They did it again. After a nearly catastrophic beginning to homecoming weekend, the Frogs are still unscathed after dropping 18 points behind the visiting Kansas State Wildcats. TCU’s perfect record has earned them their best ranking since the Boykin-Doctson era, and fans should feel great about it. Texas Cardiac University has proven themselves never to be removed from possibly winning a game because of a big-play offense combined with an opportunistic defense that plays fantastic second halves.
For perspective, TCU finished last season ranked 65th in team offense, and now they’re currently fourth. Defense — something Fort Worth was supposed to be famous for — was an abysmal 118th statistically. Now they’re 70th. This might not seem impressive on its own, but as the weeks go by, I become more and more confident in Joe Gillespie’s style and scheme. I’ll admit, as anyone sitting near me during a game can attest, that there are times I’ve uttered more than one, “What the hell is going on right now?” But the proof is in the wins, and it’s not how they start but how they finish games.
If we examine this four-game gauntlet from which TCU has emerged, the defense has played absolutely inspired second-half football with possibly the exception of the Jayhawks game, which neither defense decided to show up for. Against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State, Gillespie’s unit surrendered 13 combined second-half points. Frog stoppers also forced six turnovers during the previous four games, so while they might be giving up points early, they’re stopping opponents when it matters. And those six turnovers do not include the five fourth-down stops that resulted in fresh possessions for the flying Frogs offense.
Another development that seems to have been largely ignored to this point is the ferocity of the purple defense. So far, SMU and Okie State are the only teams that kept one quarterback on the field for the entire game. The Frogs have knocked out the starting passers for the Buffaloes, Sooners, Jayhawks, and Wildcats (two of them). There aren’t nefarious plans wafting through the defensive huddles, just hard-hitting tacklers punishing those willing to take their health into their own hands by exploring no man’s land beyond the line of scrimmage.
TCU is now one of only six major-conference unbeatens and are sitting behind once-beaten Alabama. It’s premature to sound the alarm if the hometown boys have a chance of making the college football playoffs. Just be assured that they’ll have to be undefeated for the possibility to exist. The Big 12 has already proven itself completely upside down this year as early favorites Baylor and Oklahoma are in fifth and eighth place, respectively, in the standings. Every team is a threat, albeit the Frogs’ next opponent, West Virginia, is waiting in Morgantown with a losing record, fresh from a butt-whooping by also underwhelming Texas Tech. The Mountaineers shouldn’t be overlooked. With a win against Baylor and close losses versus Pitt and Kansas, the couch burners seem to be able to hang around with better teams. Quarterback JT Daniels (#18) is likely to put the ball in the air 40-plus times, which should bode well for TCU’s secondary, which has shown a penchant for shutting down outside receivers and picking at least one pass per game. Despite the pass-happy nature of the Mountaineers, the teams that have put them away most convincingly, Texas and Tech, did so by smothering their rushing attack. Holding K-State’s Deuce Vaughn (#22) to fewer than 100 yards was impressive last week, and there’ll need to be more of that to keep the most important statistic of zero losses intact.
Sonny Dykes’ offense proved Saturday night that you should always bet on black. For the degenerate gamblers out there, TCU has covered Vegas’ spread against every team except the Cowboys and are currently 7.5-point favorites on the road Saturday morning. The Frog offense has repeatedly showed they can score from anywhere and have more 50-plus-yard plays than anyone in the country.
As impressive as it is to watch Max Duggan (#15) and Kendre Miller (#33) march 99 yards down the field, which they’ve done, TCU found itself needing to achieve scores in the red zone, with a short field, against a stingy Wildcat defense, which they did. Miller, whom I’ve heralded time and again as the glue that holds this scheme together, deserves a day off this week after rushing 29 times for 153 yards and two touchdowns. Duggan, though he seemed less accurate early against K-State, threw for 280 yards and three scores. Mad Max has thrown one interception the entire season against 19 touchdown passes. His single giveaway was at the end of the first half against Kansas in a Hail Mary situation as time expired. To say the senior has been impeccable with his ball security is an understatement.
Typically, a game against West Virginia on the road after such a difficult stretch of opponents would give me pause, but this isn’t the TCU squad we’re accustomed to watching. Two three-possession deficits against ranked opponents couldn’t faze them. If Duggan seems a little off, they’ll hand the ball to Miller or Emari Demercado (#3). If an opponent devotes two defenders to taking away receiver Quentin Johnston (#1) — good luck with that — Duggan can find Taye Barber (#4) or Derius Davis (#11). Tight End Jared Wiley (#19), who has been only an intermittent weapon, caught the second-most passes against the Wildcats, including a clutch third-down grab and a touchdown. There are simply too many buttons for Dykes to push, and the Mountaineers aren’t going to be able to keep pace.
The primary goal of Dykes and staff is to keep their team focused on the task at hand. TCU won’t face another ranked opponent — unless the Longhorns beat K-State — until the potential conference championship. Come to think of it, you’d have to cross the state line to find another Top 25-ranked team. It might be hard to stomach for some, but every Texan should climb aboard the Frog bandwagon, because they are the Lone Star State’s best and only chance to send their first-ever representative to the college football playoff this season.