Two of the more polarizing figures in recent Arkansas football history have teamed up to lead TCU’s offense in 2023.
Not only did Kendal Briles leave the Razorbacks to become the Horned Frogs’ offensive coordinator this offseason, but Chandler Morris – the son of former head coach Chad Morris – is set to take over as their starting quarterback.
TCU may not be on Arkansas’ schedule this season, but the presence of Briles and Morris will make the Horned Frogs appointment television in the Natural State – even if only for hate-watching purposes.
Both of them have huge shoes to fill and, fairly (Briles) or not (Morris), it’s a safe bet that most Arkansas football fans will be rooting for them to fail nearly as hard as they root for the Razorbacks to win this season.
Revisiting the Chandler Morris Drama
Before it all came crashing down at the hands of a historically dominant Georgia team in the national championship game, TCU football was one of the best stories of 2022.
Picked to finish seventh in the Big 12, quarterback Max Duggan’s gutsy play led the Horned Frogs to a surprising College Football Playoff appearance and helped him finish runner-up for the Heisman Trophy.
What those outside of Fort Worth may forget, though, is the fact that Duggan didn’t open the season as the starter. He was thrust into that job only because of an injury to the quarterback about whom head coach Sonny Dykes said won the battle “by a mile” in the preseason.
That was none other than Chandler Morris, a one-time Arkansas commit and the son Chad Morris infamously flew off to watch every Friday night during his tenure as the Razorbacks’ head coach.
Back in 2019, Arkansas football fans were split on their opinion of Chandler. He had legitimate bonafides as a state champion quarterback who put up big numbers at Texas powerhouse Highland Park and earned multiple Power Five offers, but some couldn’t get over what they perceived as nepotism.
Morris understood that the widespread perception was that he would be considered a shoe-in for the Razorbacks and, for a while, he chafed at that. In fact, it got to the point that Chandler Morris considered publicly declaring he wouldn’t commit to Arkansas. “I really think Chandler was anti-Arkansas, because he was like ‘That’s what everybody thinks I’m going to do!’” recalled Paula Morris, Chandler’s mother, to Sports Illustrated.
Paula, for her part, also came to think it wouldn’t be a good idea for Chandler to play for his own father, according to Sports Illustrated. But a night of prayer changed that and Morris committed to his father’s program over Clemson and Oklahoma.
Still, at the time, there was a segment of the Arkansas football fanbase that preferred Jacolby Criswell, a four-star prospect out of Morrilton, as Arkansas’ quarterback in the 2020 class. That became yet another hot-button topic marring the Chad Morris era.
Few tears were shed when, two days after his father was fired following an embarrassing loss to Western Kentucky, Chandler Morris announced his de-commitment.
The Domino Effect with Arkansas Football
It seemed like Arkansas came out ahead in the whole deal because it ended up landing Malik Hornsby, a lightning-quick four-star quarterback from Texas who was ranked as a top-100 overall recruit by 247Sports.
Even when Chandler Morris signed with Oklahoma, most fans didn’t bat an eye because he was seen as a gap-year quarterback sandwiched between a pair of No. 1 quarterbacks in Spencer Rattler (2019) and Caleb Williams (2021). It seemed as if he was destined to be a career backup for the Sooners.
That’s not exactly how it’s all unfolded, though. Both Hornsby and Morris have utilized the transfer portal and both quarterbacks have seen only spot duty because of injuries. That’s where the similarities end.
Morris spent just one year at Oklahoma before transferring to TCU. A backup in his first season with the Horned Frogs, he was forced to start against No. 14 Baylor and led them to a 30-28 upset win by completing 29 of 41 passes (70.7%) for 461 yards and two touchdowns, plus rushing for another 70 yards and a score. His 531 yards of offense might have kept the Bears out of the College Football Playoffs in 2021.
Hornsby never had that kind of success filling in for KJ Jefferson. In fact, he was beaten out by a walk-on transfer for the backup job and moved to wide receiver at one point. This offseason, he transferred to Texas State – where he failed to secure the starting job this spring.
While he battles Auburn transfer TJ Finley, whom the Bobcats brought in after spring ball, Morris enters the fall as TCU’s presumed starter – a role he had until hurting his knee in last year’s opener. With Duggan off to the NFL, he’ll get a chance to not only lose his Wally Pipp designation, but become one of college football’s top breakout players.
