College Football Analysis

Coach ‘Em Up: An Open Letter to TCU QB Max Duggan

Dear Max,

On the eve of the National Championship game, I am compelled to drop you this note to congratulate you on a tremendous 2022 season that started with TCU unranked. Just 150 days later, on New Year’s Eve night, you defeated one of the most talented and well-coached teams in America.

Now, the stage is set to play Georgia in Monday Night’s College Football Playoff National Championship at SoFi Stadium, the first title game the Horned Frogs have played since 1938.

I want to congratulate you on a tremendous four-year career at TCU, showing continuous improvement each season with a head-coaching change along the way. From a statistical standpoint, you played winning football this season, completing 64 percent of your passes, 32 touchdowns and only six interceptions.

Your 2022 performance was well recognized around the country by winning the Davey O’Brien Award as the best NCAA quarterback, the Johnny Unitas Award for the top upperclassmen quarterback in college football and the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year.

Prior to this game, I didn’t know much about you or your team. Frankly, all I know is what I have seen on tape from your games against Kansas State and Michigan. In some ways, it is unfair to comment on your overall ability as a quarterback and the strengths and/or weaknesses of your offense without seeing more tape.

What I know for sure is you are an extremely resilient and mentally tough young man, who can play from behind on a big stage with the “it” factor to find a way to make a play and put your team in a position to win late in games. This is your team’s narrative going into Monday night’s game.  

With all that in mind, let’s make it clear that winning can hide deficiencies, and it is clear there are many good things to say about you and your offense, but I am sure you recognize there are some things that have to be cleaned up to have the opportunity to move the ball on Monday against Georgia’s defense.

Let’s first take a look and some things that need to be addressed:

Ball Protection In and Out of Pocket

Max, over the last two games you have simply been too loose with the football in and out of the confines of the pocket. You must do a better job of securing the ball. Georgia arguably has the fastest front in college football, and there will be blindside pursuit and pressure throughout the game.

On the play above, after scrambling to your right, you have the ball hanging in one hand with the tip of the ball below the waist. You are now subject to a blindside pursuit knockout of the ball. 

This is another great example of poor pocket fundamentals shown above. Even though Nolan Smith (out with injury) won’t be coming off the edge for Georgia, the Bulldogs still have plenty of ways to pressure you, especially up the middle with Jalen Carter. Please make sure you have two hands on the ball tight to your sternum while working the pocket.

Protection Plan Must Be High Priority

This week, the Horned Frogs must have a great pass protection plan far superior to the one they had the past two weeks. There are game-wreckers on the Georgia defensive line, and the Georgia defensive coaches will see the Horned Frogs’ flaws and missed assignments in protection during the last few weeks.

In the last two games, I have seen little or no chipping by running backs, tight ends or wide receivers on defensive ends. I would highly consider and recommend doing that against Georgia.

On this six-man protection (above) with the offensive line going left, it must be the job of the RB (No. 33) to abort the fake and block No. 25, which is his responsibility on the edge. This has happened more than once during the last two weeks. This ball was overthrown because of the pressure from the free rusher, but the initial missed assignment got it all started. Number No. 33 should be blocking the free rusher.

This is another example of poorly coordinated protection (above). This is a five-man protection with your RB releasing to your right. This means the offensive line needs to take care of the five rushers on the line of scrimmage, which includes No. 25.

You would then essentially be hot off No. 23, who is covering the back. Your backside must be protected in a five-man protection away from the release of the back (the side you are starting to). This was not only an off-target throw but most importantly you were exposed to a blindside hit.

This is a huge mistake in protection by the left guard and left tackle, who should have fanned out to block the defensive tackle and No. 25. Georgia no doubt will test to see if these corrections are made.

This again was a poorly protected play and arguably a missed assignment by the left tackle (above). With No. 41 lined up on the line of scrimmage, the LT should block No. 41 and leave the outside rusher free. This would have given you time to get this ball out with more velocity and trajectory. I still believe you should have made this play. Unfortunately, the result was an underthrown ball and an interception.

Too Many Forced or Inaccurate Throws

There have been occasions during the last two weeks where you have tried to do too much, as indicated in the play above. I know you are shaking your head knowing how fortunate you were on this play.

In a backed-up situation, you need to get this ball out earlier or out of bounds. Slowing up as you did with a defender pursuing backside and with a defender right in your face was way too risky. This play resulted in a safety that fortunately was reversed to an incompletion.  

