It wasn’t likely. Then it seemed impossible. Hope revived. Then it was gone. I’m not writing the beginning of a tear-jerking eulogy but obliquely describing Saturday night’s nationally televised scrap with the ninth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners. There are no moral victories in the business of big-time college football, so we’ll call it an encouraging foreshadowing for future seasons. The Horned Frogs started poorly. Actually, I could smell the purple and white stench wafting through Funkytown’s night air all the way from Norman. Offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie’s unit managed negative-three yards through their first four possessions. This seems like a mathematical impossibility if you didn’t watch the game. If you did, it felt worse than that. Adding insult to ineptitude, the OU offense chunked their way down the field for three consecutive touchdowns thanks to the running of senior Heisman-hopeful Jalen Hurts (No. 1) and sophomore running back Kennedy Brooks (No. 26). The remainder seemed bleak enough to consider changing the channel to watch PAC-10 football. Yes, it was that awful. Then, like so many times this season, TCU quarterback Max Duggan (No. 15) started running. Duggan’s legs were the only appreciable offense for his Frogs throughout the game, but it was enough to help them start clawing their way back. Mad Max completed only seven passes against Oklahoma but led the team in rushing for the fourth time this season. Cumbie’s unit managed a laughable 204 yards on the night and 17 points, horrid by most any metric. This game flipped because of head coach Gary Patterson’s defense.
Energized by TCU’s first positive offensive possession, sophomore safety Trevon Moehrig (No. 7) used his helmet to hammer the ball away from an Okie receiver and breathe new excitement into the offensive Frogs, who parlayed excellent field position into a Jonathan Song (No. 46) field goal. This game looked like it might be 80-0 Sooners when the first quarter ended, but only 11 points separated the interstate rivals at halftime. OU came out of the locker room only to be stopped on downs by Frog standout linebacker Garret Wallow (No. 30), whose heroics allowed Duggan to lead his crew for their second and last offensive touchdown. Okie coach Lincoln Riley answered by calling a six-play 66-yard drive of exclusively Hurts and Brooks rushes, resulting in a touchdown and a game that felt out of reach again. A punt and another Sooner drive deep into purple territory carried the feelings of a knockout punch when senior safety Vernon Scott (No. 26) nabbed Hurts’ endzone-bound pass and returned the ball 98-yards along with a convoy of hopping Frogs alongside him for a touchdown to trail by only four points. Riley, shaken by the interception, seemed content to let his senior QB run the ball repeatedly. Hurts eventually broke into the secondary and looked to be home free for a score when freshman safety Nook Bradford (No. 28) exploded into Hurts’ blindspot and pick-pocketed the football for another forced turnover. Sadly, Cumbie’s maligned offense could make no use of the possession and punted again. Patterson’s defense wasn’t finished and stopped the Sooner stampede on fourth-and-short again. Duggan, needing a touchdown, drove the ball to the Oklahoma 40-yard-line before tossing a desperation interception on fourth down to seal the final score and a 24-28 loss.
TCU’s defense hasn’t changed. This unit composed of five freshmen forced three turnovers and stamped the crimson and cream on downs twice while scoring a touchdown. Riley’s offense had statistically been the best and most productive unit in the country. The Frog receiving corps had two would-have-been touchdown drops that could have changed the game. If either Cumbie’s or Patterson’s units started producing sooner, the result could have been different. Pun intended.
Drive for Six
Friday afternoon’s final regular-season game at the Carter is for all the marbles. Well, a bowl game and a crappy one at that. This team isn’t as bad as their 5-6 record suggests. Every loss has come against a team that has at least been ranked this season. Every loss except Iowa State was by seven points or less. Their victories, excepting Texas Tech, were all by double digits. West Virginia has only four wins on the season and no chance at bowl eligibility. Their offense has dropped off significantly since former coach Dana Holgorsen parted ways for Houston. They’re as winnable a conference match-up as the Frogs have enjoyed since Kansas came to town. Cumbie needs to establish the jet and jolt combo of Darius Anderson (No. 6) and Sewo Olonilua (No. 33) early. He owes it to these seniors to ride them to victory and one last bowl-swag bag and appearance as Horned Frogs in a season when they were mostly forgotten in favor of a C-minus passing attack.