On the surface, the TCU offense may look similar to most Air Raid systems. It spreads the field, moves at a breakneck tempo and has Air Raid royalty on the headsets, with the younger sibling of college football’s most famous Air Raid coach not named Mike Leach signaling in the plays.
But Garrett Riley’s unit in Fort Worth possesses something that most Air Raid systems do not: offensive balance. It’s one of only three FBS teams ranked in the top 25 nationally in both passing offense (289 yards per game) and rushing offense (219). Horned Frogs running back Kendre Miller is averaging 6.5 yards per rush, and he has already eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark. And while other Air Raid systems like Leach-led Mississippi State and Lincoln Riley’s USC squad are throwing the ball around the lot, Garrett’s philosophy is more like a Big Ten team than his West Coast predecessors. It’s leaned heavily on the run game, which includes not just Miller, but quarterback Max Duggan on designed runs.
Riley cut his teeth coaching at Appalachian State in 2019 under head coach Eliah Drinkwitz, where the Mountaineers finished in the top 20 nationally in rushing for 231 yards per game. Riley and run game coordinator A.J. Ricker are committed to the run game, and this season’s TCU numbers are proof. Heading into the matchup Saturday against Texas, the Frogs have outrushed Air Raid teams like Washington State, Mississippi State and USC by at least 60 yards per game each.
Miller may not have had his first 100-yard rushing game until Week 3 at SMU, but he has been on fire since then. It’s a shift in philosophy that hasn’t gone unnoticed by TCU opponents.
“Earlier in the year, you can see they didn’t know where to go with the football, but now it’s clear there is a big-time commitment to the run game,” one opposing Big 12 coordinator told me, speaking on the condition of anonymity for competitive reasons. “Once they found a running game, they became a lot more challenging to be able to deal with. They are much more committed to the run game than they have been in the past.”
But as the No. 4 Horned Frogs (9-0, 6-0 Big 12) make the trip to No. 18 Texas (6-3, 4-2) on Saturday night, they may not have the complete services of NFL-caliber receiver Quentin Johnston, who aggravated a prior ankle injury last week against Texas Tech. This means they will need to lean even more heavily on the run game to loosen up a Longhorns defense that has held opponents to 123 yards per game on the ground this season.
Let’s take a look at what makes the Frogs’ offensive system different from other Air Raid systems, including how they’ll use the run game and a developing tight end to continue their pursuit of a College Football Playoff bid.