When you lose, don’t lose the lesson. I’m reasonably sure the Dalai Lama didn’t have Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs in mind when he originally uttered these sage words. However, the advice is especially applicable to our Toads after their competitive beatdown on Saturday night on the wrong side of the Red River.
TCU was never in a good position to win this game. Patterson revealed during the week that the foot injury to star running back Zach Evans (#6) would preclude him from dressing against the Sooners. Junior quarterback Max Duggan (#15) was fighting through the pain of a broken bone in his foot and was questionable to play. Adding these injuries to the numerous deletions on the defensive side meant our already struggling team was even further buried against the odds of winning against OU for the first time since 2014 or pulling their first upset in Norman since 2005.
Last week I stated confidently that TCU wouldn’t be able to slow the Sooner attack, but I whiffed on how. OU running back Kennedy Brooks (#23) quietly accumulated his typical total of around 150 yards — as he’s done twice before — against Patterson’s beleaguered rushing defense, but the real surprise was the true coming out party for Caleb Williams (#13), who masqueraded as a multi-year starter the entire game. Williams sliced, diced, and sprinted through TCU’s secondary. Despite attempting only 23 passes, the Spencer Rattler killer made his entire performance seem effortless as he bullseyed crimson and cream receivers time and again on his way to four touchdowns. The freshman quarterback shouldn’t be too worried about Kansas next week, but he’ll stay busy inking NIL deals on the heels of his Christendom to King of Oklahoma.
The most significant takeaway — for Funkytowners — was the Horned Frog offense. We learned that whether Evans is on the field or not, they’re more than capable of fireworks. Saturday proved a career performance for Duggan through the air. The hobbled ginger connected on 20 of 30 passes for nearly 350 yards and four touchdowns. For all of the grandstanding about Williams which is forthcoming — there’ll be plenty, and it’s justified — Frog receiver Quentin Johnston (#1) can reminisce on the majestic stage when he and Duggan solidified their connection that Frog fans have been longing for. Johnston terrorized the Sooner secondary to the tune of seven receptions for 185 yards and three touchdowns. Almost every score occurred above the helmet of an Okie cornerback as he leapt into the stratosphere with his rangy 6-foot-4 frame and snagged 50/50 passes. The sophomore from Temple literally wrestled the ball out of a cornerback’s two-handed grasp for his final score, a ball that clearly would’ve been intercepted.
With Evans out and the capable Kendre Miller (#33) seeming hurt against a Sooner defense who for all of their faults — and there are many — defend the rush well, Doug Meacham and Jerry Kill were forced to open up the playbook to Duggan to provide any chance to win. Mad Max hurled the ball with abandon deep into the field more times than the rest of this season combined, because there was no alternative. The Frog receiving corps, who we heralded as the most physically imposing in school history, finally performed true to their recruiting hype. If you didn’t watch this game, it felt closer than the box score indicates. The Sooners racked up two touchdowns before most fans could crack their second beer, but the Frogs never quit. Despite faltering early, Duggan and disciples rallied to a four-point lead that held until seconds before the intermission. A 21-point third quarter by OU dashed a possible comeback, despite TCU consistently scoring and generally remaining a nuisance to the Sooner defense.
Head coach Lincoln Riley possesses another legitimate Heisman Trophy contender in Williams, and all he had to do was fall 21 points behind Texas and bench his pre-season Heisman Trophy frontrunner. The Sooners seem revived and akin to their teams of old. Riley’s high-powered offense is in excellent position to run the table for the remainder of conference play before losing in the first round of the College Football Playoff.
For the Frogs, the impetus is now on the offensive coaching staff to incorporate all the different ways TCU has been partially successful during losses and try to amalgamate them into a winning performance while hosting a Mountaineers squad who is defensively inclined. Saturday evening’s game against West Virginia is a winnable matchup for Patterson’s boys, who is struggling to defend but are evolving into the offense we all hoped they could be. Personally, I hate referring to something as a “good loss,” but if the lessons from this weekend are carried forward, Saturday night could prove to be the most important game of the season for both the Sooners and Horned Frogs.
Ed. note: This story was updated at 5:08pm 10/20 to correct the offensive coordinator’s name. We regret the error.