It was predicted, by me, that TCU’s oft-struggling offense would appear much improved during their visit to the metropolitan tumbleweed capital of Texas. I was right. Luckily for offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie and his quickly improving freshman quarterback, Max Duggan (No. 15), the Red Raiders aren’t and have never been known for playing stout defense.
Cumbie and company accomplished something out of character: They started fast. Duggan willed his comrades through the opening drive with heady running from the ginger gunslinger, motoring for a 26-yard scramble on third and long from midfield. He rambled again from the 20 yard-line for the opening touchdown. Not to be outdone, Coach Gary Patterson’s defense continued the party by picking off Tech’s Jett Duffey (No. 7) to award their counterparts excellent field position leading to the first of many Jonathan Song (No. 46) field goals. Duggan’s arm anchored the following two drives with chunk passes to Taye Barber (No. 4) and Jalen Reagor (No. 1) for an early 24-3 lead. Frog nation was awash with euphoria. Everything was going their way.
And then, it wasn’t. Shoddy tackling from the purple kickoff unit delivered Duffey a mere 37 yards from the end zone. Within four plays, the Red Raiders dashed hopes of Fort Worth’s train chugging away with this game easily. Punts were exchanged before Duffey capitalized on a confused Froggy secondary for a 70-yard touchdown strike. The Red Raiders trailed by eight points courtesy of a shanked extra point attempt. With less than two minutes left in the half, Cumbie’s offense deked and dunked their way to Tech’s 11 yard-line only to be stymied by the clock and the decision to gamble for seven points or use Song’s almost automatic leg for three. Patterson chose the latter and contentedly watched the bands play leading 27-16.
The third quarter reeked of earlier season failures. The offense couldn’t sustain a meaningful drive. Defensive calls misfired, allowing Duffey to bulls-eye receivers skipping deep behind safety coverage for lackadaisical catches yielding two additional touchdowns. Multiple failed conversion attempts left the Lubbockites clinging to a single-digit lead with little signs of life from TCU’s offense save for a long drive for another field goal at the beginning of the fourth frame to reclaim a two-point advantage. The lead ping-ponged twice more as each side leaned on their kickers. Duffey took the ball with more than two minutes remaining trailing by two. The situation emitted the all-too-familiar feeling that things were about to turn against our boys. Mercifully, a first-play wide-receiver screen was stripped to the turf and recovered in the warm embrace of TCU safety Trevon Moehrig (No. 7) to secure a victory formation drive and win. The result continues a now five-year tradition of the road team claiming this match-up.
Duggan took an under-center snap in this game. It was only once and on a fourth-and-short play. The failures suffered near the goal line against Baylor obviously lit a fire under Cumbie, who needed a short-yardage option that didn’t include starting four yards deep in the backfield. Purple receivers played as a revived unit after last week’s field-goal fest. Barber thrilled with multiple circus catches and finished with more than 100 yards. Reagor wasn’t far behind. Duggan, in addition to finishing with the second-most rushing yards, exploded with 323 passing yards and two touchdowns with zero interceptions. The frosh completed multiple passes to seven separate receivers, and his legs are a not-so-secret match-up problem for defensive coordinators. Song is automatic and has missed only one kick this season. He nailed four three-pointers on Saturday and is the least dramatic part of an offense that could send the healthiest fan running for the baby aspirin.
Drive for Six
A bowl game seems attainable for this group of mostly freshmen Frogs. The Sooners and Mountaineers remain, the latter of which is winnable even with a shoddy performance. OU is coming off an unlikely come-from-behind victory in Waco after the crimson-and-cream’s wheels fell off their covered wagon during the first half. Patterson’s secondary was embarrassingly out of position multiple times against Tech’s passing attack. Star cornerback Jeff Gladney (No. 12) was ejected in the third quarter for targeting after mollywhopping a Red Raider so hard my television went out. Gladney is the nerve center of the secondary, and his absence was immediately obvious. The senior won’t be available until the second half against the Sooners, thanks to the second-half exit, and the young’uns will do their darndest to hold it together against Oklahoma’s vaunted passing attack. I’m afraid Fort Worth’s finest could execute their best game plan in Norman and still come up short. Still, a bowl game after the trials of this season will and should be considered a positive result if they make it after a victory against West Virginia in the final week.