Editor’s note: The following is a Q&A between Josh Yuen, football beat writer for The Daily Californian, and Garrett Podell, managing editor of TCU 360. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Josh Yuen: If you could sum up TCU’s season in a few words, what are they and why?
Garrett Podell: TCU’s season has been a roller coaster. They started out the year ranked No. 15 in the country, win their first two games, play Ohio State in week three pretty competitively at Cowboy Stadium. TCU had the lead through most of the third quarter, couldn’t hang on there, but it was encouraging because starting quarterback Shawn Robinson played pretty well against the Ohio State defense. Next week against Texas, the wheels started to fall off the wagon offensively — Robinson threw a number of interceptions including picks on back-to-back throws.
That started a stretch when they would play teams close but simply couldn’t make enough plays. They dropped a Thursday night game against Texas Tech, as turnovers continued to make a difference. All the while, however, the defense ended up being the No. 1 defense in the Big-12 for the second straight year. Defensively, (head coach) Gary Patterson, who also calls the defensive plays, put the defense in a position to make plays; it’s just the offense had a hard time taking care of the ball and staying healthy.
The dismissal of receiver KaVontae Turpin, star receiver and returner, also hurt the team. Although, that departure helped spotlight Jalen Reagor, the sophomore who was able to fill in Turpin’s shoes as the lead playmaker. He ended up with more than 1,000 receiving yards, nine touchdowns and also an 83-yard rushing touchdown against Oklahoma State. Overall, it’s pretty wild that TCU is in a bowl game at 6-6, but overall the Horned Frogs are pretty happy to be where they are after things looked pretty bleak in the middle of the season.
JY: It sounds like the Horned Frogs’ quarterback situation has been a bit muddy this year — sort of similar to Cal’s. Can you walk me through what that entailed?
GP: It started with Shawn Robinson, who was looked as the heir to Kenny Hill. A four-star, could run, could throw as a dual-threat. He started out the year really well, played well against Ohio State, but for whatever reason, made some head-scratching throws against Texas and Texas Tech. He ended up injuring his nonthrowing shoulder, which took him out for the rest of the year.
In comes his backup, a guy who transferred from Penn — Michael Collins. He was actually playing about as well as Robinson and even a bit more carefully with the football, but then he hurt his leg on the first play against Baylor during the second-to-last game of the season.
So in comes a fifth-year senior, Grayson Muehlstein, who was on the team when the Horned Frogs were rolling with Trevone Boykin in 2014 and 2015. He was around for Kenny Hill’s years, and here he is as a fifth-year senior — someone who himself was a three- or four-star recruit as a talented Texas high school quarterback. He could have transferred at any time, but he honored his commitment and stuck through it, and now he gets his moment to shine. He won his senior day against Oklahoma State, a team that TCU was an underdog to, and here he is getting to start one more game in the bowl game.
JY: Offensively, Jalen Reagor is one of the most elite playmakers that the Bears have come across. What about Reagor makes him stand out, and what else should we expect from TCU’s offense?
GP: Every time (Reagor) is thrown the ball, it just seems like something crazy happens, and it doesn’t faze me anymore. You learn to expect the extraordinary because of his crazy athleticism, strong hands and his willingness to do everything. He said at the end of the season that if he has to return kicks, if he has to play running back and receiver, that he’ll do it. And he’s taken a few snaps at running back, at Baylor and then he had that touchdown run against Oklahoma State. His do-it-all capability makes us expect something big to happen every time he touches the ball.
JY: Defensively, TCU and Cal have really been solid this year. Who are some notable names to look out for on that side of the ball?
GP: TCU’s has a lot of injuries in the secondary — I think like six or seven defensive backs have been hurt at some point. The main guys who power the defense are the two defensive ends, both Big-12 First Team members — seniors Ben Banogu and L.J. Collier. Those two guys are two of the best pass-rushers not only in the Big-12 but in the country. There have been a number of NFL scouts who have come to TCU games and practices asking questions about those two players. Both of those guys are super dynamic — Banogu has a chance to go off the board in the first two rounds of the draft, and Collier will probably be a slightly higher round pick.
Then there’s linebacker Ty Summers, who’s been playing since his freshman year and is sort of one of the captains. There’s also sophomore linebacker Garret Wallow, who’s been one of the team’s leading tacklers and has shifted to safety at times because of the injuries.
JY: Do you have a favorite Cheez-It flavor? I need some recommendations.
GP: I’m much more of a Ritz/Goldfish type of guy like you are, but I guess I’ll go with the spicy variety. The spicier ones sounds good.
JY: Score prediction for the Cheez-It Bowl?
GP: I think it’s going to be a competitive game. The line the last time I checked it was EVEN, so obviously that shows that these teams have defensive strength and a few offensive studs. I could see either team winning this game, but I’ll pick TCU winning it by a score of 17-10. I think it will be really close, but in a defensive game like this, you have to look at which offense has guys who can be an “X Factor” and change the game. I feel like Jalen Reagor is the most talented offensive weapon in this game on both sides.