It wasn’t his fault that Chad Morris failed spectacularly in Fayetteville or even that his father left the team on Friday nights to watch him play. Still, every touchdown pass Chandler Morris throws in 2023 will probably annoy Arkansas fans – especially if television broadcasts get in the habit of showing his father, who will likely be watching him from the stands again because he’s no longer listed as a senior offensive analyst at South Florida.
Then There’s Kendal Briles
As if that isn’t enough, those touchdowns will be the result of plays called by none other than Kendal Briles. After three seasons with the Razorbacks, he’s taking the reins of arguably the most explosive offense in the country.
Last season, under 2022 Broyles Award winner Garrett Riley, TCU’s offense produced 38.8 points on 455.0 yards per game. It was the ninth-best scoring offense in the FBS and led all teams with 22 plays of at least 50 yards.
Riley left Fort Worth this offseason to take the same position at Clemson, opening the door for Sonny Dykes – who, coincidentally, was Chad Morris’ successor at SMU – to pursue Briles. Despite him publicly committing to another season with the Razorbacks, he took the opportunity with the Horned Frogs.
It was a move celebrated by some, as his sometimes head-scratching play calls rubbed a segment of the fanbase wrong, but the data shows Briles was actually a very good – and borderline great – offensive coordinator for the Razorbacks.
After averaging only 21.5 points over the previous two seasons, Briles helped Arkansas put up 25.7 points per game his first season running the offense – against a 10-game, all-SEC schedule without the benefit of spring ball to install the offense and while breaking in a brand new quarterback coming off a significant injury in Feleipe Franks.
The Razorbacks averaged 30.9 points on 441.7 yards in 2021 — their best marks since 2015 — and then improved those numbers to 32.5 points on 471.4 yards last year, the latter of which ranks second in UA history behind only the 2010 offense led by Bobby Petrino and Ryan Mallett.
Those figures would have also been significantly better had quarterback KJ Jefferson stayed healthy all year. Throw out the two games he missed and the Liberty game, when he was clearly hobbled, and Arkansas averaged 37.7 points and 496.8 yards. Both of those would have been school records and ranked in the top 12 nationally.
With that context, it isn’t too much of a stretch to think Briles will have immediate success at TCU – even though the Horned Frogs are breaking in a lot of new pieces on offense.
In addition to Heisman runner-up Max Duggan, TCU also must replace running back Kendre Miller and its top three wide receivers: Quentin Johnston, Derius Davis and Taye Barber. However, it does return Savion Williams – another former Arkansas commit in the 2020 class who bailed after the firing of Chad Morris – and added several pass catchers from the transfer portal.
Much to the chagrin of Arkansas football fans, Briles will probably have success running the Horned Frogs’ offense in 2023 and, unlike Chandler Morris, deserves any and all ire directed his way.
Whether the rumors of him playing Sam Pittman for a raise and being told to kick rocks are true or not, Briles definitely backed out of returning after publicly saying he would. That likely soured anyone who still had a positive view of him.
How it Impacts Arkansas Football
Seeing Chandler Morris go elsewhere and have success doesn’t hurt too bad for Arkansas football fans because of the success of KJ Jefferson.
Had things not played out the way they did, who knows if Jefferson would be returning to the Razorbacks in 2023 as arguably the best quarterback in the SEC.
Even though it was too late for Sam Pittman to flip Jacolby Criswell in the 2020 class, the relationship they formed helped Arkansas land him via the transfer portal this offseason when it became clear that Malik Hornsby wouldn’t pan out.
Criswell is set to be the backup this year and may be the starter of the future, given the coaching staff’s confidence they can win a game in the event of an injury to Jefferson.
However, for Arkansas football fans to truly not care and ignore what Kendal Briles and Morris do at TCU, things must go smoothly for new offensive coordinator Dan Enos.
If his pro-style offense can lead to Jefferson making the necessary improvements to become an All-SEC quarterback and NFL Draft pick, the Razorbacks will probably win enough games to keep the fanbase happy. If they struggle, though, what happens with the Horned Frogs will only loom as more ammunition for disgruntled fans.
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