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Quarterback Chandler Morris was all smiles as he eclipsed Max Duggan’s best career passing performance by more than 100 yards during his first start against Baylor. Courtesy TCU Athletics

Few expected TCU — fresh from the resignation of their veteran head coach — to compete with Baylor on Saturday, let alone beat them. In fact, the entire staff of ESPN’s College Gameday picked the Bears to win easily in Fort Worth. Not that you needed one, but now there’s another reason to ignore anything said, sung, or uttered by Nick Lachey, who was the show’s celebrity — and I use that term loosely — picker. How did TCU, who lost last week during an objectively awful performance against Kansas State, turn everything around in only a week to knock off the white-hot Waco wunderkinds? Answer: addition by subtraction, and I’m not talking about Gary Patterson.

 

As much as I’ve wanted to believe in Max Duggan (#15), he’s been almost entirely ineffective this year. Save for the Oklahoma game, which was still a resounding loss solidified in the third quarter, Duggan hasn’t been able to steadily guide this offense. Sustaining drives has been a chore reserved for the running backs, who are now mostly injured. The upside for Duggan has been his speed and running ability, but a recent injury has forced him to settle for passes and diminished his scampering abilities, leaving his shortcomings on full display.

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When Duggan was deemed unable to play during warmups on Saturday, Chandler Morris (#14) — who was effective though careless with the ball in garbage time the previous week — received the starting nod from interim head coach Jerry Kill.

Morris changed everything that had been wrong with the Horned Frogs, both offensively and defensively. That may sound impossible, but it’s not. The redshirt freshman threw for more than 450 yards, accumulating two passing touchdowns and running for the Frogs’ first endzone trip. The native of Highland Park, who is the son of former SMU and Arkansas head coach Chad Morris, was most impressive with his pocket presence, toughness, and elusiveness. Critically, his secondary reads were still distinctly of an underclassmen, but all the makings of an elite passing quarterback exist: quick release, timing, receiver connection. In fact, his balls were so catchable that he managed to find nine separate purple receivers while logging a reception from a reverse pass himself.

 

The offense was completely improved over the unit that has played all season, despite sloppy mistakes that abandoned as many as 14 points. Emari Demercado (#3), who is normally third string but now the feature back because of injuries, lost a scored touchdown from a holding penalty, and he was also flagged for a personal foul at the 2 yard-line, which would bring a field goal where a touchdown was expected. TCU kicker Griffin Kell (#39) also suffered a blocked three-point attempt and slammed another off the left upright late in the game. These were just a few missteps during a game which took nearly four hours thanks to 19 combined penalties between the Bears and Frogs. There were far more flags than that, but some penalties were declined.

 

Fans might have expected the already beleaguered Frog defense to struggle even further without Patterson on the sidelines, but that wasn’t the case. Reports confirm the former honcho spent significant time in the office this week helping develop a game plan for Baylor. The Bears moved the ball with ease on the ground during the first half, and receiver Tyquan Thornton (#9) remained a constant nuisance — scoring twice — once the Horned Frogs committed numbers to stop the run. TCU’s defense, although statistically poor, has been opportunistic and chippy all season. Trailing by two, an interception in the end zone and another on Baylor’s final drive with the Bears in field goal range sealed the game.

 

Kill and Doug Meacham’s offense finally provided an opportunity for Patterson’s defense to do enough to ice a decent opponent. Despite scoring only 30, Morris and company moved the ball with ease, all while missing star running back Zach Evans (#6), who didn’t dress for the third consecutive week, and now Kendre Miller (#33), who left the game during the second series and has been in and out of the rotation during the last two games.

 

Throwing 41 passes would typically be a recipe for disaster, but Morris’ short and medium attempts are incredibly consistent, shouldering the load from the rushing game and opening the playbook to soften opposing defenses. The Frogs’ time of possession also proved significant for the defense. Zero three-and-outs meant purple defenders could catch their breath, and the officiating crew was apparently being paid by the flag, so the pace of the game was a crawl at its fastest.

 

If you study trends, then Saturday’s result shouldn’t surprise you, as the Frogs have owned their former Waco neighbors since the teams resumed their longstanding series after an 11-year hiatus (’95-06). TCU extended their overall lead to four games in the 117-game history but have won 10 of the last 14 meetings. Morris, more than anything, was able to breathe life into The Revivalry between these religious institutions and make TCU fans, as well as his own teammates, believe again.

 

TCU travels to the wrong side of the Red River this week for a night game in Stillwater against the Cowboys, who might be the best team in the conference but are at least second if not. Spencer Sanders (#3), OK State’s quarterback, has a pop-gun arm and real athleticism but a penchant for risky decisions. Morris won’t be surprising anyone on Saturday night. The rest of the conference has taken note, and defensive game plans will be adjusted accordingly. If the TCU running backs can recover their health in time to make the rushing attack a real factor, then the proliferation of the offense might continue. The turnover battle must be won if the Horned Frogs will gain an opportunity to upset their second consecutive ranked opponent and inch closer toward another season of unlikely bowl eligibility.

 

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