For a day, TCU was America’s Team, as they traveled to Waco to take on a Baylor team coming off their first loss of the season and freshly mired in more controversy. While talk of a blackout to support disgraced former coach Art Briles was being discussed all over social media, the Horned Frogs and Gary Patterson were quietly preparing to play their best, and most complete, game of the season.
Things opened poorly for TCU, who surrendered an early score to previously suspended receiver Ismael Zamora on the second play of the game. But TCU and Kenny Hill would strike right back, as he hit Taj Williams for a 37 yard score just a few plays later. From there it would be all Horned Frogs, as they went on to score the next 24 points, including a pick six by Ranthony Texada and back-to-back Kyle Hicks rushing touchdowns.
Baylor made their biggest answer late in the second quarter, going on a 19 play drive that somehow lasted a scant two and a half minutes and seemed to have the TCU defense on their heels. But Hill’s perfectly placed ball to a streaking Jaelan Austin set the Frogs up inside their five with just seconds to go, and Hicks busted through the line for his third rushing touchdown of the game a play later.
TCU got the ball back to start the second half and produced yet again, opening up the third quarter with a 95 yard drive that ended with the fourth Hicks score of the afternoon. That would be the only touchdown of the frame, as the TCU defense absolutely stifled the Bears throughout the third, forcing three punts against what had been one of the most dynamic and dangerous offenses in the country. The vaunted Baylor running game, one of the top in the nation, was rendered impotent, as the swarming contingent of angry Frogs met ball carriers at every turn and tackled with a sureness and a suddenness not seen prior to this game. Held to three yards on 45 attempts, after having averaged over 250 yards per game to this point, the Bears’ inability to generate a rushing attack allowed the Frogs to pressure Seth Russell early and often, and all but shut down the play-action game that is so important to their rhythm.
Russell, meanwhile, generated solid statistics, but it seemed to be purple people making plays each time he was on the verge of breaking his team through. Though 20/36 for 275 yards, he had only a single touchdown through the air, and threw the pick-six that ultimately swung the momentum squarely in TCU’s favor. He was off most of the game, whether that was a result of the TCU defense or his having spent the week in concussion protocol we may never know, but it’s safe to say Gary Patterson and co didn’t make things easy on him nor did he help himself.
Veteran Frog stomper KD Cannon had a sub-par game, as he managed only 29 yards on five catches. Zamora, who was so good in the first half, was held to a single catch and a single yard through the final two quarters, as he was all but shut down by the TCU secondary. In addition to Texada, who looked like his old self from start to finish, Niko Small, Aaron Curry, Josh Carraway, Ty Summers, and a host of others led the charge on D, looking for the first time all season like a true GP unit and building off their solid performance against Tech a week prior. Travin Howard, Nick Orr, and Summers all had double digit tackles, Julius Lewis continued to look closer to the player we all believed he could be once healthy, and Denzel Johnson, Lewis, and Carraway all had sacks. TCU also managed six tackles for loss and five pass breakups between six different players.
When talking about the defense, I would be remiss to not mention the scariest scene of the day, as sophomore defensive end Tipa Galeai was carted off late. After making a head-first tackle against Russell, Tipa was slow to get up, only to rise and run off the field. He collapsed on the sidelines a short time later, was put on a stretcher, and carted off. Thankfully, Galeai appeared to be talking and was able to give a thumbs up as he left the field. He was greeted by Gary Patterson as well as teammates and opponents, who were all obviously concerned. Our best wishes for the young star on a speedy recovery.
On the offensive side of the ball, TCU was turnover free for the first time all year, and set the tone and the tempo as they responded to nearly every defensive stop with a score of their own. Hill was excellent - not only did he throw the ball accurately and well, but he ran with decisiveness and aplomb, racking up 85 yards on 11 attempts and making Phil Bennett second guess nearly every play call in the process. When Hill uses his feet, and the OC’s commit to running the ball, this offense is deadly powerful, and that was in full showcase mode Saturday. The much-maligned wide-receiving corp, who were leading the country in drops, played with a ferociousness and fire that had been lacking, breaking tackles, running crisp routes, blocking like beasts, and fighting for the ball in a way that ignited the entire team. Eight different receivers caught balls, and each seemed to make a big play - whether it was Des White sealing the win, Porter going up and pulling a high pass out of the air, Diarse fighting for an important third down conversion, Taj showing off he wheels, J Stew and J Austin making unbelievable catches, or Turpin doing Turpin things, each player knew their route and knew their role - and just kept making plays. As great as the passing game was, it was the running game that stole the show - 431 yards on 59 carries will do that - led by the incomparable Kyle Hicks, who was finally #GivenTheDamnBall. Hicks, who is the first TCU back since the great LT to score five times on the ground, had 192 yards on 26 carries; finally given the chance to dominate a game, he did exactly that.
The nearly two to one run to pass ratio was what TCU fans have been clamoring for all season, and each of the eight players who carried the rock shredded the Baylor defense like it was tissue paper. Darius Anderson was excellent as the change of pace back, and when Sewo Olonilua got his chances late, all he did was score one of the most impressive touchdowns of the season to put the final nail in the coffin of the Baylor Bears. I’m not sure what prompted the change in play-calling style, but here’s hoping it continues for the next two months.
Lastly, special teams deserves a shout-out, especially punter Adam Nunez. The redshirt freshman was excellent once again, pinning the Bears inside their 20 twice and nearly getting the bounce for a third time. He has allowed only two touchbacks on the season, and has become a real weapon in the field position game. The much-maligned Brandon Hatfield went 2-2 on field goals, though his struggles last week certainly played into a more aggressive play-calling style on the Baylor side of the field - which few fans complained about. Turpin was back to full time return duties, breaking off a 46 yarder on his way to a 99 yard day overall.
For TCU and Baylor, this marks TCU’s biggest margin of victory in the history of the series, and the 62 points scores erases 2014’s 61 as the highest point total in history. TCU also breaks the all-time series tie, as their second consecutive victory over the Bears gives them the 53-52 all-time edge. By the end of things, it was the sound of T-C-U being chanted throughout a nearly empty McLane Stadium left as the enduring image and audio from the third straight memorable game between these two longtime foes, though for completely different reasons than the previous two.
It was an excellent game for Frog fans from start to finish, and though this should go without saying, let’s celebrate here and not venture over to other boards to gloat, brag, or be self-righteous. Yes, this game seemed to mean a little more, not only to the TCU faithful, but college football fans nationwide, in light of everything surrounding Waco and its football team. So for that, we will revel in victory through the bye week.
But, there is still a lot of football left to play, and TCU is still a win away from bowl eligibility. Hopefully, and I do believe this to be the case, this is the spark this team needed for something special to be ignited.
Tonight... tomorrow... to eternity: GO FROGS!