TCU Football: Trevone Boykin must carry program after team loses both starting ILB

TCU’s football program absorbed another huge hit on Thursday when starting inside linebacker Mike Freeze took an indefinite leave of absence for personal reasons. After losing Sammy Douglas after Week 1, the Horned Frogs are reeling on defense, meaning quarterback Trevone Boykin must step up in a big way to carry the program the rest of the season.

Before the campaign even began, TCU’s defense was already a big question mark. But head coach Gary Patterson figured he’d found a way to fill holes last year, so no big deal this time around, right?

“Last year we didn’t have any linebackers, we didn’t have a quarterback,” he said before the season began, via “This year I’ve got to replace six starters on defense.”

Now that both starting inside linebackers are gone, they don’t have any linebackers once again. And there’s no telling what to expect from Dick Bumpas’ group the rest of the season. Even with both players in the lineup against Minnesota—not exactly an offensive powerhouse—the Golden Gophers racked up 341 yards and scored 17 points.

This means the offense will need to score early and often the rest of the way to make up for what could be a porous defense. Granted, this wasn’t any kind of issue at all last year when Boykin burst onto the national scene with a phenomenal season. He was an unknown quantity in 2014 and caught opposing defenses by surprise, having formerly been a running back and receiver. As a result, TCU scored 46.5 points per game, finishing No. 2 in the nation behind Baylor.

Things could be a bit more difficult this year, however. Defensive coordinators have had an offseason to study Boykin’s tendencies, meaning sharp play and a command of the offense is even more important in 2015—something we didn’t exactly see during his first game against Minnesota.

The Heisman hopeful kicked off his season with a mediocre performance against a tough Golden Gophers defense. While his final stats didn’t look too appalling, with 338 total yards and two touchdowns, he played tight and wasn’t sharp in the passing game, throwing an ill-advised interception and missing wide-open receivers.

Patterson rightly pointed out Boykin took some big hits in the game and noted the team would not have won without him making a few big plays.

“He took some shots in that ballgame. If there’s any bigger competitor than what Trevone is, I mean there’s some really good football players, there’s some really good players that I watched this weekend, but I don’t think there’s any compete any harder than what he does,” Patterson said during his weekly news conference (h/t Associated Press). “Without him, we don’t win the Minnesota game.”

Patterson could have also mentioned that the game wouldn’t have been nearly as close if Boykin had been sharp, but he understandably wants to keep things positive in the media.

Thankfully TCU’s schedule is relatively easy for the next few weeks, giving Boykin and his offense a chance to gain positive momentum. After Texas comes to town in Week 5, the Horned Frogs have four road games in their final seven, with some tough teams on the docket to finish out the season including Oklahoma and Baylor in the final two weeks.

Boykin must be more decisive with his reads as a passer, and he needs to make sure he doesn’t do anything foolish with his body as a runner. The Horned Frogs are legitimate playoff contenders with him in the lineup playing well, but without him they don’t stand a chance of becoming one of the four final teams playing this winter.

It’s time for Boykin to put TCU on his back and live up to his Heisman hype. Lord knows the young man has the talent to make it happen.