As a former football coach, I try to avoid the game of second guessing the much more qualified professionals than me who steer the ship at TCU. But what in the world were Head Coach Gary Patterson and company thinking on Saturday? An uncharacteristically forthcoming Patterson announced last week that sophomore quarterback Matthew Downing (#17) would take the first offensive snap against visiting Iowa State. The announcement was odd in its own right, considering Patterson rarely commits to such decisions before game time. Downing, for all intents and purposes, performed about as well as you could expect for taking his first meaningful snaps at all, especially in the first post-quarantine game against a conference opponent. The first quarter was about as exciting as being lost in a corn maze as neither offense could find rhythm against what are two of the better Big 12 defenses. Downing warmed up with short throws and attempted to morph himself into a running threat on occasion but clearly isn’t. When the first half closed, he had completed more than half of his throws to complement a passing touchdown, but he had also been sacked on repeat by Cyclone senior defensive lineman JaQuan Bailey (#3). Downing’s fatal mistake occurred in the closing minutes of the half when he tried to roll away from a collapsing pocket straight into a blindside strip/sack from Bailey, which ISU cashed in for a quick touchdown and 9-point halftime lead.
I hadn’t abandoned hope of a Frog resurgence, but our retooled offensive line is inexperienced at best and was embarrassed in the first half by a three-man rush. Enter: Max Duggan (#15), the returning starting quarterback fresh from a heart procedure. Duggan needed two offensive series to bust rust before finding receiver Taye Barber (#4) for a 27-yard touchdown pass. Two possessions later, Duggan fired a rocket to his wide open tight end Artayvious Lynn (#88) for a 48-yard touchdown strike. Trailing by two points, Duggan suffered his only real mishap when his toss to Barber was bobbled before being snagged by a sure-handed Iowa State defender inches from the turf. The turnover delivered the Frogs into a must-stop situation that the defense couldn’t handle as the Cyclone running game owned the day, tallying four of the five cardinal and gold touchdown trips. Duggan added his third passing touchdown as the game clock ticked to zero and the Frogs fell by three points.
Patterson and company overcommitted to Downing, who has secured himself the designation of serviceable backup. It’s infuriating they didn’t call on Duggan earlier, the purple and white essentially subsidized their opponent for an entire half of offensive football, something most Iowans are comfortable with. The Frog hogmallys seemed to improve markedly in the second half, but they really didn’t. Duggan’s mobility changed the complexion of ISU’s pass rush. Bailey, who sacked Downing 3.5 times in the first half, didn’t lay his paws on Duggan at all as he dodged, ducked, and dipped to find extra throwing time. The seemingly arbitrary decision to split the game evenly between Downing and Duggan seems solely responsible for a loss that could have been easily avoided. The Frogs have lost to the Cyclones in consecutive years for the first time ever, and a valuable home conference tilt was squandered.
Blaming this loss on one personnel decision is simultaneously correct and lazy. The other half of the offensive malfeasance resides with a running game so inept we shall henceforth refer to them as the lateral running corps. TCU didn’t amass 100 yards as a team, while ISU gathered 155 from their starting back alone. The Frogs outgained the Cyclones by nearly 75 total yards and collected a defensive score while still managing to lose. Passing to help establish a running game, or relying solely on your quarterback to rush, is something losers — see: Texas Tech — do. Offensive Coordinator Sonny Cumbie needs to make a schematic shift to enable and emphasize a successful running game, or it’s going to be a very long Saturday morning in Austin for our Frogs this weekend. The Texas Longhorns present a more offensively dynamic and physically talented team than these corn farmers were. Thankfully, Duggan has good memories of scorching UT last year when they visited the Fort, and the Frogs have beaten the burnt-orange Bevos in six of the eight conference games they’ve met. The Longhorns are fresh from their victory against the Red Raiders in which they erased a two-score deficit in the final minutes before beating the tortilla tossers in overtime. I expect another one-score contest during this game of Horns because it just seems like what the purple posse does now regardless of the opponent.