Anyone else have trouble sleeping on Saturday? I’ve become excellent at divorcing myself from expectation and emotions as it pertains to TCU over the last several years, but playing against an unbeaten Kansas squad after being featured on ESPN’s College Gameday brought all the joy and misery of being a normal fan screaming back. We’ll start with the obvious: TCU won and rose in the national rankings to No. 13 after playing what might have been their first nationally relevant game since losing a pre-conference spat to Ohio State back in 2018.
It must be addressed: The Jayhawks are for real. I’ll admit being skeptical perusing their scores this season and thought the purple offense might hang a hundred on them before the game started, but Kansas looked complete in every phase, especially considering they won zero games the year before Coach Lance Leipold arrived. Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels (#6) was not an enormous factor in a first half that was purely a defensive battle. Both defenses swarmed, and it seems both coordinators’ scouting was effective.
The turn of the tide for TCU and KU came when Daniels became the second starting passer in the second consecutive game injured during the second quarter by the Horned Frog defense. His replacement, Jason Bean (#17), who is local to Mansfield and played extensively in previous seasons, brought energy to his teammates but inevitably made sufficient mistakes for TCU to escape Kansas with a win.
Max Duggan (#15) continues to be the driving force of a TCU offense that found itself reeling against an aggressive Hawk defensive front who pressured Duggan much more than he’d experienced to that point in the season. Neither offense really found footing during the first half, but that all ended in the third quarter after Kansas took their first lead. Note to Jayhawk faithful who are new to this whole “relevant at football thing”: It’s unwise to jingle your keys after your team takes their first lead of the game.
Derius Davis (#11) created instant karma for rock-chalk hubris with a quick catch that he turned into an impressive tightroping down the left sideline. Davis continues to be a factor without even touching the ball by forcing opposing kickoff and punt teams to avoid him by any means necessary. The Jayhawks flat out refused to kick the ball to Davis whether it be a punt or kickoff, the latter regularly awarding TCU better field position notwithstanding anything the receiving team accomplished.
Quentin Johnston (#1) was the flashpoint of this game, amassing more than 200 yards on a staggering 14 receptions, including a 53-yard catch during a 99-yard touchdown drive in addition to hauling in an absolute dime from Duggan for the game’s final touchdown.
What have we learned? TCU’s offense — with only a change in staff — is legitimate and dangerous from anywhere on the field. Kansas is far and away the best defense the Frogs have faced, and the purple team managed to score 38 points on the road in front of an extremely hostile crowd. This team, in general, is also resilient, possessing multiple ways to win. Johnston was mostly window dressing until this point in the season, drawing multiple defenders and allowing Duggan to spread the ball to other targets like Davis and Taye Barber (#4), who also caught a touchdown on Saturday by snatching the pigskin directly over the head of a Hawk defender during a reception the announcer aptly described as “absolutely insane.” TCU hadn’t trailed since the first quarter of the Colorado game in Week 1, and when they found themselves behind in the second half last week, it took them four plays to respond, and they never trailed again.
Something that might not be as obvious for spectators is that the offense literally runs through Kendre Miller (#33). Miller became explicitly agitated at how tight this game stayed and started running angrily, steamrolling and breaking tackles like we’ve become accustomed to seeing. The running back who is somehow simultaneously a bruiser and a speedster fell short of a third consecutive game passing the century mark but still accounted for 88 yards on 18 carries for almost five yards per. Miller collected the tough yards to keep the offense on the field, allowing for big receiver stat lines and splash plays. Miller is the glue that holds the offense together, and no one had better overlook him.
We also learned some not-so-desirable things about the Frogs as they catapulted to their lucky-13 ranking heading toward a clash with conference-favorite Oklahoma State in Fort Worth on Saturday afternoon. Kansas beat the Frogs in the trenches, on both sides. The offensive line was overwhelmed by a talented defensive front more often than they held them. Even when the protection was good, Duggan’s clock remained short for making decisions with the ball. Defensively, Joe Gillespie’s squad couldn’t pick a lane, and it almost cost TCU the game. TCU’s three down lineman were not providing pressure against KU’s often six-man protection scheme, which is understandable. However, a serviceable receiving group and quarterback will eventually find open grass if given six or more seconds for a play to develop, which occurred regularly. Gillespie dialed up more pressure from linebackers during the fourth quarter after being burned for 21 points in the third, but the cumbersome adjustment speed was concerning. If the Jayhawks hadn’t coughed up the ball on the turf four times and Bean hadn’t thrown one bad interception, Saturday could have easily ended differently.
Conversely, TCU’s secondary is talented in coverage and hard hitting as fans have become accustomed, but Kansas’ play design — which emphasized pre-snap motion and formation disguise — stymied safety and linebacker cues, which left defenders lost in the wash multiple times. The second-half game film will be studied closely by every offensive coordinator remaining on TCU’s schedule and could be the blueprint that Oklahoma State or Texas will use to great avail if assignments aren’t better understood.
Like Bean last week, Spencer Sanders (#3), Oklahoma State’s quarterback, is a North Texas local and veteran player with running and throwing ability but capable of head-scratching mistakes. The Cowboys and Frogs are the last two remaining undefeated Big 12 teams, though Kansas State joins them atop the standings as being undefeated during conference play. TCU and OSU have scored an identical quantity of points so far this season and are tied for third most prolific behind Kansas and Texas. Statistically, OSU and TCU are middle of the conference-pack in defense, with TCU holding a slight edge, though the best defense by points (Iowa State) is sitting dead last in the standings. This coming week, because of what has transpired so far, could very well determine who is best positioned to win the conference. As good as Kansas looked, they are probably the pop quiz before the real test against State this weekend. If TCU can keep winning the turnover battle — like they have so far this season — we could witness a Top 10 Horned Frog squad during a year where expectations were absent.