Flashback to September 20th, 2017, the Wednesday before #16 TCU headed to Stillwater to face the #6 Oklahoma State Cowboys and their vaunted offense.
In an interview with ESPN, Mike Gundy lauded the unstoppable force that was his offense:
“I’ll be honest, and I mean this as humble as possible,” Gundy said. “I have no clue what people are going to do.”
That September Saturday morning rolled around, and the nation agreed with Gundy; not even TCU would stop the Cowboy attack. Corso, Desmond Howard, guest picker Keegan-Michael Key, SEC analyst Paul Finebaum, and even Tim Tebow picked Oklahoma State. Bill Connelly picked TCU to cover, but still gave them a four point disadvantage in the outcome.
And why shouldn’t they? TCU was an eleven point road underdog, facing a team that had put up an adjusted scoring margin of more than 30 points against their first three opponents. Oklahoma State’s offense performed in the 92nd or better percentile in its first three games, scoring 162 points against three FBS opponents. Frankly, they looked unstoppable.
But they weren’t. Notice that Oklahoma State’s first three opponents were ranked 116th, 98th, and 82nd in S&P+, and all three games were effectively decided in the first half, while TCU’s openers (Arkansas and SMU) were 91st and 67th and involved the Frogs coming from behind and winning in the late rounds of the game. That may not look like much, but it was Gary Patterson’s rallying cry headed into the game:
“If there’s any advantage, to me, going into the ballgame, it’s that we’ve played two teams that had a high level of something,” Patterson said Tuesday at his weekly press conference on campus. “I think that’s the only advantage we have over Oklahoma State, that we’ve had to be in two battles and they’ve only played until halftime.”
The Horned Frogs hadn’t looked elite, by the eye test, but they found a way to win against two quality opponents who could’ve put them away. TCU embodied the “bend-don’t-break” mentality, even as they sputtered to find themselves at the start of the season; Oklahoma State fashioned themselves the Hulk, running high speed through and over whatever poor soul found themselves in the way.
And here lies the narrative, flash versus substance; TCU versus Oklahoma State seemed destined to answer the question of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.
The game started with a TCU drive that looked promising, but sputtered into a field goal. TCU 3, OSU 0.
Then, after holding Oklahoma State to a
three six-and-out, the Frogs started from their own 25 again only to stall, until weird thing number 1 happened. Specifically, the TCU punt coverage team tried to down the ball, and in the process, an OSU player touched it, creating a controversy about a fumble that turned out to be a red herring - in fact, OSU had held earlier on the play, and so after a few minutes of grumbling and confusion, TCU got the ball back, but again, another field goal. TCU 6, OSU 0.
Then, Oklahoma State did what it does best. Mason Rudolph hit Junkyard Jim Washington over the middle for an 86 yard touchdown, and it looked like Gundy’s comments had not just been prescient, but even warranted. T Boone Pickens exploded, as Cowboy fans breathed a sigh of relief; here was their offense, heere began the onslaught. TCU 6, OSU 7.
Instead of giving into the route, TCU stayed cool as weird thing number two happened. Starting at their own 25 (OSU was not going to kick it to Turp), TCU chipped and stalled, but a personal foul by the, shall I say, over-eager OSU defense found the Frogs with 1st and 10 at the Cowboy 43. Kenny Hill ran and fumbled, but weird thing two happened - again, in their excitement, OSU committed another personal foul. Darius Anderson took advantage of OSU on their heels, scoring from 28 yards out, and just like that, TCU was back on top. TCU 13, OSU 7.
The Pokes came out strong on offense again, until Ben Banogu had something to say about it. After a strip sack that sent Mason Rudolph back to third grade for a few minutes, the Frogs had the ball and marched down the field; Kenny Hill finding John Diarse on the love-hate fade for another TD. TCU 20, OSU 7.
Oklahoma State would sneak in a field goal before the half, but it looked like the Frogs were taking control, and all we could do was wait for a second half all-out effort from the Pokes.
And here, one might be tempted to think the suspense was gone from this game, but far from it. With an OSU offense so high-powered, anything was possible - it couldn’t have been scripted better: the best offense in the nation, down ten at home at half, against a team without an identity, forging together before their very eyes. The second half didn’t let down, either - just look at the chaos and beauty of this second half drive chart:
TCU let OSU play their game in the second half, and kept up with them, stride for stride. The Horned Frogs hopped onto that high-speed train and started steering. At the one point when it felt like the Cowboys might prevail, when the Horned Frogs couldn’t spare to take one more blow, Darius Anderson swooped in and broke a few ankles in route to his third touchdown of the day.
TCU versus Oklahoma State deserves the game of the year. It had everything you could ask for: highlight/breakout performances on both sides of the ball (Banogu/DA), last minute intrigue (six point differential in the fourth quarter), and a whole bunch of weirdness (fumbles, defensive holding, personal fouls, and Gundy on the field). This win set TCU up for the national stage, providing them the opportunity to host Gameday against West Virginia, and contend for the Big 12 Championship.
tl;dr: Gundy boasts that no one can stop his offense; TCU goes into Stillwater and drops the stone cold stunner on the Pokes on the back of Darius Anderson’s three touchdown performance.