Does a single play win or lose a football game?
Coaches will always tell you no. Even if it’s a last-second field goal, coaches will tell you that “there were a lot of things that led up to that moment.” And certainly that’s true to an extent. But there are undoubtedly certain moments that are more important than others, and that was the case on Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth.
TCU struggled offensively in the first half, putting up just 17 points and turning the ball over three times. Max Duggan was just 1-10 passing the ball. The only guy to show life was Darius Anderson, with 133 rushing yards in the first half. We’ll come back to him in a moment.
TCU trailed 31-17 at halftime and there were barely any signs of life from the Frogs.
After a punt on their first possession of the third quarter, TCU finally seemed to capture some momentum. A forced three-and-out, followed by a touchdown pass from Duggan to Pro Wells, followed by another three-and-out for SMU led to the Frogs being down a score with the ball in hand. They started driving, getting into the red zone after Duggan connected with Artayvious Lynn for a ten yard gain.
It seemed like it would be a matter of moments until TCU tied the game. Two runs from Darius Anderson set up a 3rd and 4 from the SMU 13. He gained three yards on both carries.
Then, Alex Delton saw his only snap of the game, in which Duggan was split out wide. Hey! a run play for the running QB! Nice move!
Delton gets three yards for the Frogs, setting up a 4th and 1 at the SMU 10. There are about three and a half minutes left in the third quarter with the Frogs down seven.
At this point, the Frogs have a choice. Kick the field goal (a safe option, considering Jonathan Song is perfect on the season) or go for it. I’m not opposed to going for it in this situation, to be completely honest.
At this point in the game TCU finally had momentum on their side, Duggan was getting into a rhythm, and Anderson was still running it at an insane clip per carry. In fact, he had just carried it for triple what TCU needed to gain in order to keep the drive alive. Plus, Sewo has almost always proven effective in the wild frog. So going for it made sense, in a way.
Direct snapping it to your battering ram Goliath in a short yardage situation isn’t a bad idea. Sewo has proven effective in that situation time and time again, including in week 2 against Purdue. So that’s the well Sonny Cumbie went to on 4th and 1, with the Frogs down 31-24 to SMU late in the third quarter.
But then he asked Sewo to throw a pass.
I’m all for trickery and shenanigans when it comes to play-calling. SMU’s double-reverse flea flicker was a ridiculous beautiful thing. The fake screen handoff TCU ran earlier in this drive was also a beautifully designed play.
And yet...there are times where you should probably just line up and hit someone in the mouth. Where you don’t overthink things. You say, “we have two running backs who have been monsters this year. Including one who is carrying the ball for over nine yards a carry right now. Try to stop him.”
Instead, what we got was Sewo trying to throw it and instead getting tackled for a six yard loss. Turnover on downs.
SMU promptly drove 84 yards down the field for a touchdown to go up 38-24 early in the fourth quarter.
Cumbie talked about that play after the game.
“For three years we’ve run two plays out of that formation. We’ve had that play for a long time and we practice it a lot, and the one time we call it they cover it up.”
Does SMU deserve some credit for stopping this play? Absolutely. They got in the backfield and absolutely blew it up.
Does Cumbie deserve some blame for calling it at that moment? Absolutely. The Frogs were gathering all kinds of momentum. You just needed a yard. That’s not the time to get fancy. Maybe he thought that Sonny Dykes was too familiar with the wild frog for TCU to get away with running one of the two plays they traditionally run from that formation.
But if that’s the case, just give it to Darius. He’s run for over 300 yards in the past two games. Or hand it off to Sewo, who could fall forward and get three yards. Or run it with Delton. Or, if you’ve begun to overthink yourself to death, just kick the field goal.
Because the reality is, if SMU stops you if you try to gain a yard on the ground, then they just stopped you. Instead, TCU took a big swing with an axe and missed the stump completely, hitting themselves in the foot.
The stop swung momentum all the way back to SMU, and they never relinquished the lead.
There were other plays that shifted momentum too. Other moments that helped shape and ultimately define the outcome. But that 4th and 1 definitely looms large.
I don’t know if TCU goes on to win the game if they convert that 4th and 1 play, but momentum suggested that they were headed for a tie ballgame. Instead, the Frogs’ seven game winning streak against SMU was snapped, and the Frogs are 2-1 heading into Big 12 play.