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Six Plays, Six Losses: The Tale of TCU’s Close Game Struggles

TCU lost six one score games this season. What are the plays that defined each loss?

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In a 2019 campaign disappointing on all fronts, the TCU Horned Frogs lost 7 games, 6 of those by one score. In those one score losses, TCU either had the ball on the final possession or late in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie/lead and came up short. While we can focus on those drives, and perhaps should, a prudent observer will also focus on the deeper question: how did TCU end up in a one-score situation late in the game? In this post, I’ll chronicle the most important plays, according to EPA, which contributed to TCU’s one-score losses.

I’m sorry, this is going to be a sad post.

Loss 1: TCU 38, SMU 41

TCU fumbled three times, let SMU pass for 288 yards, and racked up 60 penalty yards in route to the three point loss, but still found themselves with a chance to tie at the end of the game. Why were they in a one score game, though?

  • 4th and 1 from the SMU 10, 5:26 in the 2nd Quarter: Sewo Olonilua sacked. EPA: -4.4

More than a full field goal swing in expectation, all because of a Wild Frog fourth down. TCU could’ve kicked a field goal, they could’ve run an actual play. Those three points could’ve easily changed the course of the game, and that four point swing ended up as larger than the final margin.

Loss 2: TCU 17, Kansas State 24

You might think it was the blocked pun that really did TCU in, and you wouldn’t be completely wrong. In terms of EPA, though, the blocked punt wasn’t too terrible: the Frogs had a very low expected points to start the play, and so the switch of field position wasn’t as bad as you’d expect. The play that killed TCU:

  • 1st and 10 from the KSU 36, 2:45 in the 4th Quarter: Max Duggan sacked for a loss of 9 yards. -2.57 EPA.

That play, even more so than the blocked punt or the incompletion to Jalen Reagor late, defined the drive. It immediately put TCU in a position where they had to scramble for a long first down, instead of one where they could focus on moving the ball.

Loss 3: TCU 27, Oklahoma State 34

  • 1st and 10 at the OSU 31, 13:21 in the 3rd Quarter: Max Duggan complete to John Stephens for 13 yards, John Stephens fumble. Recovered by OSU.

This play took TCU from a red zone first down to giving the ball to Oklahoma State in better-than-touchback field position. This was effectively the end of the game, as TCU didn’t really have an answer the rest of the half. The Frogs next five drives were punts or turnovers.

Loss 4: TCU 23, Baylor 29

There were plenty of boneheaded mistakes in this game, plenty of chances for the Frogs to put the game away where they didn’t. They rushed three times and punted near the end of regulation, giving Charlie Brewer the ball in a one score game. They clocked the ball despite having 36 seconds, three timeouts, and only needing a field goal on the final play of regulation. In terms of expected points, though, one play stands above the rest:

  • 3rd and Goal from the Baylor 4, 3OT: TCU Penalty, Holding. -5.22 EPA.

I don’t have much to add here. TCU had first and goal inside the ten, and ended up with a fourth and 14. What a terrible drive, what a missed opportunity.

Loss 5: TCU 24, Oklahoma 28

I’m going to flip this one on it’s head. Oklahoma had a 97% postgame win expectancy, per Bill Connelly. The only reason TCU was actually in this game?

  • 3rd and 5 from the TCU 7, 7:51 in the 4th Quarter: Jalen Hurts pass intercepted by V.Scott, returned 97 yards for a TCU TOUCHDOWN. EPA +10.99.

Oklahoma was almost sure to score a TD in the red zone, as they always do, and at the very least, get a field goal. That over ten point swing was one of the largest EPA plays this season, of any team, and it made the difference between this game being a 35-17 knockout of TCU to a one score game the Frogs had no business being in.

Loss 6: TCU 17, West Virginia 20

Was this the worst game of the season? It certainly was the most frustrating, in terms of expectations. Basically every other game on the schedule we figured TCU would lose, but to have bowl eligibility on the line against a first year coach with a new starter at QB and lose? Rough.

  • 2nd and 5 from the WVU 35, 12:55 in the 2nd Quarter: Penalty. EPA: -5.68. This play took TCU out of field goal range and put them behind the sticks. Brutal. Took the Frogs from a scoring opportunity to just another drive. The Frogs ended up with a field goal, despite a first down inside the WVU 40.

I’m sorry I wrote this post. Let’s never speak of this penalty-ridden, head-scratching season again.