This season sucked. Scratch that. Beating up on the Texas Longhorns is still great fun, but watching the Horned Frogs fail in single-possession slugfests all season is an experience I don’t wish to repeat. Coach Gary Patterson’s underachievers finished their season on Friday by cementing their identity as a team that competed but rarely won. Several positives surfaced as the hometown boys fell to the Mountaineers. Sophomore receiver Taye Barber (No. 4) carried the ball twice – once for a 64-yard jet sweep to out-gain all Horned rushers. Headline receiver Jalen Reagor (No. 1) returned to the spotlight by juking and sprinting for a 70-yard touchdown on a punt return. Patterson’s defense overachieved per usual by picking off West Virginia quarterback Jarret Doege (No. 2) three times. Highlight reel finished. Sonny Cumbie’s offensive unit pieced together 10 first-half points but failed to contribute in the second. Quarterback Max Duggan (No. 15) threw two interceptions – one of them into triple coverage – and completed fewer than half of his 36 attempted passes. For as good as the defense was, they were undisciplined in the worst moments. Ross Blacklock (No. 90) speared Doege with his helmet after a would-have-been incomplete pass and was ejected, extending WVU’s final scoring drive to steal the lead and ultimately the victory. Patterson’s defense graced Cumbie with two additional drives after losing the lead. Duggan, heavily pressured, never found his rhythm to save the game. This familiar Senior Night scenario marked the seventh loss this season and the third occasion in Patterson’s 19-year tenure that TCU football players will simply complete their finals and go home.
I’ll admit it. Friday night – in my leftover turkey-induced stupor – I wanted Cumbie’s head on a spike in my front yard. I restrained myself from writing, suspecting my annoyance would subside over the weekend. TCU dropping six one-possession games this season couldn’t possibly be the fault of just the offense, could it? Now that some time has passed, I still want the spike. The Horned Frog offense has been unwatchable for two consecutive seasons. Hiding behind young players (this season) or injuries (last season) is unacceptable. There are two kinds of coaches – those who craft their gameplan based on the capabilities of their players and those who should be looking for new jobs. Cumbie is the latter. His unit isn’t holding up its side of the team to complement a continually outstanding defense, which has dealt with similar youth and injury problems during the past two seasons. One needs only to rewind to the Baylor and Oklahoma games as case studies in mediocrity. TCU’s offense scored a combined 26 points during regulation against the Bears and Sooners. That’s 3.25 points per quarter. Both games, entirely because of the defense, could still have been won with a late touchdown drive. Duggan, who had been Cumbie’s rushing leader in four games this year, was asked to rush the ball only eight times against West Virginia. The leading rusher on Friday – from a team that had led the conference midseason – was a receiver with two carries. Cumbie needs to be replaced with an adaptable playcaller and athletic developer. No situation is perfect, but great coaches thrive on capitalizing with their players’ strengths while developing skills they lack. Current play-calling force-feeds a philosophy that can be successful but produces nothing when chemistry is absent. It might seem that Duggan is the linchpin but shouldn’t be. Successful collegiate offenses feature receivers running without defenders draped over them. Their pass catchers aren’t better athletes than our purple and white speedsters. Their play designs spring them into open spots allowing passers easy looks. TCU doesn’t have that. Relying on Reagor or Barber to run 30-yard fly patterns hoping to bull’s-eye their outside shoulder is foolhardy and too much to ask of most quarterbacks.
Patterson won’t coach forever. Love or hate him, he’s on par with Alabama’s Nick Saban or Bill Belichick in defensive knowledge and acumen. GP is also known for fierce loyalty to his coaching staff and hasn’t tipped his sweaty visor an inch regarding Cumbie’s removal. He threatened to end a recent press conference if asked, but we know he’s thought about it and is probably thinking harder than ever right now. In the end, he owes it to his players, his fans, and himself to seek a coordinator who can complement his reputation of developing lesser-recruited players and morphing them into draft picks enjoying 11-win seasons.