Four years ago, on a recruiting trip through Texas, Clint Bowen laid his eyes on a rather impressive quarterback prospect from West Mesquite High in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
The kid had promising size — maybe 6 foot 1 at the time. And he was a natural athlete, gifted with electric speed and a Howitzer for a right arm. His name was Trevone Boykin, and Bowen thought he would make a terrific college defensive back.
“To tell you how smart I was,” Bowen said, “I thought he'd be a great safety.”
Four years later, Bowen concedes that he may have missed the mark on Boykin.
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Boykin is not just a starting college quarterback at TCU, he is now a Heisman contender, leading the fifth-ranked Horned Frogs toward a possible berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff. On Saturday, he’ll be back on the field at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, facing off against Bowen’s Kansas defense.
“The guy truly is gifted with his athletic ability, speed, change of direction, all of that,” Bowen said. “He has a cannon for an arm. He drops that thing back and wings it. He's kind of got one of those baseball pitcher wind-ups and lets it go.”
For the Jayhawks, who are coming off an emotional 20-point victory over Iowa State, this is the reward for notching a third conference victory in five seasons. Kansas has emerged from the Big 12 cellar, and now a rising giant awaits. In its third year in the Big 12, TCU has shaken off some early struggles during its first two seasons and now appears poised to claim at least a share of its first Big 12 title. After handling Kansas State 41-20 last week, the Horned Frogs, 8-1 overall and 5-1 in the Big 12, will finish the season against Kansas, Texas and Iowa State.
For TCU, much of the transformation has come on offense, where Boykin, a junior, has flourished under first-year offensive coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, a former gunslinger himself at Texas Tech. TCU ia averaging 47.2 points per game, and Boykin leads the Big 12 in total offense, averaging 359.7 yards per contest. After burning K-State last week, he’s attempting to become just the third FBS quarterback since 2009 to average 300 yards passing and 50 yards rushing per game. The other two? Heisman Trophy winners Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel.
“The kid plays with energy,” Bowen said. “He plays with a spark about him.”
Boykin’s dual-threat skill-set can turn the process of designing an effective defensive scheme into a hazardous exercise. Some teams, Bowen says, have rushed four guys and attempted to build a “four-man fence” around Boykin. Others have rushed three and assigned a “spy” to stay with the TCU quarterback. Each one has pitfalls.
“You've got four guys defending six gaps with a QB like that,” Bowen said. “That gets scary at times, so there are a few different approaches that you have to take.”
For Kansas, the challenge of facing a top-five team at home illustrates some of what Bowen means when he talks about being innovative in scheme and creative in game-planning. From a sheer talent standpoint, the Jayhawks will be at a disadvantage on the offensive and defensive lines. So you have to find ways to give yourself a chance. First priority: Find a way to slow down Boykin.
“You have to have a plan of attack on how to not let him beat you scrambling,” Bowen said. “He converts a lot of third downs by scrambling. It's an issue that he creates for you. In the past we played quarterbacks like this, we were always conscious of making sure we're not leaving people on islands to try to tackle by themselves.”
Injury update — Injured defensive linemen Keon Stowers and Andrew Bolton are expected to return Saturday against TCU, Bowen said on Tuesday. Stowers and Bolton each missed last week’s win over Iowa State.
Bowen added that junior running back De’Andre Mann could potentially play Saturday, while starting guard Ngalu Fusimalohi, who was injured against Iowa State, could be questionable.
If Fusimalohi is unable to play, Kansas will likely turn to true freshman Junior Visinia, a Grandview native who replaced Fusimalohi against Iowa State.