“We have had 26 or 27 season-ending injuries, and we have had close to 40 guys that have played that have missed up to four ball games, at least - and that’s out of 85 scholarship players.”
This isn’t the first time that TCU has had excessive injury issues - after all, 2015 wasn’t all that long ago. Many fans remember that season and the string of missed players more, as it was big names - James McFarland, Josh Doctson, Trevone Boykin, and more - that missed significant time for a team that came into the year ranked #2 in the country. The fallout was greater than it seems to have been this past season, maybe because the expectations were higher, or maybe because the hopes were dashed earlier this fall. But in reflecting on both that season and this, despite having significantly different results, both standout as some of the best coaching jobs that Gary Patterson has ever had - and both ended with the opportunity to beat a Pac12 foe in a bowl game.
That 2015 year is remembered for The Alamo Bowl, of course - both for the events leading up to it (the dismissal of star quarterback Trevone Boykin) and the game itself (a comeback from down 31-0 in the first half that stands of one of the truly memorable moments in college football, period). Pulling a ten win season out of a hat filled with injuries (over 20 starters missed time, many with season-ending injuries) and ending it with a thrilling triple-overtime victory that became one of the most exciting bowl games ever, has been trumpeted as one of Coach P’s greatest feats in a career filled with them, but, there’s an argument to be made that what he did three years later is just as impressive - even if it ends several wins short of its predecessor.
The 2018 squad saw 27 players’ seasons end due to injury, including an All-American caliber defender who went down before the first game had been played. Another 20 players missed multiple games, four on average, during the course of the year - also due to injuries. Among those were the Frogs’ starting quarterback, back-up quarterback, starting running back, leading tackler, most dynamic safety, both starting corners... do you get the picture?
And yet, with their backs against the wall and a loss to lowly Kansas still fresh on their minds, the Frogs found a way to win three of their last four games and earn a bowl berth against a quality opponent. The significance is not lost on Coach P. “[I am] so proud of this group because of the way they fought - winning three out of the last four, they had to get ready to go and fight back. I have been really proud of the way they’ve fought back with the things that have happened to them.”
With so many injuries, it’s hard to pinpoint which loss hurt the most, but again, the parallels to 2015 stand out. Much like Bram Kohlhausen against Oklahoma and in the Alamo Bowl, another fifth year senior made his mark on the season and saved it from ending disastrously. Grayson Muehlstein isn’t a transfer like Bram, but he did have to bide his time and wait for a moment he never thought would come, getting his first chance on the road after an injury. Though Kohlhausen and the Frogs fell a fingertip short of winning in Norman and potentially winning a Big 12 Championship, Grayson overcome a hostile crowd and kept the Frogs’ postseason dreams kicking by beating Baylor in Waco after relieving Michael Collins in the first quarter. Muehlstein, who had just one career pass attempt over his four years of play, didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard against the Bears, but he helped win a ballgame, something he would repeat a week later, in his first start, on his home field, on senior night. It was a special moment in a lot of ways, and sent the Frogs west to Phoenix. Coach Patterson, for one, isn’t taking him for granted. “Our quarterback, he accentuates it - we lost our starter, we lost our backup, now we are on our third string - and he’s a five year guy. Grayson Muelhstein has been here, he’s started on his Masters, and we would be in a lot of trouble if he wouldn’t have stayed. Really, he’s done what he needed to do to win the last two ball games. We are fighting through it, because three of four weeks ago, we weren’t sure we would be in this position, that we would be in a bowl game. So to be in this opportunity, for us, it’s great for our seniors and great for our staff.”
Patterson has preached from the beginning that each season is about giving those in their final go-round the best experience possible, and Muehlstein perfectly represents it. A five year player, who rarely saw the field - until he was the last possible option, that is - a guy who stuck around, took advantage of his opportunity, and made the most of the big stage. While the world celebrates Jalen Hurts - a superstar, highly-regarded recruit, a national championship winning quarterback - for sticking around after being named the backup, don’t forget about The Mule. Maybe he doesn’t have the high profile of Hurts, but as one of only two fifth year senior quarterbacks to have never transferred (I think that number is correct - wish I could find that article from the preseason), he deserves celebrating, too. After all, TCU would be at home this holiday season if it weren’t for him. “The best thing about bowl games, you get your seniors an opportunity to play one more game. You always try and give your seniors the best present going out - playing one more ball game.”