TCU 17, Oklahoma 10.
TCU 36, Boise State 35.
TCU 21, Wisconsin 19.
TCU 42, Ole Miss 3.
Each of these games, and several others, come to mind when parsing over some of the more improbable TCU Football wins over the course of Gary Patterson’s 18 year run as head coach. There were the upsets over the “big dogs” when the Frogs were members of Conference USA, unexpected bowl wins over teams that were supposed to “just matter more”, and road wins over ranked opponents who never lose on their home field. But Saturday, in Waco, a 16-9 victory over a five win team may very well have been most unfathomable of all.
Down to their third string QB, just a single scholarship running back, and as defensive players headed to the medical tent with such regularity you would expect they were handing out ice cream cones in there, the Horned Frogs gutted out and ugly win in a hostile environment, ruining the Bears’ senior day and keeping TCU’s bowl hopes alive.
When Michael Collins went down the first time, on TCU’s first drive, after being sandwiched between a pair of defenders, it seemed all hope was lost before the game had even truly begun. And then, when it happened again, late in the first quarter and the Frogs trailing by three, most TCU fans probably felt more of a sense of relief than dread in assuming the season would be over in a week, ready to be wiped clean and begin anew at the turn of the calendar.
But, there is something about this team.
The offense isn’t - well, hasn’t played - good to this point, and Saturday’s win was no expectation. Outside of Jalen Reagor, who is establishing himself as not just TCU’s best and most explosive player, but one of the greatest offensive players in all of college football, not much has gone right on that side of the ball. The offensive line has been inconsistent, leading to the running backs to follow suit, none of the three quarterbacks have done much to assure you they can be “the guy” going forward (Muehlstein, of course, won’t have that option as a fifth year senior), and the points on the board reflect that - just 24.1 points per game, and a putrid 17.5 per in Big 12 play. In fact, TCU has crested 20 just twice in conference competitions - once in a blowout loss to Oklahoma, and again in the one point defeat at the hands of the mighty Jayhawks.
The defense is basically a mash unit at this point. Ben Banogu referenced looking behind him during the Baylor game and seeing true freshmen on the field that he didn’t expect to see play. Patterson is having to manage their play - utilizing the new redshirt rule to its fullest extent to keep warm bodies on the field while maintaining the extra year of eligibility. With a bowl berth on the line Saturday, the Frogs will have to get very creative to field a full team.
TCU has suffered more than 40 injuries, half of their scholarship players, and is using true freshmen and walk-ons, and basically any warm bodies that can take snaps to survive - and still found a way to win Saturday. Gary Patterson was impressed. “That was a gutsy win today. You want to know what kind of heart - what this program is about - watch this ballgame. There’s no reason we should have won this game. They didn’t quit.”
Patterson seems to have a special bond with this group of players, and has been more patient with them than usual. He knows he has more talent than ever, especially when you get into the second and third strings, but also recognizes that the talent is young, immature, and not quite used to the expectations of a division one program - on and off the field. That youth was something he referenced often - going all the way back to the spring and especially in fall camp - talking about growing guys up, guys needing to grow up, and his team’s success dependent on how quickly they could do both. After Saturday’s game, he seemed pleased with the progress. “It’s like I told them yesterday on Friday, we did walk through at the beginning here and when we walked out of the walk through on Friday at the indoor, everybody was chatting, laughing, blah, blah, blah. Now it’s down to about 10 percent. When they start getting focused and they understand how to grow up and that’s what we’ve always done at our place, I hope we’ll keep winning ballgames.”
Patterson has been here before, winning games he shouldn’t win, beating teams he shouldn’t beat. And his tune hasn’t changed much after each big win. When the Frogs upended #5 Oklahoma on their home field in 2005, Patterson said “I think that nine times out of 10, Oklahoma wins this game. Today was our one. We got a chance to show off on national TV and show America that TCU is not gone.”
A year later, having held the high-flying Red Raiders to just three points, it was about respect for the then-rising Horned Frogs. “People have been underselling our kids for years. All everybody wants to talk about is the Big 12. I get tired of being treated like a stepchild in this state and in this town, and our kids do too. ... I have a lot of respect for Mike Leach and his staff. Don’t get me wrong. The bottom line is, I’d like to get a little bit here at TCU.”
Things had changed by 2014, when TCU - now a Big 12 member - took down the mighty SEC. But, GP, was still fighting to prove his program belonged. “Our past has taught us at TCU to have a little different perspective. We’ve never been inside the circle. We’ve always been the kid who drew the short sticks. As a program, I think that makes us stronger in some ways. We’re not very spoiled in the rest of it, thinking we have ownership in it. We just have handled it different.”
Now, the Frogs are expected to win, but in a season that has seen them lose nearly half of their scholarship players to injury, the victories have been few and far between for a program that is used to being in the mix late in the season. The sentiment postgame, thusly, was more relief than revelry. “Well, we’ve got one left. Third-team quarterback, third-team running back, lost two more offensive linemen, lost another linebacker. We’re up over 40. We’ve got one left. I told them, I’m just tired. They can celebrate, I’m tired.”
The Frogs have had bigger wins. More important wins. More attention-grabbing wins.
But, this may be the most improbable of all.
And, that is why we need to be there Saturday night, celebrating these seniors that never quit, cheering on this five win team to will them to a sixth and a bowl game. Coming off of this improbable win over Baylor, we have one last glimmer of hope. The players deserve it, and so does their coach. “There wasn’t any reason why we should have won that ballgame today, to be honest with you. Kids played hard, we got a couple breaks, but they never quit fighting, and went about their business.”
Don’t quit fighting, either, Frog fans.