Let’s be clear. This Horned Frogs season is a bust. Expectations included a return to the Big 12 Championship game and a run at the College Football Playoff. Injuries, inexperience, and regular ol’ bad luck relegated the season as a drive for six wins to make a bowl game. After TCU’s loss to the Kansas Jayhawks at the end of October, six wins seemed unlikely. Beating Baylor last week gave the Frogs one do-or-die chance to send the seniors to a bowl game. They needed to beat the Cowboys from Oklahoma State under the lights at Amon G. Carter. A busted season didn’t deter the team from concluding with their best conference performance this year.
Not everything went the way of the Frog early on. Quarterback Grayson Muehlstein, a senior starting for the first time, fumbled on the opening possession and gave the prolific Cowboys offense a short field. Patterson’s defense immediately proved they came to dominate, forcing their Okie opponent to settle for three points. That field goal was the only score Coach Patterson’s defense would surrender until 16 minutes remained in the game. The purple secondary contested passes with aggression throughout the night. Cowboy quarterback Taylor Cornelius enjoyed excellent protection from his offensive line but continually lacked open receivers. The Frog defense found the scoreboard after halftime by hustling to a dropped backwards pass and returning it for a touchdown. Oklahoma State finally began rolling in the fourth quarter and added three touchdowns while furiously trying to play catch-up and finished with 24 points – well below their season average of 40.
Where will the Froggies go a-bowlin? Allow me to speculate. The official announcement will occur on Dec 2, but it was impossible not to think of the Bourbon Bowl from the Adam Sandler movie The Waterboy while watching TCU’s offense this week. Star receiver Jalen Reagor lined up everywhere: wideout, slot, running back, and even quarterback throughout this game. Somewhere in the distance, I imagined commentator Dan Fouts repeatedly telling partner Brent Musburger, “Last game of the year, Brent, can’t hold anything back now.” TCU offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie unapologetically force-fed Reagor the ball from every position on the field. Reagor grabbed the first offensive touchdown of the game, a 6-yard-pass from Muehlstein in the second quarter. Reagor struck again shortly after the Frog defense scored, when Cumbie moved him to running back. Jalen the Juggernaut (my new nickname for this badass) took a simple handoff and burned the orange onlookers for an 83-yard sprint to paydirt. The sophomore receiver secured a spot in TCU record books by eclipsing former Frog receiver and current Washington Redskin Josh Doctson by logging a receiving score in seven consecutive games. Reagor was responsible for every touchdown by the offense for 15 straight quarters. The only non-Reagor scoring trip in the final four games came in the fourth quarter when Muehlstein found freshman receiver Derius Davis alone in the end zone for a 24-yard strike.
Mule Keeps Pulling
Muehlstein securely and efficiently moved the offense against the Cowboys. With the exception of the opening fumble, the offense didn’t turn the ball over. The senior showed poise and confidence while completing 16 of 25 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He also ran the ball 13 times for 47 yards and kept the chains moving by scrambling for tough yardage. It’s obvious that his coaches and teammates believe in the Mule and are grateful he stuck around without any assurance of getting meaningful snaps at TCU. There’s no indication starting quarterback Shawn Robinson or backup Michael Collins will be available for the bowl game. Muehlstein’s short playing career is full of highlights in must-win games. A month of preparation with Cumbie will surely bring needed improvement to an offense that underachieved during conference play.
Moral victories don’t count for squat at the Big 12 level. This business is win or go home. The countless injuries and bad bounces the Frogs endured this season are excuses, albeit valid ones. The real takeaway from the Baylor bash and the Cowboy clash? Patterson’s team fights and can find ways to win even when they are expected to wilt. A bowl game is necessary practice and publicity for a program that is growing its players. TCU will be better next year. These last two games were an essential part of their quest to be relevant again. Just ask Kliff Kingsbury. Making a bowl matters.