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JD Spielman’s opening kickoff return and lone touchdown reception kept TCU’s offense competitive in a close loss against UT on Saturday. Courtesy TCU Athletics

That I shall say good night till it be morrow, parting is such sweet sorrow. The truth is, morrow may never come. I was genuinely melancholy after watching TCU lose at home by five points to the Texas Longhorns, and it had nothing to do with the score. Sure, it would have been nice for the 10th consecutive conference meeting between these I-35 rivals to finish with an eighth Frog victory, but three ghastly turnovers ensured it wasn’t the case. The emptiness I’m experiencing should be felt throughout the state as UT and TCU alums bid adieu to what has been a fantastic series between two teams who have genuinely grown to hate one another.

 

Saturday’s game was simply fun and everything college football should be. Five lead changes in the first half kept each fanbase estranged from comfort. Chippy players — on both sides — utilized every opportunity to talk trash, throw an elbow, or hit after the whistle. The officiating remained busy — 16 combined penalties for 177 yards, many of them personal fouls — as the refs were frantically policing the game from becoming a brawl. It really was a dandy of a 92nd meeting of these subordinate rivals. The energy at Amon G. Carter was so distinctly elevated from SMU a week ago. Both these teams came to play and obviously cared about beating the other, in addition to winning. Neither one is their school’s biggest foe — Texas and OU, who play this Saturday, are undoubtedly tier-one rivals. TCU and Baylor share the same fire because of commonalities: They once shared a city, are both religious institutions, and like UT-OU have met 116 times to date. It doesn’t matter that neither is the other’s arch nemesis. There was palpable hate to spare, and it was glorious.

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Kickoff brought purple cheers as Frog receiver JD Spielman (#10) sprinted for an 87-yard return, followed by Zach Evans (#6) breaking tackles two plays later to find the endzone. The Longhorns’ first offensive possession made it obvious that Coach Steve Sarkisian’s strategy was pounding the ball with Bijan Robinson (#5), as well it should have been. Robinson touched the ball five times in the first series en route to a UT field goal. The Frog offense followed with three plays and a punt, albeit a fantastic one, which pinned quarterback Casey Thompson (#11) and company at their own 1 yard-line. TCU’s defense ransacked the cattle and were ready to receive a punt when disaster struck. Coach Gary Patterson was forced to call a timeout during the punt formation as only nine froggies found their way onto the return unit. As a result, the previous play — a vicious hit separating receiver from ball by safety T.J. Carter (#7) — was reviewed from the booth and ruled targeting. Carter was disqualified from the remainder of the game, which left TCU minus three normally starting safeties, and UT went on to extend the drive all the way to the endzone thanks to runs from Thompson and Robinson. The next offensive series showed promise for TCU as coordinator Doug Meacham finally started to feed Evans as he accumulated 22 yards on three consecutive handoffs. Then Doug felt cute and called an ill-timed reverse that resulted in a bad exchange, a lost fumble, and fantastic Longhorn field possession. TCU’s defense, despite being more shorthanded than ever, stonewalled UT to three yards on the subsequent drive and another field goal. Frog quarterback Max Duggan (#15) and company finally started cooking through the air and scored thanks to finally getting in sync with Quentin Johnston (#1) for a long gain and Spielman for a touchdown resulting in a 14-13 lead. This advantage was shortlived. The Longhorns were ready to give the ball back when Derius Davis (#11) — who had also fumbled during the previous turnover — muffed the punt, and the Longhorns took over on the Frog 9 yard-line. Patterson’s defense, who were maligned last week for their lack of fire, stood tall again and allowed a single yard before another Bevo field goal.

 

I’m not sure if anyone has noticed a trend, but TCU’s defense is continually bailing out their ball-wielding counterparts. By the final gun, TCU’s offense and punt return unit coughed the ball up three times — each of them granting Sarkisian and sons a short field — and each drive concluded via red-zone field goal. Duggan has now fumbled on the first possession of the second half for the second consecutive week, each time when the lead was within a few points. The statistic all the defensive savants will champion is Robinson’s staggering 216 yards from scrimmage. His numbers, while very impressive, are somewhat misleading. Sarkisian committed to feeding his feature back, to the tune of 35 carries. Evans finished with 113 yards on only 15 carries. Then there’s Thompson, who roasted the Red Raiders last week for five touchdowns through the air but only managed one during the fourth quarter against a should-be beleaguered TCU secondary. Thompson also surrendered an interception at the end of the second quarter and completed barely more than half his passes. Duggan was more efficient and racked up better stats than his Texas counterpart on Saturday. Each field general led their offense on a 99-yard drive for a touchdown, but Duggan didn’t require a faux targeting penalty to keep his unit on the field.

 

Aside from the turnover battle, which TCU lost 1-3 on Saturday, mismanagement is killing this offense. Meacham and Jerry Kill just can’t get out of their own way, and by that I mean #6’s way. Give him the damn ball. A lot. Evans entered Saturday with the greatest yards-per-rush average in the nation. There were only four TCU drives — excluding two that ended via fumble — that netted zero points for the Frogs. During the aforementioned drives combined, Evans received one pass target and zero rushes from scrimmage. You can hire all the overpriced analysts and statisticians you want, but underutilizing the best offensive player on your side in this manner is unforgivable.

 

Perhaps as incriminating as the misuse of Evans are the coaching staff’s adjustments after halftime which have proved abysmal. The last two weeks have been marred with devastating turnovers by the offense on their first series out of the locker room, and the third quarter has been, on average, the most lackluster scoring performance for the Frogs week to week. The Cal game contained the lone third-quarter touchdown for the Frogs so far this season, which proves opposing defenses are consistently out-adjusting Meacham and Kill. The purple and white can’t expect to win many games this season if they won’t conform to the part of their game that’s working for them, which is Evans. TCU travels to Lubbock on Saturday to face a vintage Tech team that is light on defense — as proved by UT’s monster 70 points against them — but heavy on their passing game. Patterson’s banged-up secondary needs help from the defensive front to keep Raider quarterback Henry Colombi (#3) in check. Winning under the lights at Tech is never easy, and the Frogs aren’t carrying tremendous momentum into Tortillatown. If the offense can’t sustain early drives, expect a third consecutive loss for the Frogs and the heat around the offensive coaching scheme to increase past a boiling point. I hope Frog Nation enjoyed what was probably the last meeting between the Horns and Horned Frogs for years to come. It was a great series, especially for TCU, while it lasted.

 

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