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TCU 33, Texas 31: Frogs find new and interesting ways to beat the Horns, again

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This one was wacky and weird and wonderful.

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Texas
Max was ridiculous once again against the Frogs’ in-state rival.
Ricardo B. Brazziell-USA TODAY Sports

Do you like flags? Do you love penalties? Do you take your football with a large side of laundry? Well, if that’s true for you, then you absolutely loved the first five minutes of TCU at Texas Saturday morning.

Before we were even halfway through the first quarter, these two teams had accumulated nearly triple the amount of yardage in penalties then on offense, with nine flags thrown in the first 6:51 of play for 64 total yards. The kickoff itself to three tries: the first, a nice stop, was negated by an offsides. The second, a Texas return to the TCU one was called back for penalties on both teams. The third actually allowed the game to begin — though there would be no flow for a good long while. Patterson noticed.

“You’ve got to find a way to win, to take ballgames. It wasn’t pretty, but we found a way to win.”

Much like their opener, the TCU defense showed up strong to start. Coming after Ehlinger early and often, they worked to keep the Horns’ star quarterback uncomfortable, bringing pressure and laying some big hits. Texas started their second drive on their own seven and moved backward, and went three-and-out through their first two.

Meanwhile, in their second drive, the Frogs finally found some footing, riding Darwin Barlow and Taye Barber — with a couple of really nice throws from Max Duggan — to the end zone. Duggan used his arm and his feet on the drive, which saw him make two big completions under pressure for first downs. He almost finished the drive himself, but his long run was called short of the goal line, allowing Darwin Barlow to finish the job.

Texas answered on their ensuing drive; after not completing a ball through his first two drives, Ehlinger found some mojo and easily moved the Longhorns down the field to answer the score and make it a 7-7 ball game as the first quarter wound down.

Just to stay #onbrand, the Frogs got a false start penalty with one second remaining in the first quarter, helping to set a Big 12 record with 13 flags in a quarter. And that’s without the four or five that were picked up, too.

But, despite its poor start, the drive ended up being a great one for the Frogs, as Duggan found former Texas commit Quentin Johnston for 50 on the first snap of the second quarter. Johnston, who is so big and so fast, made a tough catch look easy, hauling in the bomb with a defender hanging all over him. As the Frogs moved into the red zone, the officials decided to get back involved, reviewing a pass interference call and targeting penalty on the same play — and then reviewing the review before granting the 15 yard PI and ejecting linebacker Juwan Mitchell for his hit to the helmet of Duggan. Duggan would eventually waltz into the end zone on a nice designed QB run behind JD Spielman’s motion.

The Horns answered again though, as Jake Smith continued to make big plays. His 18 yard reception on third and long kept the drive alive, and Ehlinger found Brennan Eagles matched up on Garret Wallow in the middle of the field a play later for a 45 yard touchdown pass to make it a 14-14 ballgame. Our flag-off had turned into a shootout.

Okay maybe not.

The teams traded touchdowns and then punts, with each scoring on four play drives and punting their next time out. The defenses turned up the heat; Max Duggan’s time in the pocket began to decrease as the punishment he was taking increased. But Duggan hung tough and moved the ball enough to give his team a lead going into the half, as the Frogs scored field goals on back to back drives. The second three pointer should have been six; Lakendrick Van Zandt was once again in the right place at the right time, earning an easy interception off of Ehlinger and taking it all the way to the five yard line. But an unsportsmanlike penalty negated the big return, after a short pass preceded back to back incompletions, leading to TCU having to settle for three as the clock ticked down in the second quarter.

TCU would make it three threes in a row to start the third; a couple of nice runs by true freshman Kendre Miller moved them into plus territory, but a holding call and three very conservative play calls ended the drive with a 48 yard field goal.

The game turned on two plays (or so we thought): LVZ’s unsportsmanlike penalty that likely cost the Frogs four points, and the offsides penalty on 4th and 7 as Texas was lining up for a field goal. Cut to fourth and two, the Horns went for it, scoring on the play and cutting the TCU lead to two.

Any hope you had for the Frogs answering was gone from play one on the next drive — a nice gain by Derius Davis was erased by a blindside block, and on second and long (after a short Zach Evans run), a false start moved them back farther. Duggan and Barlow picked up some yardage, but TCU was forced to punt, and Texas had the ball with the lead in sight.

The defense held, thanks to a bad drop by Smith, but Texas got the ball right back when Duggan was nailed from behind on a third down pass attempt, fumbling the ball and giving it to the Horns on the 32. But an ineligible man downfield negated a big pass play and TCU’s defense came up big again, and behind two impressive Blair Conwright catches, the Frogs found the red zone again. But much as they had in four of the previous five drives, they settled for three, keeping it just a one score game in Austin and clinging to a 26-21 lead.

It wouldn’t hold.

A 40 yard run by Roschon Johnson and another conversion on third and long — coupled with not being able to get within ten yards of Ehlinger on the pass rush — led to the first Texas touchdown since early in the third quarter and the Longhorns’ first lead of the day, 29-26 after the two point conversion.

The Frogs punted on their next possession, but were able to pin Texas deep and force a punt from the Horns, too. Starting in plus territory after another good Spielman return, TCU got a reception from Johnston on a tipped pass and a first down conversion to give them the ball on the 26. Duggan would not be denied, and in the end, decided to do it himself. With the Texas defensive line spread out wide, he kept the ball and scampered up the middle untouched to pay dirt, giving TCU a 33-29 lead with four minutes to play. Patterson credited the second year starter with making the call. “That was a great check. You’ve got to put it all on his shoulders, it was a great check. Him and the offensive coaches.” Duggan was a little more deferential in his assessment. “In that formation we knew that check would be good for us. We had a call in that formation, and I saw an opening.”

Texas moved right back down the field, though, and looked ready to answer and take the lead late after Ingram took a short pass from Ehlinger 52 yards to the one. But, one play later, as he tried to leap the pile, Garret Wallow knifed in and forced a fumble that George Ellis recovered. The TCU offense was ecstatic after the play, according to Taye Barber. “I wanted to go hug Garret but we had to go back on offense. His IQ is really good — it showed. That was a great play.”

With the ball back, the Frogs got one first down, thanks to Barber, and were able to run out the clock on fourth down with :06 remaining as Max Duggan took a smart-play safety. It’s a play that they work on often, according to the QB. “We were prepared for it. We practice late game scenarios for this reason.”

Barber led TCU receivers with seven catches on seven targets, picking up 51 yards. His big day was no accident. “Last week I had a big drop. I just wanted to make up for it and catch everything that came my way.” Quentin Johnston was great as well, with three receptions for 70 yards, and Duggan led the Frogs with 79 yards on the ground and two scores. Kendre Miller was great running the ball as well with 67 yards on 10 attempts.

The win brings the Frogs record to 1-1 overall, and 1-1 in Big 12 play. The weird victory was reminiscent of another unconventional game, according to Patterson, but maybe less weird. “I don’t think anything ranked with the Cheez-it Bowl. I don’t know if i ever play in a game that will rank up with that.” But it doesn’t matter how they won, just that they won. “For us, after such a long break, not playing how we wanted to last week, to get a chance to win on the road at Texas... it’s a big deal to us.”

The Frogs will get ready to welcome in Kansas State next week. This one mattered, but it will soon be on to the next, according to Barber. “We are going to celebrate tonight but we have to come back and be ready for next week.”