The Sonny Dykes era has started more successfully than most could have imagined. He’s undefeated as a head coach, and the Frogs just downed their third consecutive ranked opponent after reclaiming the Iron Skillet from SMU. The Frogs are now ranked eighth in the AP poll and the last remaining team in the conference unscathed. Is Dykes a magician? Hardly. Dykes (and fans) owes this start to someone he — as well as many of us — didn’t quite think was right for the challenge.
We don’t deserve “Mad” Max Duggan (#15). The highly recruited Gatorade player of the year out of Iowa chose TCU over better brands and turnkey teams (Georgia, Ohio State, Notre Dame). He’s played a minimum of 10 games per season since he was a freshman, despite accumulating various injuries notwithstanding a heart surgery on top of all of it. The senior is a bit of a millennial as college football goes. He played before the COVID shutdown, pre relaxed transfer rules, and prior to NIL payouts. TCU won five games during Duggan’s first season, six games the year after, and five again last year during the Patterson to Kill transition. (There’s a pun in there somewhere.) This veteran quarterback, as many do, has weathered all of the slings and arrows normally hurled toward those in his position: “not accurate enough,” “bad decision-making,” “his backup is better.” Duggan has never played in a bowl game as the Frogs have been eligible only once out of the last three seasons during his tenure, and that game was canceled. The last bowl TCU competed in was the iconically inept Cheez-It Bowl against Cal in 2018. Duggan morphed into a de facto scapegoat for a team that has already won more games midseason than a very similar roster won all of last.
Max has produced some magical performances during his career, some of the most memorable from his rushing ability and impressive speed. This year, specifically, he’s become a dangerous downfield passer. Saturday against Oklahoma State wasn’t his best performance. The senior completed barely more than half of his throws, though his final yardage of 286 through the air was enough to win. But the statistics aren’t vital to the argument. Duggan has remained for better or worse all along, and he’s always been who he is: competitive and resilient.
Any real Dallas Cowboys fan remembers when tight end Jason Witten lost his helmet after a reception and raced downfield without regard for his personal safety — fans love that stuff. Duggan has almost never played completely healthy but always with abandon and never with a fat check to greet him at the end of the game.
Dykes told Max before the season began that he wouldn’t be the starter, opting to rely on Chandler Morris (#2) as the quarterback of the future for an offense based heavily on downfield passing. Duggan could have transferred, and no one would have faulted him. No. 15 — through basically everything he does — is approaching a literary stereotype of Middle-American work ethic and loyalty. Football seasons at TCU, because Patterson was the head coach for so long, are divided into quarterbacking periods: the Tye Gunn era, the Andy Dalton era, the Trevone Boykin era. We’re all witnessing an exciting crescendo and, ultimately, the culmination of the Max Duggan era, the quarterback we didn’t deserve but are so lucky he stuck around.
Duggan was just named co-offensive Big 12 player of the week. Quentin Johnston (#1) logged his second most impressive performance this season with eight receptions for 180 yards and a touchdown, but the real hero of the Frogs’ offense, as they erased a 17-point deficit, was running back Kendre Miller (#33). Your favorite sports opinionist asserted last week that he is the octane that makes this purple engine hum. When nothing was going right for Dykes and company, Miller was slashing and spinning for another 100-yard game and two touchdowns. (He’s scored in every contest this season.) Miller, like Duggan, clearly has a team mindset: mostly concealed behind his visor and displaying measured emotion but always ready for the next snap. Miller displayed a “3” before a “33” using his fingers at the end of the game before yelling: “Can’t be stopped.” It was an homage to senior Emari Demercado, the Frog with whom he shares the backfield who carried nine times for 62 yards.
Joe Gillespie’s defense struggled as a whole during the first half, unable to slow senior OSU quarterback Spencer Sanders (#3) whether he was running or passing. That changed after halftime and most specifically in the fourth quarter, when TCU repeatedly stymied the Cowboys and eventually picked off Sanders — right after the announcers were applauding how he’d improved in that area — for the game’s only forced turnover. (TCU muffed a punt during the first half.)
I find myself repeatedly frustrated by TCU’s stopping unit, but it’s probably my own fault. Patterson’s defense was almost an offense. They dictated pace and took risks. Gillespie is more contemplative, and the adjustments are smaller and slower but intentional. Purple cornerbacks were clearly better than their orange opponents and blanketed outside routes with great success. To be honest, the Cowboys were probably the better overall team, but the Frogs rostered superior athletes.
TCU finally kicks off a conference game under the lights against Kansas State — their fourth consecutive ranked opponent — during homecoming weekend on Saturday. The Wildcats are tied with TCU at the top of the conference standings and are fresh from a bye week. Their lone blemish is against Tulane, who is now ranked. Super-senior quarterback Adrian Martinez (#9) is having a renaissance — a la our own signal caller — after transferring from the cornfield fire that is Nebraska. After starting four full seasons in Lincoln, Martinez is enjoying one of his most effective and efficient seasons in Manhattan. Similar to OK State’s Sanders, Martinez is always a running threat, and K State will prioritize rushing the ball through him, complemented by Deuce Vaughn (#22), their fun-sized playmaker who has made a career out of disappearing behind his offensive line and reappearing in the end zone. Vaughn burned the Frogs last season for 109 yards and two scores, and shutting down the pint-sized dynamo will be Priority 1 for the hometown purple squad.
Fourth-year head coach Chris Klieman has never lost while leading the Cats against TCU, but I’m confident in the Frogs’ ability to remain unbeaten if they can force Martinez into one or two mistakes and the big-play ability of the offense resurfaces after slowing against the Pokes. Another victory will surely start rumblings of TCU making the leap into the College Football Playoff conversation, and the only way to surpass their SEC competition is achieving their second perfect season this century.