It was only a matter of time.
Chuba Hubbard is too good, too talented, too productive to be held down for too long.
So, when he broke free for a 92 yard run up the gut, untouched, to the house, early in the third quarter, TCU fans couldn’t do much more than throw their hands up in both disgust and resignation.
It seemed like the tide had turned.
And after TCU took a bad penalty on the ensuing kick return, followed that up with a dropped pass on second down, and capped the “drive” with a very freshman-like interception on third and long from the arm of Max Duggan — who was near taking a safety — well, that about put the nail in the coffin of the Frogs’ Saturday in Stillwater.
A decidedly second half team so far in 2019, TCU was a second quarter team against the Cowboys. The first quarter was all Pokes, as Okie State — even without star receiver Tylan Wallace, moved the ball at will against a TCU defense that had seemed to have turned the corner against Texas. In Wallace’s absence, it was the Dillon Stoner show, who turned three early catches into 93 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Pokes’ other star, running back Chuba Hubbard, was corralled though, kept in check to the tune of 31 yards on seven carries. Really, it was the legs of quarterback Spencer Sanders that moved the ball best for OSU through the first two quarters, racking up 86 yards on 13 attempts with a long of 23.
But as they have been prone to do this season, TCU and Max Duggan got better as the game progressed. And it was all Frogs in the second quarter.
In that second stanza, the Frogs out-gained Oklahoma State 166-33, possessed the ball for over nine minutes, converted four third downs in four chances, scoring a pair of touchdowns in the process. Their final drive of the half was a thing of beauty; starting on his own five yard line, Duggan took his team 95 yards in nine plays, using all but 39 seconds of the remaining clock on his way to the end zone. Duggan completed a pair of third down passes, one down the sideline to Jalen Reagor for a gain of 37 on third and five, and another to Pro Wells in the end zone for 24 on the same down and distance.
TCU went into the half with all the momentum...
... and promptly lost it after the break.
The Frogs had a promising opening drive derailed when Duggan found John Stephens on first down, after converting a third and long with a 42 yard scamper. Stephens turned to hunt the sticks, and promptly fumbled the ball away.
The two teams traded punts on the ensuing two drives, as the Pokes went three and out while the Frogs moved backward thanks to a 12 yard sack on first and ten.
That’s when Chuba struck.
But the defense hung in, holding the Pokes to a missed field goal after the bad Duggan pick, and stepping up time and time again even as the offense missed opportunity after opportunity. Trevon Moehrig’s interception with 11:42 remaining gave TCU the ball down a touchdown on their own 22, but Max Duggan and Jalen Reagor were not on the same page, as the receiver cut his route and Duggan threw it toward the end zone, and into the waiting arms of a thankful Kolby Harvell-Peel, who made a basket catch and returned it to the OK State 32.
In a one score game, on the road, Max started to look like a true freshman for the first time this season.
At that point, the defense was gassed, having been on the field for so much of the second half. Predictable as it was, Hubbard went 62 yards on the second play of the ensuing drive, stretching the Pokes lead to 31-17, crossing the 200 yard threshold in the process. It’s the first time that a back has gone over 200 yards against a Gary Patterson defense, something that happened because the defense didn’t execute what they believed was a very good game plan. “[It came down to] a couple guys not doing their job. For us to stop big plays like that, everyone of the 11 guys on the field have to do their job — and there’s too many of us that didn’t do our job. That’s on us. Execution was a big key in this game and we didn’t execute like we should have,” Garret Wallow said.
And yet, despite Hubbard’s huge day, the Horned Frogs weren’t done.
And neither was Max.
Duggan showed his moxie, connecting with Jalen Reagor — who made an unbelievable catch — for 30 yards as one of his three completions on the drive, and watching Olonilua cross the plane for a score that made it a 31-24 game with just over seven minutes remaining.
The defense followed the score with a three and out, giving TCU the ball, down a touchdown, with 5:17 to play.
They did not make the most of the opportunity, moving backwards on three plays and punting it back to the Pokes. OK State did the rest, getting in field goal position and nailing one from 44 yards with 2:04 remaining to make it a two score game at 34-24.
The Frogs added a late field goal to make it a 34-27 game, but it wasn’t enough as the onside kick failed and the Pokes took a knee to end the game.
As Gary Patterson said after the game, TCU is “just good enough to beat anyone in the league, and just good enough to lose to anyone in the league.” On Saturday, they just weren’t quite good enough.
We had been waiting for the Jalen Reagor game, and we got it Saturday — on a day where he left the field multiple times, banged up and bruised. But when the Horned Frogs needed a play, time and time again it was #1 that made it, finishing with seven catches for 128 yards in what was far and away his best game of the season. Duggan wasn’t terrible (20-35, 251 yards through the air, 68 on the ground), but his three interceptions doomed TCU, and at times he held the ball too long or was not on the same page as his receiver. He played like a true freshman on the road, something that was bound to happen this season.
The defense gave up a handful of big plays, but time and time again got crucial stops. Sure, Chuba did Chuba things, but when their backs were up against the wall, they delivered enough to give the Frogs a chance.
They just couldn’t capitalize early or late.
It’s a frustrating loss because of how many chances the Frogs had, but at the end of the day, the Pokes got the job done while TCU did not. And their freshman quarterback, while not perfect, made big play after big play with the game on the line. His improvement has been tangible, and Oklahoma State has a bright future behind their two young offensive stars.
There are no moral victories, Patterson told us after the game, but he still found a silver lining Saturday. “When we do the things we need to do football-wise, we can win ballgames. As bad as we played, it’s a seven-point ballgame on the road. So when we figure it out, when we play well, then we can beat anybody we want to play — and when we don’t, we’re not going to.”
The Frogs will head home to lick their wounds, but there’s no time for a pity party, as the undefeated Baylor Bears come to town a week from now. Win that game, and the season will certainly had a different feel. Lose, and the bowl hopes are all but over.
I expect this team to come ready to play. Will that be enough? We will find out Saturday.