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Returning quarterback Max Duggan (left) is back from a heart procedure, but returning backup Matthew Downing (right) has been named the starter for TCU’s home tilt with ISU on Saturday. Courtesy TCU Athletics

Football is back! Alright, everyone. Calm down. I’m not yelling. You’re yelling! I’m not here to be a buzzkill, maybe a little, but as Funkytown football fanatics we must quell our excitement and, more importantly, our expectations as the Frogs prepare to face the Cyclones from Iowa State in their first contest of the season.

No teams are themselves yet. Preseason routines and practice schedules have been thrown out and trampled under grass cleats to accommodate a season that has seemed more on again and off again than most undergraduate relationships. TCU’s reclaiming of the Iron Skillet against D-town’s ponies had to be postponed (fancy word for “canceled”) because of escalating COVID-19 cases at TCU and within the football program itself. The meeting would have been the 100th time the teams played, but instead it left the purple posse without any warmup games before diving horns first into conference play. Mustang faithful rattled their reins toward the Frogs, suggesting they were scared of the Ponies, their chiding dissipated the next week when SMU outlasted the mighty Texas State Bobcats by only a touchdown while surrendering more than 400 yards to their Sun Belt Conference opponent. The annual yuppie throwdown will probably have to wait until next season.

Enter: Iowa State. If the Cardinal and Gold aren’t striking their normal level of fear, it’s likely because of their week-one flub against Louisiana-Lafayette, where they were effectively trounced by two scores on their home field while holding a Top 25 ranking. It’s hard to delete that image from our lizard brains, but it shouldn’t provide any confidence. ISU has a loss, and if we as a country have learned anything from corn farmers, it’s that even factors like supply and demand don’t apply to them. They’ll do what they must to survive. Their game served as a rust buster, and Coach Gary Patterson’s Frogs won’t have that luxury. All those early season butterflies are usually squashed against the South-Central Louisiana State University Muddogs or a comparable team. Junior quarterback Brock Purdy (#15) has beaten Patterson’s boys more often than he’s lost. ISU’s QB orchestrated the most lopsided Cyclone victory ever suffered by TCU last season by 25 points in Ames. Iowa State is still sporting a balanced offense in which they run and pass equally as often. Purdy himself has a knack for calling his own number, especially in third-down situations. Corn-fed receivers keep his throws gobbled up. They aren’t the speediest, but his two outside catchers are well above 6-foot tall and his rangy 6’7’’ tight end is also a favorite for mid-range throws. Purdy is a talented enough runner to keep defensive ends from pursuing deep-pocket angles while forcing them to keep edge containment. This means TCU’s defensive tackles and linebackers will be tasked with providing a pass rush and pressuring Purdy’s pocket.

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Our own signal caller’s fate is not set in stone. Sophomore firecracker Max Duggan suffered growing pains but, all things considered, performed admirably in his freshman season. The position seemed secure until a precautionary COVID-related health screening uncovered a pre-existing heart condition that Duggan was born with. Doctors declared him indefinitely sidelined while he underwent a procedure to safeguard his health. The full nature of Duggan’s condition hasn’t been revealed, but on Monday it was reported that Duggan has been cleared to return to football-related action. His return is almost the only familiarity in this Jalen Reagor- and Darius Anderson-less offense. Duggan may not even take the first snap. Sophomore Matthew Downing (#17) has been in game-prep mode for several weeks and could conceivably play as well. Downing transferred from the University of Georgia before last season and saw action in four games as a Bulldog while maintaining his redshirt status. We’re not likely to know who’ll be in the shotgun until the Frog offense hops to their no huddle for the first time.

Despite unknowns on offense, the purple defense looks as steadfast as normal. Senior Garrett Wallow (#30) is the man in the middle and will have approximately eleventy-billion tackles as he’s one of the fastest men at any position even though he technically plays linebacker. Junior Trevon Moehrig (#7) is the most acclaimed of Patterson’s three-safety system and should add to the struggles Purdy experienced against the Ragin Cajuns two weeks ago.

The best advice I can bestow upon Frog fans is to reserve judgment and strap in for what is sure to be an ugly first game. The offensive skill players are young and inexperienced, and game speed can’t be mimicked in practice. Iowa State has never bested Patterson’s posse twice in a row, but these games are classically one-possession contests. We should know much more regarding the true flavor of this team one week from now when we’re preparing to travel to Austin for an early bout with those other Horns.

 

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