Max Duggan is a true freshman.
This feels like a critical note as we examine TCU Football’s loss in Norman, a game that appeared over as it began, only to see the Iowa-native, coaches’ kid will his team back into things with his legs and his heart.
Oklahoma started Saturday’s game in Norman the way they finished their last one in Waco — dominating through the air and on the ground and riding their grad transfer QB to the end zone, all while keeping the opposing offense off the field. That side of the ball was so inept for the Horned Frogs that they moved backward on their first two drives — accumulating two false starts in the first and two sacks in the second — managing just three total yards in the game’s first 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Hurts averaged more yards per play than TCU totaled, run over, through, and by would-be defenders, taking his team into the end zone three times in the first half (twice through the air and once on the ground).
Meanwhile, as the sky fell on TCU fans, Max Duggan decided he had had enough, and got some plays from his defense to give him a chance to make some magic of his own. An Oklahoma three-and-out led to a three play touchdown drive to get the Frogs on the board, one made possible by a Magic Max 59 yard scamper and ended with Sewo Olonilua powering in from the Wild Frog. The defense forced a fumble on the ensuing possession; in a bit of deja vu, Trevon Moehrig forced a fumble and Vernon Scott recovered it, reversing their roles from last week’s game-saving play and giving the Frogs a chance Saturday night in Norman. TCU was able to turn that into three points; an Artayvious Lynn drop in the end zone forced a Jonathan Song kick, but it put the visiting team in striking distance, trailing 21-10 and carrying the momentum into the half.
The Sooners had the ball first after the break, but the Frogs got Jeff Gladney back from his forced absence after a targeting call in Lubbock, and that — combined with a couple of bad throws and a slip in the backfield on third — was enough to get Oklahoma off the field nursing just an 11 point lead. Duggan wasn’t going to let that deficit stand though, willing his team down the field and getting some help from Darius Anderson, who made an unbelievable back shoulder catch on the sideline, and Jalen Reagor, who broke off a big first down run for his first impact play of the game.
But in the end, it was Duggan getting it done, as he drug seemingly the entire Oklahoma defense across the first down marker and into the end zone, for one of the most impressive QB touchdowns you ever will see.
Can't stop, won't stop @MaxDuggan_10 #GoFrogs pic.twitter.com/TC48Y3csSY— TCU Football (@TCUFootball) November 24, 2019
But, in a common refrain, what the freshman did, the senior across from him would replicate, as Jalen Hurts answered with a touchdown run of his own on the ensuing drive. That made it a 28-17 game, and as the Sooners ground out yards and the clock on the ground, it appeared the Frogs wouldn’t be able to get enough stops to get back in the game.
TCU punted following the Sooners answer score, and Oklahoma proceeded to move the ball down the field on 13 play, 85 yard drive. Freshman linebacker Dee Winters nearly had an incredible interception, reaching for a ball off the big paw of Ochaun Mathis, who tipped the ball up and into Winters’ waiting hands. Unfortunately for the true freshman, he couldn’t hang on as he hit the ground, and the Sooners were given new life.
Momentarily, that is.
Oklahoma handed off to Kennedy Brooks the next play, and Trevon Moehrig leveled a huge hit on the Sooners’ RB. In real time, it looked like targeting; so much so that Lincoln Riley called a timeout specifically to berate the officials and try and force a review — but when showed on replay, it was clear that the sophomore safety led with his shoulder, making it a big, but clean, hit. The next play would be a potential game-changer, as Vernon Scott stepped in front of a CeeDee Lamb slant route and started running, and with 98 yards of green grass in front of him, he made it a house call and a 28-24 ball game.
SCOTT TO THE #GoFrogs pic.twitter.com/JiVq9DSb9a— TCU Football (@TCUFootball) November 24, 2019
The Frogs’ defense responded on the ensuing drive as well, as Nook Bradford chased down Jalen Hurts at the tail end of a long run, knocking the ball out of Hurts’ hands for yet another Oklahoma turnover. Unfortunately for Frog fans, TCU went three-and-out from deep in their own territory, failing to gain any ground after two runs and a dropped pass.
But, time and time again, this TCU defense responded, this time, stopping running back Rhamondre Stevenson on fourth and one to get the ball back with 3:16 remaining. That would give Max Duggan and the TCU offense, trailing 28-24, another chance.
Duggan had Reagor one on one on first down, and wisely threw to him deep down the field. A pass interference call gave TCU 15 yards, but a short gain on the QB keeper and a short pass to Te’Vailance Hunt preceded a third down incompletion, leaving the Frogs in a fourth and six situation.
Max Duggan is only a freshman, and in his biggest moment, he was a split-second late on a slant to Pro Wells, allowing Oklahoma’s Bookie Radley-Hiles to step in front and make the interception. The Sooners ran the ball, something they had done well in the second half (and really the entire game), earning a third and one situation. Ross Blacklock and others converged, appearing to stop Hurts short of the line of gain, but it was oddly and inexcusably ruled a first down on the field. After a lengthly review, the ruling on the field was confirmed, much to the chagrin of the announcers, Dean Blandino, and every Big 12 fan not cheering for Oklahoma. It was a bad spot and a bad call, but it was made, and TCU was denied one final opportunity to see if they had any magic left.
The Sooners ran the ball 62 times out of their 84 total plays, something that Gary Patterson expected heading into the contest. The Frogs held an explosive Oklahoma offense to just one score in the final two and a half quarters, and after falling behind by three scores, gave their team a chance to crawl back into things. The offense struggled — just 204 total yards, 65 through the air, and just 11 first downs — but Max once again showed why his teammates and coaches would run through a brick wall for him. The Sooners offense, meanwhile, turned it over three times but had 366 yards on the ground, moving the ball well in between the 20s but struggling to convert scoring chances after such an explosive start. Duggan finished as the Frogs’ leading rusher once again, compiling 92 yards while Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua were given just ten total carries and turned them into just 26 total yards. Te’Vailance Hunt was the leading receiver, catching three balls for 34 yards, though Max had just 21 attempts on the day. The Frogs were 3-3 in the red zone, converting two touchdowns in those opportunities, but just didn’t get into scoring position enough early to not be forced to dig themselves out of a big hole late.
TCU falls to 5-6 with one last chance to get to bowl eligibility — against a West Virginia team that gave Oklahoma State everything they could handle. The Sooners clinch a spot in the Big 12 title game, where they will face the same Baylor team that nearly upended them a week ago. The Horned Frogs future is bright, and a couple extra weeks of practice would do them well. When you look at who was making plays for TCU Saturday night, more often than not, it was a guy that will be back in 2020. The future is bright, even if the present is pretty heart-breaking.