Texas beat TCU Saturday, and absolutely deserved the win. The Longhorns out played the Frogs in all aspects of the game, but it’s hard not to look back on what transpired and not see TCU shooting themselves in the foot time and time again.
As disheartening as the loss is - the first in the last five tries and first in Austin since TCU joined the Big 12 - it’s how Tom Herman beat the Frogs that hurt the most, because of how familiar it was. “They’re doing what they need to do on offense to win ballgames, and they’re letting their defense win the ballgame for them. It’s a good game plan. We know that game plan very well. That’s how we’ve been here 21 years sometimes. So this is no different than Andy Dalton in 2007.”
Texas did to TCU what TCU did to so many teams at the height of their Group of Five dominance - controlling the tempo, forcing turnovers, and ensuring their quarterback didn’t lose games for them. Sam Ehlinger had a big game Saturday, attempting 32 passes, completing 22 of them to rack up over 250 yards. He found Collin Johnson for 124 of those yards in the talented receiver’s best game of the young season. But it wasn’t the statistics that cost the Horned Frogs a win in Austin, it was their lack of execution. And to Gary Patterson, that means taking a long, hard look in the mirror - for him and his entire program. “You’ve got to get ready to go. You’ve got to get ready to play. And for my sake, the way I look at it, you’re going to be critical -- I’ve got to change things up. Everybody needs to be critical of themselves, myself, anybody else.”
One of the moments that many were critical of was the decision to punt late in the game, with less than three minutes to play and the Frogs on their own 38. Many felt that TCU was giving up by punting on fourth and four in that situation - that having two timeouts was not reason enough to give Texas back the ball. TCU would get the ball back with less than 90 seconds remaining, and the game thoroughly out of reach. Patterson was, of course, asked about that decision in the post game, and defended his thinking. “I had two time-outs, so -- I don’t play to lose. I don’t play to get through it, but I had two. I knew if I could stop them on 1st down and give them the ball on the 34-yard line, they’re just kicking another field goal. I know how to manage games. It wasn’t that play that got us beat, I can promise you that. And you had a backup quarterback in the game.” Yes, Michael Collins entered the game after Shawn Robinson took a big hit on first down, but it was still somewhat puzzling in the moment. Did that call cost TCU the game? Absolutely not. Did it feel akin to taking a knee? For many of the folks watching, sure. But Patterson has more than earned the benefit of the doubt over his 18 seasons as head coach of the Horned Frogs.
At the end of the day, TCU is now facing an unfamiliar position - losers of two straight for the first time in what seems like forever (but actually, October of 2016), they have to pull themselves up off the mat and find a way to beat an Iowa State team that has given them fits recently. So what message did GP have for his guys in the locker room? “Losing is a disease. I told them about six weeks ago about little things. When it’s your turn to make a play, when things are going good, somebody finds a way to make a play. Things aren’t, somebody finds not a way to make a play. You’ve got to find a way to make guys make plays, and there was guys that made plays today, we just need to make more of them.”
The Frogs do indeed need to find ways to make more plays - having gone without forcing a turnover since the SMU game, TCU has turned the ball over six times themselves in that span. The defense, that has been so solid, needs to get stingier - and find a way to wreak havoc and force turnovers. The offense has to be more consistent - Shawn Robinson needs to run more and turn it over less, the wide receivers need to not have drive and momentum killing drops, and the offensive line has to find a way to create holes for the running backs. These are all fixable things.
TCU just needs to play up to their ability for four quarters, something that is incredibly doable, but hasn’t been done, yet, this season.
But, don’t expect Gary Patterson, or his team, to panic. This isn’t his first rodeo, after all. “We’ve been here before. In that 40 games we’ve won the last four years, one of them was a 6 and 7. How do you try to win more than that? All we have a chance to win is 10 right now, because you’ve lost two. You get the next one, then you get the next one. How do you get to 10? Since you don’t have a chance at 12, how do you get to 10?”
The Frogs will try and get to ten next weekend, when they return home for the first time in four weeks. Maybe a little home-cooking and the Frog faithful will be just what the doctor ordered for a TCU team that needs some positive momentum.
Let’s see them win the next one.