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SMU 41, TCU 38: What was that?

The Frogs fell behind SMU early and never recovered Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth.

Al’Dontre Davis and the Horned Frogs’ offense were upside down all afternoon.
Melissa Triebwasser

You’ve never seen an SMU team celebrate they way they did in the corner of the stadium Saturday at Amon G.

TCU fans got what they wanted in one regard, Saturday afternoon when they welcomed SMU to Amon G. Carter Stadium - the insertion of true freshman quarterback Max Duggan into the starting lineup.

It didn’t go as planned.

Duggan started the game an abysmal 1-10 through the air, though (once again) he was not helped by the wide receiving corp, who had at least a couple of drops on very catchable balls.

Meanwhile, the Ponies sliced through the previously stout TCU defense like a knife for butter, picking up chunks of yardage on a bevy of passing and trick plays. SMU scored on five of their 11 first half drives, putting up 31 points through 30 minutes of a play - something that a Gary Patterson defense hadn’t allowed since Oklahoma in 2015. Frog fans knew Saturday had the potential to be a long day when a double-reverse flea flicker went for 46 yards as the Mustangs made quick work of the Frogs on their opening possession, going 65 yards in just five plays and 1:18.

Things were so smooth on the other sideline, as the Frogs accounted for three fumbles and a punt on four of their first five drives, though they did get into the end zone in the first quarter once, thanks to yeoman’s work from Jalen Reagor (29 yard rush) and Darius Anderson (14 yard score). The Frogs would score once more in the first half, as Anderson followed a 77 yard run with a three yard score, to make it a 31-17 game at the break.

Gary Patterson went into the locker room... and changed his shirt.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work this time.

The Frogs punted on their opening drive, but the defense looked rejuvenated, holding the Ponies to just three yards and forcing two punts on consecutive three-and-outs to open the third. TCU cut the deficit to just a single score with a touchdown on their second drive of the second half, going 23 yards in four plays following a 23 yard punt return by Jalen Reagor. Duggan found Pro Wells in the corner of the end zone on a (rare) well-executed fade route to make it a 31-24 ball game. After the defense forced another Pony punt, TCU drove the field looking to tie things up. Inside the red zone, TCU got tricky, splitting Duggan out wide and bringing Alex Delton in to try and pick up the four yards they needed for a fresh set of downs. He picked up three, and the offense stayed on the field for fourth and one. As we have seen so many times before, Sewo Olonilua entered the backfield for a direct snap, but instead of running up the gut and finding 36 inches, he dropped back to throw, and was sacked for a loss of six. That was the play of the game, and by all people, it was made by the SMU defense.

With the turnover on downs, momentum swung hard in SMU’s favor, and the Mustangs took advantage, making it a two touchdown deficit early in the fourth quarter. The teams traded punts as the clock rolled to the 11 minute mark, with TCU getting the ball back down two touchdowns late. Duggan finally looked comfortable, finding Dylan Thomas for back to back completions and Artayvious Lynn for a 14 yard gain down the middle. Another drop back, another completion, as Duggan and Darius connected for a 32 yard completion. Olonilua got in the act next, hauling in a short pass and taking it to pay dirt to make it a one score game once again. Five straight completions, four different receivers - it was the best Duggan has looked in his short tenure at TCU.

With the Ponies holding a 38-31 advantage, and the clock clicking down at a perilous rate, the Frogs were in desperate need of a stop. It eluded them, effectively putting a nail in the coffin of the Horned Frogs hopes of a comeback. Buchele found Reggie Roberson deep for a 38 yard gain over Jeff Gladney, and though the Frogs held them to a field goal, the two score lead would hold up.

Duggan continued his strong play on the ensuing drive, completing passes to quadrant of receivers and using his feet for a pair of 11 yard runs, each for a first down. Duggan found Pro Wells on third and ten for 13 yards and a touchdown to get the Frogs back within a field goal and keep things interesting down the stretch. With 3:37 left, the mandate was clear for the TCU defense - get a stop, and do it quickly.

They got a little help.

A miscommunicated snap rolled all the way to the three yard line, pinning the Ponies deep and setting up a third and 32. TCU stopped a running play after a very short game, and the Frogs would get the ball back with under three minutes remaining in the game. A knuckle punt rolled out of bounds at the 41 yard line, giving the freshman a chance to write his name in Horned Frog lore.

After two Anderson runs, Duggan dropped the snap, but was able to recover and keep fourth down to a manageable three yards. But as they had seemingly done every time they were asked, the SMU defense stepped up and made a play, blitzing the young QB, forcing a quick pass and off-target, and earning an incompletion.

Buechele kneeled out the clock, the game, and SMU’s first win over the Horned Frogs since 2011.

Quick Thoughts:

  • Max Duggan played like a freshman. He had a pair of fumbles and still threw the ball a little too hard, but flashed the skillset that has made him the favorite amongst Frog fans. Unfortunately, there are going to be games like this as he learns what it takes to start at the Power Five level, but we can take a lot from what he did in the second half and especially the fourth quarter - the talent is there, the poise is there, he just has to keep growing.
  • The wide receivers continued to drop the ball, but looked much better in the second half. Dylan Thomas was a bright spot, but the OCs need to find a way to get Jalen Reagor more involved in the passing game.
  • The defense... what happened? Sure, Purdue was a mess a week ago, but SMU ran and threw all over the Frogs Saturday on their home field. The same Shane Buechele who had been tormented by TCU in his first two games against them looked like an all-star in his third attempt. He ran the ball well, passed the ball well, and made just about every right decision.
  • It was a stark difference between the SMU and TCU offensive skill position players, as time after time it was the Ponies going up and making plays for their QB. Patterson said Saturday after the Purdue game that “players make plays”, and Saturday, SMU had all the players.
  • Redshirt freshman Ar’Darius Washington made his first career start Saturday in place of the injured Vernon Scott, and had a nice interception in the end zone in the first half. The secondary was very young, though, and it showed - Patterson turned to a freshman, a redshirt freshman, and a sophomore alongside seniors Jeff Gladney and Innis Gaines. No excuses, but that doesn’t make things any easier against a passing attack like the Ponies’.
  • Garret Wallow is something special. The junior linebacker had 12 tackles - AT THE HALF - and finished the game with 19. Wallow has been everywhere in 2019 and looks like the next great GP LB. But clearly, he can’t do it on his own.
  • We will talk about that play call on fourth and one for a long time. Clearly in field goal range, it would have changed the whole landscape of that final drive. Of course, it probably would have changed the Ponies’ too. If the Frogs convert or kick a field goal, the way Duggan was playing late — maybe, just maybe this one ends differently.
  • The defense got worked Saturday, but the offense looked promising in the second half. There’s a much better idea of what Max does well and what works for him - hopefully the playbook reflects that next week.
  • This was SMU’s Super Bowl, and the loss sucks, but this doesn’t change the goal for the Horned Frogs. Have to wipe the slate and get ready for Kansas. Losing to the Ponies hurts, but losing to Kansas really damages your season.