This week I was fortunate to speak with Melissa Triebwasser of Frogs Today about Sonny Dykes, TCU football, and this weekend’s big matchup. Here’s what was discussed.
1. What are the biggest things Dykes has done in year 1 to create this turnaround?
“Normally, if I went with the word culture, I would be afraid of getting accused of being too cliche. But if there’s one fanbase that can appreciate a good culture convo, it’s Iowa State.
Sonny has come in and pretty much done EVERYTHING differently than the previous regime. There’s a ton of access to practices, players, and coaches. They put out these batshit crazy post win videos that are just meme-filled delusions that I am way too old to understand but love anyway. They ran a House of Duggan campaign and have made the Hypnotoad almost a second mascot. Sonny celebrated the game winning kick at Baylor with the enthusiasm of a player. He’s just soso different and the vibes around the program are matching that change in the most positive way.
TCU returned 82% of their production from 2021 from both sides of the ball. With the exception of a couple of key transfers (notably AlanAli on the offensive line, Josh Newton and Mark Perry on defense),this is pretty much the exact same team that was horrible a season ago. But all of a sudden, they’re having fun - and the head coach is okay with it. That’s changed the culture in the locker room, that’s changed the bond among the players, and it’s changed the mentality of the entire program. They’ve matured, they’ve got better leadership, and - this can’t be overstated - the new strength and conditioning program and the focus on nutrition has made them better athletes on the field and better at recovering off of it.
Of course I would be remiss to not also credit the offensive coaching staff, who went with the totally insane idea of building an offense around the strength of its players, and all of the sudden Max Duggan, Quentin Johnston, and Kendre Miller are all having career seasons. Go figure.”
2. Do you fear any blue bloods trying to snag Dykes?
“I don’t want to be naive, because of course there will always be calls made. But Sonny Dykes is the son of one of the most famous football coaches to ever roam the sidelines in the state of Texas (Spike Dykes, who was a high school coaching legend and spent over a decade at TexasTech) and I think coaching at the Power Five level in Texas has been the dream for Sonny. Would he leave for maybe Texas or Texas A&M? Maybe? But I think the money is really good at TCU, him and his family- and he’s very family oriented - love Fort Worth, and the quality of life at a school like TCU versus dealing with all the off-the-field garbage in College Station and Austin is pretty appealing.
Plus, he’s pretty quickly proven that he has everything he needs to compete at a high level both on the field, in recruiting, and from an administrative support standpoint. He’s happy. And I think, much likeMatt Campbell, that is something that matters to him. When he talks about going to Cal, and the things that drew him there, it’s pretty clear he doesn’t view it as a mistake but definitely the kind of learning experience that he doesn’t want to repeat.
So, never say never, but I would imagine he would be more than content to put down roots at TCU.”
3. TCU is top 15 nationally in points for, Iowa State is top 15 in points against. Something’s gotta give. Is this a high scoring or low scoring game?
“I don’t see this one being a shootout, to say the least. TCU’s offense has been bottled up a bit in each of the last three weeks; Texas Tech had a ton of success in the first half by using a great game plan to pressure Max Duggan and make him uncomfortable. Of course, the Texas game was a total rock fight, and Dave Aranda and Baylor really kept the Frogs from doing what they wanted offensively until TCU’s final two drives. Missing Derius Davis for the whole game, and Quentin Johnston and Kendre Miller down the stretch, hurt too - and all there are questionable for Saturday.
My expectation is that one team gets a halftime lead on the back of something non-offensive, a special teams play or a defensive score. TCU has been excellent out of halftime at making adjustments on both sides of the ball, so if there’s an opportunity to create some breathing room, it will likely be then. But I am fully expecting to feel like I did during the Texas game, wondering if anyone was going to be able to score, hoping to holy hell TCU would break through first, and then hanging on for dear life until the final horn sounds.”
4. What has Max Duggan done to take the next step this year and become a Heisman dark horse?
“Like I mentioned earlier, you can’t overstate how important it is that Garrett Riley and Sonny Dykes were willing to adjust the offense once Max took over in the second half at Colorado to make it something that they could thrive in. They aren’t doing anything insane or uber creative, they’re just putting talented guys in positions to be successful. So things like play-action, pre-snap motion, and using the middle of the field have opened up a whole new world for Max and he is thriving in it.
He’s also just a super mature, really unselfish kid, and an incredible leader that means that every dude that suits up on game day 100% has his back. He suffered through the first three years on campus playing style that was suited to him, he overcame injury after injury - and played through a ton of them - and then almost lost the game completely with a heart issue that could have easily ended his career. And then a new coaching staff comes in and he loses the starting job.
And he never once thought about leaving.
When he says he loves TCU, he really means it. He’s super loyal, he’s a coaches kid, and he’s just a gamer. There are a ton of great stories in college football, and I admit to being incredibly biased, but few folks deserve this turnaround and this success more than Max Duggan for what he has had to overcome.
I can’t really point to anything mechanical or major differences physically in his game, he’s just making better decisions, letting things come to him, and operating a system that makes sense. And having guys like Johnston and Miller make his job easier as well. My hope now is that he can stay healthy and have a big game this weekend, because he needs to put up numbers to get invited to NYC. That won’t be easy against the ISU defense - but if he can do it against a top five defense, that would go a long way to get him a little extra push.”
5. What is your game prediction?
“I hate everything about this game. To be so close to everything we have ever wanted, so close to redemption for 2014, so close to the impossible dream... and now we have to beat an elite defense and probably the team that is the maddest of anyone we beat this season to get there is absolutely terrifying.
I think TCU is better than Iowa State, but the Frogs have benefitted from a lot of things going their way, and you worry that at some point some of that “luck” runs out. But like Sonny said after the Baylor game, you don’t win games the way TCU has won games without putting yourself into position to do so, and the Frogs have been in the right position a lot of times.
Nothing will come easy Saturday, and if TCU is without Johnston, Davis, and Miller, it’s going to get a lot harder. I think the TCU defense comes up big again and maybe we get a big play on special teams to help open the door for the offense. Give me TCU 17, Iowa State 13, and hope I don’t have a heart attack on the field again.”
Thanks again to Melissa for taking the time to talk with me and provide some TCU insight.