Well... they did it again.
A week after TCU allowed Ohio State to score 21 points in 46 seconds worth of time of possession, they surrendered three consecutive scoring drives to the Longhorns to allow them to take a lead that they would not relinquish.
All six scores came in the third quarter, and in both games, the Horned Frogs had gone into the half with a lead.
Gary Patterson has always been lauded for his ability to make second-half adjustments, something you need to only look to his two Alamo Bowl appearances to see played out. But it hasn’t just been in the bowl games that the Frogs have shined coming out of the locker room, it’s been in dozens of games over Patterson’s 18 year career as the head coach.
So, is something different in 2018, or does GP and his staff need to DO something different?
It may be a little bit of both, according to Patterson’s statement’s during this week’s coaches’ conference call. “This is the second time, two weeks in a row against two good football teams, we turned the ball over and had 14-plus point swings in less than four minutes, this ballgame was in about 20 seconds, to where you let a ballgame get out of hand. For me, I can’t really blame anybody else but myself. I think as a head coach, you’re the one supposed to be in charge of making sure all of that happens. We’ve gone back and examined how we practice, how we need to do things in terms of the second half of our practice and how we need to go about things to make sure we can change it so we can win some ballgames.”
Momentum is a funny thing in sports - TCU was rolling on both sides of the ball against the Buckeyes in the second quarter - forcing three punts and a missed field goal on defense while putting together a very quick two play touchdown drive on offense. Against Texas a week later, neither team looked very good on offense through the first 27 minutes, but a powerful three minute drive by the Frogs gave them a slim halftime advantage. But, in games that the Frogs led 14-13 and 13-10 respectively, they were outscored 34-17 combined in the third quarter and 48-17 overall. On the season, the Frogs have scored just 48 points through eight second half quarters, and just two touchdowns in the fourth - both against SMU.
That’s three shutouts in four fourth quarters.
So, what’s the problem and how do they fix it?
The Pressure Turns Up:
The game is much different after the bands play that it is before; as things get tight, so do players. TCU has played in two games that were one possession at the half, and not been able to win either. With a team featuring a lot of new faces on both sides of the ball, figuring out how to ‘close’ is to be expected.
A side effect of the new faces is youth; the Frogs feature some 30-odd first and second year players on the two deep. That’s a lot of 19 and 20 year olds playing meaningful snaps in late game situations, something that many of them are experiencing for the first time as collegiate athletes.
It’s not an excuse, but as Coach Patterson has been saying since August, the Frogs have to “grow some guys up”.
The Frogs have had seven turnovers in their last two games, including five in the second half. Meanwhile, the defense hasn’t forced a turnover since SMU. That has to change.
When the Frogs have been at their best, they have been a leader in turnover ratio - in 2016, when TCU was 6-7, they were 88th at -0.2, a year later, in winning 11 games, they jumped to 54th and +0.2. Go back to the 2014 team that went 12-1 and you find a team that was #1 overall with a +1.5, tied with Oregon for best in the land. In 2018, through four games, the Frogs are 129th, losing by an impossible to believe -2.7.
I think we all see the problem here.
On Tuesday, when Patterson met with the media, he made it simple: “We have to figure out what we keep doing at the start of the third quarter.” He also made an interesting note in regards to how his coaching staff and his players respond to adversity. “We need to change practice, change our mindset in how we manage things, and we have to hang on to the football. You don’t need to panic - both ball games we have lost, we have been ahead.”
Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to - doing the work to earn a lead, and finding a way to keep it. Patterson knows it, but he knows it’s a long season, too. “We’re not where we would like to be, better than what we could be, now we have to get ready to go.”