Throughout the season you not only had a high completion percentage, but you did a good job of taking care of the football. Despite the fact you have thrown deep on a regular basis, in the last two weeks, there have been too many poorly thrown or forced balls.

In the last two games, you have only completed 48% of your passes (48% exactly in each game). You have been too inconsistent, particularly when you have a clean pocket and the opportunity to complete a throwing motion with receivers open. There are a number of examples where you have tried to force the ball into tight spaces.

Above, with a clean pocket and a receiver wide open over the middle, you lose the opportunity for a big play because of an overthrow. 

With two open receivers in the red zone, this ball was thrown out of bounds (above). 

On this play above, you missed an easy completion by throwing the ball outside the reach of your running back. 

Work on Mechanics, Finishing Progressions

During the week in practice, pay attention and continue to work on your throwing mechanics. Focus on making sure your left foot is open to the target. This in turn will open up your knee and your hips for better accuracy. 

This throw above was high and away with an open receiver available. The long windup at times is also an indicator of potentially an inaccurate throw.

Meanwhile, this throw above with your right elbow at shoulder height and left foot pointed at the target opened up your hips and chest, creating power and accuracy. Well done.

On this fourth-and-3 call above, you rushed your progression and missed an opportunity to throw the slant to your wide receiver (No. 7) at the bottom of the screen. Then, you were too quick to get back to your tight end on the hashmark and forced the throw. You were fortunate it ultimately led to a completion, however, this could have easily been an interception. 

Max, I know you may feel I have been overly critical of you, but it’s only to make sure you go into this game with your eyes wide open on College Football’s biggest stage. These are areas which you can improve on quickly, which can make a difference next Monday night. 

On the other side, during the last two weeks, you have made some incredible plays with your arm and legs, and you will need to step up this coming week once again. You unquestionably have the “it” factor, a resilience to your game, and the legs to make good things happen when plays break down.

But, let me remind you, your No. 1 job is to take care of the football at the snap, while handing it off, in the confines of the pocket, with the location of your throws and while exiting the pocket. That job is not for everyone, but it is for you.

Here are some other things we need from you that go with my points above. 

You Have Arm Talent

Above, you show off your NFL arm talent by driving this diagonal perfectly located toward the numbers.

On this play above, you show your ability to see defenders and use your receiver’s catch radius to protect the ball with the location of the throw. This is perfect.

On this play above, backed up from the far hash, you throw a perfectly located go route to your receiver at the top of the screen, forcing the defender to play through your receiver’s body to get to the ball. Well done.

Your Legs Are Your Strength

Against Kansas State, you ran for 138 yards, averaging more than eight yards per carry. Against Michigan, you rushed for 63 yards, but most importantly, seven of those carries were for first downs. Your legs could be the difference-maker in this game, but you must lock up the rock on the way.

In this picture above, we see a great example of your ability to not only run but make people miss along the way. In this case, your make-you-miss ability gave your team an explosive gain.

Above, you outran the Kansas State defense for another significant gain.

‘It’ Factor 

When I talk about the “it” Factor, I’m talking about your intangibles. You cannot really put a finger on it, but you know when someone has it. If you look at all the great quarterbacks in the NFL, they have the ability to give their team hope and make plays when they’re needed most. 

You have proven during the past few weeks you have the resilience, mental toughness and ability to play with a quiet mind to get the job done.

On this fourth down call above, you throw a strike by allowing your receiver to use his catch radius to make the play for a first down. 

On this third-and-14 play above, with a defender wrapped around your legs, you make another clutch throw for a first down from the right hash.

Last week against Michigan, you showed the ability to slow the game down and see the field (above). You identified the cornerback blitz and completed the ball accurately to wide receiver No. 7 for an explosive play and a first down to the Michigan 18-yard line. 

Lastly, on third-and-8 from your own 24, you were clutch again making one of the biggest plays in your college career (above). You avoid a sack, circumvent the defender and deliver to Quentin Johnson for a 76-yard touchdown with a Michigan defender in your face. Outstanding.

Max, let me close by congratulating you once again on a tremendous career and season as you look to Monday Night’s National Championship game. In 1983, as the QB coach for the University of Miami Hurricanes, we played in the National Championship game against a three-touchdown favorite University of Nebraska powerhouse.

Nobody, except those coaches and players in our locker room gave us a chance. At the end of the night, we were National Champions. This is one of many precedents, but it’s one that I lived. Take care of the football, be disciplined in the pocket, and use those legs to demoralize the defense when possible. Good luck.

With respect and humility,

Marc Trestman

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