title before Patterson hits the Nashville circuit.

The prospects of a healthy and more mature Evans w/Duggan constraint and QJ over the top are somewhat terrifying. They'll need adequate OL performance to unlock that, of course...
 

Ian Boyd

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What about TCU's offensive line? I definitely agree with you on TCU making a last run at the title before Patterson hits the Nashville circuit.

The prospects of a healthy and more mature Evans w/Duggan constraint and QJ over the top are somewhat terrifying. They'll need adequate OL performance to unlock that, of course...
They brought in grad transfer Obinna Eze from Memphis, an iffy run blocker but good athlete and plus pass protector. Everyone else is a returning starter.
 
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bowman93

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Great article, Ian. Just categorically sucks we couldn't hold onto QJ given how apparent it was from his senior year that the dude is absolutely NFL. I have to imagine he would be the best WR on the UT roster with the possible exception of Omiere.

Just off the top of your head, who do you think will be the top 5 WRs in conference by the end of the season? I feel like it's kind of tough because I have to believe that OU will have at least one of their former 5 star dudes from that 2019 class break out and be a top guy and they already have Mims who is a stud.
My guess would be something like : 1.) Mims 2.) Quentin Johnston 3). Xavier Hutchinson 4). Omiere/Moore (I think if Moore gets stronger in his lower half he could really turn into a consistent weapon) 5.) Wease? Idk, I'm sure OSU will have someone emerge but not super sold on Spencer Sanders as a QB who can maximize his WRs.
 

Ian Boyd

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Great article, Ian. Just categorically sucks we couldn't hold onto QJ given how apparent it was from his senior year that the dude is absolutely NFL. I have to imagine he would be the best WR on the UT roster with the possible exception of Omiere.

Just off the top of your head, who do you think will be the top 5 WRs in conference by the end of the season? I feel like it's kind of tough because I have to believe that OU will have at least one of their former 5 star dudes from that 2019 class break out and be a top guy and they already have Mims who is a stud.
My guess would be something like : 1.) Mims 2.) Quentin Johnston 3). Xavier Hutchinson 4). Omiere/Moore (I think if Moore gets stronger in his lower half he could really turn into a consistent weapon) 5.) Wease? Idk, I'm sure OSU will have someone emerge but not super sold on Spencer Sanders as a QB who can maximize his WRs.
That's tough. I think your top 3 are good, at least as members of a top 5.

Probably someone from OSU, Brennan Presley is an obvious candidate. Malik Knowles of K-State is a good player. Baylor has some good receivers if they can find someone to throw them the ball and five other guys to keep him upright.
 
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stilesbbq

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Great article, Ian. Just categorically sucks we couldn't hold onto QJ given how apparent it was from his senior year that the dude is absolutely NFL. I have to imagine he would be the best WR on the UT roster with the possible exception of Omiere.

Just off the top of your head, who do you think will be the top 5 WRs in conference by the end of the season? I feel like it's kind of tough because I have to believe that OU will have at least one of their former 5 star dudes from that 2019 class break out and be a top guy and they already have Mims who is a stud.
My guess would be something like : 1.) Mims 2.) Quentin Johnston 3). Xavier Hutchinson 4). Omiere/Moore (I think if Moore gets stronger in his lower half he could really turn into a consistent weapon) 5.) Wease? Idk, I'm sure OSU will have someone emerge but not super sold on Spencer Sanders as a QB who can maximize his WRs.
That's tough. I think your top 3 are good, at least as members of a top 5.

Probably someone from OSU, Brennan Presley is an obvious candidate. Malik Knowles of K-State is a good player. Baylor has some good receivers if they can find someone to throw them the ball and five other guys to keep him upright.
Wouldnt shock me is Haselwood comes back off the ACL tear and starts dominating. Think its a down year for WRs in the Big12 is Xavier Hutchinson is in the top 3
 

Ian Boyd

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Wouldnt shock me is Haselwood comes back off the ACL tear and starts dominating. Think its a down year for WRs in the Big12 is Xavier Hutchinson is in the top 3
Trejan Bridges is supposedly their best wideout in practice. Obviously in games it’s been Marvin Mims doing the real damage.