Horned Frog football accomplished something on Saturday afternoon I wasn’t sure they could: winning after trailing early. In the ups and downs of this tumultuous season, one in which our Frogs are now assured of at least finishing with an even win/loss record and more likely a winning one, Gary Patterson and company haven’t beaten a single opponent while overcoming a significant deficit. The lone exception was their win over the Longhorns in which they trailed by a field goal late in the game and achieved victory thanks to a Bevo goal line fumble. Suffice it to say, when the Oklahoma State Cowboys scored during the Frogs’ opening possession by scooping and scoring a Zach Evans (#6) fumble, I wasn’t overly optimistic about their chances. Two consecutive three-and-outs by TCU’s struggling offense preceded a second Oklahoma State touchdown that buried our Froggers in a 13-0 hole that seemed ironclad based on the effort shown from the good guys in purple to that point.
As during many games this season, I spent much of the first half texting with my Houston-based former TCU roommate regarding the offensive atrocities stinging my eyes and perusing LinkedIn postings for my weekly informational email to offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie. Yet this Saturday’s text conversation was a bit different. We repeatedly acknowledged the tremendous talent contained within the TCU offensive unit: a young but serviceable offensive line, sophomore quarterback who is improving with speed that can’t be taught, a stable of four running backs with different but complementary talents, a tight end in Pro Wells (#81) who has legitimate NFL potential, and outside receivers with athleticism to spare. Sadly, our outlook was still astonishingly grim, because what we saw overshadowing all of those positives was a team that appeared to have no heart. The entire first half was wrought with pitiful execution from the offense, even more so than we’ve come to expect. Mercifully, life shimmered in the murky purple offensive group near the end of the half as Max Duggan (#15) led his squad to within scoring range, only to underthrow a deep right-sideline pass that was easily intercepted at the two yard line. All seemed lost, but TCU’s defense is still one of the best — especially in the secondary, who might have played their most complete game of the season — and delivered their counterparts second and third chances all afternoon. On the following possession, Duggan finally located star returner and receiver Derius Davis (#12) for a long pass near the goal line which Duggan would rush for a short touchdown on the next play. Not to be outdone, the Cowboys drove the ball quickly and managed to add three points as time expired for a 16-7 lead at halftime.
I have the sneaking suspicion that soul searching and screaming motivated jogged memories about how proficiently the purple and white ran the ball against Kansas last week. The opening drive wasn’t a showcase, but 11 plays and only one completed pass were sufficient for the second Frog touchdown of the game. Duggan, attempting his second fourth down and short of the game, needed only one yard to continue the drive, but he sprinted 42 yards and brought his team within one possession of leading. Duggan’s next drive encored the run-heavy style with the addition of one long pass to electrifying freshman Quentin Johnston (#1), who broke free deep in the Okie secondary thanks to excellent protection from the offensive line. This time, Evans took the ball for the short rushing touchdown and the Frogs’ first lead of the day 22-16. A streak of fruitless drives by both teams was broken by OK State quarterback Spencer Sanders (#3) — a Denton-Ryan product — who bombed the ball for a 55-yard touchdown pass and the only notable foible of the Frog secondary on Saturday. Duggan and company found an answer in yet another long pass to Davis, who burned the orange and black for a career-long 71-yard touchdown. Duggan found his other favorite, Johnson, to tack on two points to secure a 29-22 lead with less than eight minutes remaining. Unphased, Sanders and his cowpokes moved the rock steadily through Patterson’s defense to the TCU goal line. A fortunate holding penalty against OSU awarded purple defenders a reprieve leading to a second-and-goal-tip-drill pass for an interception by NFL-bound safety Trevon Moehrig (#7). With barely four minutes remaining, TCU’s victory hung precariously in the balance. Duggan, on a drive dedicated to draining the clock, committed a mortal football sin and allowed Okie State to strip and recover their fourth (you read that right, fourth) forced and recovered fumble of the afternoon. Luckily for Frog faithful, Patterson’s D stood tall again and prevented the Cowboys from scoring during their desperation end zone heave as the final Frog horn blared.
There are many things to unpack from Saturday when Cumbie’s offense performed just well enough to elevate themselves over their second decent team of the season. The Longhorns and Cowboys were the only Frog victories against teams with winning records so far. OSU is the only team Cumbie overcame who scored first. Every other occasion when a team struck first the final tally has gone against the Funkytowners. Duggan is still most dangerous as a running threat. He amassed more than 100 rushing yards, a number his four running backs barely eclipsed together. The sophomore slinger threw for 265 yards (five fewer than his opposing counterpart) but completed less than half of his passes and is still struggling with anything other than flat routes or the occasional deep ball. Big plays on deep passes were the savior for Cumbie’s unit who fumbled five times — losing four of them — and threw an interception. No one, including me, would have believed TCU could turn the ball over five times and win against anyone this season.
Defensively, the secondary clamped down on the orange and black, allowing only the one long touchdown pass from Sanders. The box defense seemed soft at times as run fits broke down, allowing running back Dezmon Jackson (#27) to scamper for 118 yards and a touchdown. The pressure on Sanders also appeared lackadaisical, but the defensive linemen and linebackers did an admirable job of containing the dual-threat QB and preventing damage normally done with his legs. Patterson’s secondary made the defense look good no matter what else happened. The Cowboys completed only 16 of 36 attempted passes, and Moehrig’s interception was truly the difference in sealing this game.
Patterson’s victory will likely cement his team in the fifth place spot in the Big 12 standings to close the season. West Virginia is still within striking distance of supplanting the Frogs but will need to beat Oklahoma in Morgantown, a venue where they’re undefeated this season. It’s probably difficult to understand, but I feel like Saturday’s victory is a short-term win but a long-term loss for the Frogs. Changes are needed. We shouldn’t forget five turnovers and almost two quarters of heartless football because the day went purple’s way. I’m fearful meaningful changes on the coaching staff will require another season. Fifth place feels like a victory. It shouldn’t, when it’s just barely the better side of a completely average season. TCU scheduled a makeup game against Conference USA’s Louisiana Tech Bulldogs for Saturday night at the Carter. I don’t really care about this game, but I’ll watch. Everyone in Frog Nation will. Truthfully, TCU administrators probably scheduled it because they didn’t expect to win the last one.