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Three areas TCU's offense must improve under Sonny Cumbie

After a 6-7 season in which TCU averaged 31 points per game, 11 fewer than the year before, changes on offense felt inevitable. Sonny Cumbie is taking over as play-caller after his co-OC Doug Meacham left for Kansas, which begs the question: How different do the Horned Frogs want to look going forward?

"The offense is not going to change, but we got to get better," Cumbie said in a recent Q&A with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "We've got to figure out what we’re good at and play to our strengths. That's the biggest thing I see."

With that in mind, here are three potential areas of improvement for TCU's offense going into 2017.

Third downs

Gary Patterson and his players talked at the end of the season about needing to step up when times are tough, and their third-down inefficiency was a fine example.

Kenny Hill dropped back to pass on third down a total of 133 times this season and picked up a first down through the air only 40 times. He converted on 18 of his 36 third-down runs. Only two of his 14 passing TDs came in third-down situations.

That's why TCU ended up finishing No. 8 in the Big 12 in third-down conversions at 40 percent. It's not entirely on Hill. Third downs are dictated by what you're accomplishing on first and second down. The Horned Frogs faced nearly twice as many third-and-long (7 or more yards) situations as third-and-short (3 or less).

And by the way, this is not really a new flaw. During Trevone Boykin's two stellar seasons, TCU converted 42 percent of its third downs and only 35 percent when throwing the ball. So it's fair to wonder what role play-calling has played in this.

Still, Hill's decision-making in these pressure downs must improve. He could use more help from playmakers around him, and we'll get to them. It's on Cumbie to figure out reliable solutions for these woes.

Run game

You've got to be able to run the ball. Patterson said so repeatedly late in the season. With Meacham in charge of play-calling, TCU threw the ball on 54 percent of all plays in 2016, the third-highest rate in the Big 12 behind Texas Tech and Kansas.

The Frogs passed on 48 percent of first downs, the second-highest rate for a TCU team in the past decade behind only the 4-8 season in 2013 -- the one that prompted the offensive makeover. The Horned Frogs finished No. 8 in the conference in rushing attempts per game.

When they did run, they didn't get enough help up front. According to Pro Football Focus, TCU's offensive line graded out No. 1 on the conference in pass blocking and second-worst in run blocking. In PFF's grading system, not one starter on TCU's line graded at 50.0 or better in run blocking.

Kyle Hicks and the running backs were still the most reliable part of a TCU offense that gained 5.2 yards per rush (No. 3 in the Big 12) and picked up at least 5 yards on a league-best 46 percent of their attempts. So you can see why this frustrated Patterson, and why he's reportedly bringing in a new offensive line coach in Chris Thomsen.

Will Cumbie's directive as play-caller be to shift back to a run-first philosophy? With Hicks and a lot of talented backs returning, that would make sense.

Wide receivers

We addressed this group earlier today on the Big 12 blog by looking at the three very exciting freshmen coming in: ESPN 300 receivers Jalen Reagor and Omar Manning plus four-star athlete Kenedy Snell. Those rookies will get a shot early on because the rest of TCU's receiving corps has a lot to prove this offseason.

Drops were frequently a problem for the receivers throughout 2016. Their drop rate on third downs, for example, ranked second-worst in the Big 12.

You never really knew what you'd get from this group on a weekly basis, especially when KaVontae Turpin was sidelined with his PCL injury. The big downfield shots were a key component of the Boykin-led offense, and Hill averaged fewer than 3 completions of 20-plus yards per game.

The easiest explanation last season was that TCU missed Josh Doctson, a superstar of a go-to guy who raised the collective play of the group. Well, Doctson is long gone now. When five of your top eight returning wide receivers are going to be seniors, there's no time for excuses. Those veterans need to bring it in 2017.