The Frogs were going on a bear hunt, they were going to win a big one, what a beautiful day. They weren’t scared … oh, oh, they should’ve been. TCU hosted the Golden Bears from Cal on Saturday, and my warning not to be too bullish on the Horned Frogs after Week 1 should have been ringing in your ears after the first quarter. Fort Worth fanatics should be sending thank-you cards to the staff of Cal for had they been even the least bit competent in game management, Coach Gary Patterson and company would have lost.
Cal drove the length of the field in their opening possession before surrendering the ball on downs at the Frog seven yard-line. Quarterback Max Duggan (#15) and company took over, deep in their own territory, and gained basically nothing before punting the ball back. A pass interference, two short rushes, and a 54-yard bomb later and Cal was leading 6-0. The blue and gold attempted a two-point conversion, which failed — thank you, mismanagement. Both sides looked completely inept on offense, as both are known to do, for the next four series. Duggan, working on his next three-and-out, then managed to stare down his receiver with such great ineptitude a Bear defender picked off his pass to the flat and ran it to the cave. The Golden Bears then failed an additional two-point conversion, and Patterson found himself down 0-12 in the second quarter. If California’s coaches were of sound decision making at all, it should have been 0-17.
Mercifully, Doug Meacham’s offensive unit began to Riff Ram their way down the field. The next drive was a running affair between highly recruited running back Zack Evans (#6) and Duggan. Despite the excitement of finally gracing the scoreboard, Cal responded in kind with a two-play 75-yard scoring drive through the air. Evans, who after Saturday seems like he’s earned himself the feature-back position, electrified the crowd with a 55-yard touchdown sprint before the half to bring TCU within five points.
The third quarter began with an extended Frog drive ending with a score and the first purple lead of the game. Patterson’s defense relinquished that advantage only once on a drive fraught with bonehead penalties and Cal quarterback Chase Garbers (#7) using his legs to expose the horned secondary. Duggan and company answered immediately and built distance to finish with a 34-32 victory. Patterson improves his spotless record against the PAC 12 to 8-0 in TCU’s second-ever meeting with the Golden Bears.
For as much as fans didn’t learn about the Frogs last week, I’m not sure we can be elated about what we found out. It seems that Duggan may never be a reliable passer. Meacham’s system tries to set him up for easy throws into the flat, but his field vision — as we saw with the Cal defender running the wrong way with the ball — leaves much to be desired. More disturbingly, this might be one of those “off years” for the defense. The D will still be above average compared to most but lackluster by Patterson’s standards. Garbers didn’t complete an outstanding quantity of passes — 16 of 27 — but punched the secondary for 309 yards and chunk plays primarily to receiver Trevon Clark (#80), who caught two balls for 122 yards.
Garbers’ production can’t be entirely blamed on safeties and corners because he had a pocket clean enough to Tweet from most of the afternoon. TCU logged only two sacks, none of them coming from linemen, and two-and-a-half tackles for loss while producing zero turnovers. For a Patterson defense, against a power-five squad who lost to group-of-five Nevada last week, that is shocking.
Saturday wasn’t all doom and gloom. The Frogs won, which can’t be overlooked, even if they were gifted five points by ridiculous coaching decisions. Evans is the real deal. The sophomore ran the rock 22 times for 190 yards, and Duggan scampered for 71 to complement him.
Patterson has lots to critique while the Frogs take an early bye this coming weekend to prepare for SMU in the 100th battle for the Iron Skillet. This matchup terrifies me, and Coach Sonny Dykes should be downright orgasmic when he looks at this game film with the options he has to fling the ball downfield should TCU’s defensive line fail to produce pressure. The Ponies have played only twice but have amassed 91 points on their opponents and will be eager to retain their trophy. Overall, it seems positive that the PAC 12 cancelled all non-conference games last season, because I do not want to go on a bear hunt again.