It looked like it was going to be another long day in Fort Worth, as the offensive impotence that had plagued the Frogs most of 2020 (and 2019, and 2018, but who’s counting) remaining through the first 20+ minutes of play in TCU’s Big 12 finale against #15 Oklahoma State.
But something was different Saturday; maybe it was the effort of the defense, which — led by Garret Wallow — seemed hell-bent on making life miserable for Spencer Sanders and company. Maybe it was the confidence of Max Duggan, who, coming off of the weirdest performance of his Horned Frog career, played with that familiar swagger and never say die attitude that has made fans fall in love with him. Or maybe it was the simplest thing of all, offensive coaches adjusting and adapting as the game went on.
Whatever it was, it worked, and the Frogs knocked off their second top 15 team of the season and ran their record to 5-4 on the season with one regular season game to play.
Here are some quick thoughts:
- Garret Wallow is a TCU legend, on and off the field.
Earlier in the week, Gary Patterson talked about wanting “100 Garret Wallows” on his team. No one works harder, no one studies more, no one ***cares*** more than the senior linebacker. That was especially obvious Saturday, on Senior Day, and likely the second to last time he appears on the pristine grass of Amon G Carter Stadium.
Wallow had 11 tackles to lead the Frogs Saturday, including a tackle for loss, and his leadership was on full display throughout the contest. As energetic as he generally is, he had a little something extra against the Cowboys, and was a huge reason that the TCU defense was as dominant as they were.
2. Quentin Johnston is an absolute star, but Derius Davis made his case Saturday.
When is the last time TCU Football had two 100 yard receivers? Thanks to intrepid reporter Colin Post, it was in November of 2015, when Shaun Nixon and KaVontae Turpin both broke the century mark. Well, it happened Saturday, with Johnston hauling in three receptions for 114 yards (and a two point conversion) and Davis setting career marks with six catches, 139 yards, and a touchdown — a 71 yard catch and run that put his superb speed on full display.
Davis is what TCU has been missing (and what we thought we had in Taye Barber), a tough, fast player who can run intermediate routes and make defenses pay with his speed. Barber had a rough Saturday, but QJ and D Davis made up for it. “On that play they actually double teamed me, and I just ran straight,” Davis said of his big touchdown. “I felt like Max was getting pressure and I was about to come back to the ball, but I turned around and ran as fast as I could and just scored the touchdown.”
3. The Tre Moehrig game.
Moehrig came into the season being talked about as a potential first rounder, but struggled through the first half of the season in coverage and as a tackler. But he’s looked more like himself over the last few weeks, and Saturday he exploded, recording six tackles, two pass breakups, and a one-handed interception in the back of the end zone that likely secured the TCU victory. “I didn’t know I had that [one-handed catch] until it actually happened,” Moehrig said of the INT. “I’m grateful I pulled that out of my bag of tricks.”
4. THT is TNT.
Trevius Hodges-Tomlinson is going to be special. He’s not the biggest guy on the field but he might be the feistiest; though he still gives up big plays, he makes up for it with big plays himself, and Saturday was no exception.
Tylan Wallace is one of the best players in the conference, and the country, and other than one big play (a 55 yard touchdown) he was mostly contained: just 37 yards on six catches (11) targets. “We knew coming in he was one of the big targets so we just tried to keep eyes on him all game,” Trevon Moehrig said of the game plan for Wallace. Earlier in the week, Patterson alluded to the fact that Hodges-Tomlinson would be responsible for the star receiver most of the ball game, and he held up his end of the bargain.
5. Max Duggan is TCU’s QB. And that’s how it should be.
Jamie had to threaten folks on twitter Sunday:
If you're still tweeting at us that Duggan is bad, it has now been elevated to a blockable offense.— Frogs O’ War (@FrogsOWar) December 5, 2020
Max Duggan is incredible. He has a lot of growing to do, and he is far from a finished product. But how many QBs would you really trade for this guy?
He absolutely out-played Spencer Sanders Saturday, and every time TCU needed a play, it seemed like he was involved in making it. Duggan went 12-26 through the air for 265 yards and a touchdown, ran for another 104 yards on the ground, and displayed the confidence and swagger that will ultimately make him elite.
Again, this is a true sophomore who lost all of his first off-season to a global pandemic. He’s a leader, he’s got the juice, and he’s the face of the program. “First of all, I just want to say, defense, offensive line, revievers, special team they all played awesome today and bailed us out a couple times,” Duggan said when asked about his performance. “I just wanted to give us a chance, and get the ball to our guys to let them do what they do best.”
6. The turnovers are concerning, but it gave the defense the chance to shine.
Gary Patterson has never been a part of a game like today’s. “Never lost (turnover battle) 5-1 and won.”
And that makes sense! Very rarely can a team fumble it four times and throw an interception and still come out on top. But, then, you see things like this:
Crazy stat on this TCU defense: Oklahoma State had four drives after a TCU turnover, the Cowboys had three points and nine total yards on those four drives. Talk about stepping up.— Billy Wessels (@BillyWessels) December 5, 2020
The defense has been a completely different unit since the Oklahoma game; after playing the Sooners, Patterson kept telling us that the tide was turning. It was hard to think that was the game where the team starting playing better on that side of the ball, but he wasn’t wrong. And other than a handful of big plays on the road at West Virginia, this unit has been pretty damn elite over the course of the last month and a half or so.
What made the difference?
“When you finally get to a place where your guys like to play with each other and have a good time... these guys have gotten there the last four or five weeks,” Patterson said.
They started having fun and that helped them start playing better.
“Sometimes you add by subtraction. They trust each other, they’ve been having a great time. When you like each other, trust each other, good things happen,” Patterson explained. Trevon Moehrig agreed. “We walked around and realised that we’re out here starting to have fun. We just turned a switch and had fun on defense, flying around and making plays.”
7. TCU got through the Big 12 portion of their season, and that’s no small feat.
The Horned Frogs are 5-4 and have played all nine Big 12 ball games.
Not many had a lot of hope that would happen this year.
“I think there’s a lot of positives that came out of this,” Patterson said. “There are a lot of people to thank. The group you need to thank the most are the kids. All the trainers and other people they don’t get to go have any fun either.”
Through it all, injuries, illnesses, close-contact tracing and the subsequent quarantining, TCU Football has put a team on the field each week since their season-opening cancellation. The Frogs have dealt with a crazy puzzle, have been down as many as 30 scholarship players some weeks, and have lost just about every skill position player for at least part of a game or a bunch of practices. But they made it, and they’ll come out with a winning record.
Fans are disappointed with things, sure. And there’s nothing wrong with having high expectations. But, it’s worth taking a moment — taking a step back, if you will — and celebrating that the games were played. That in itself should mean something.
“Hopefully we’ll have some positive articles, because I’ll tell you right now - I don’t know how we won that ballgame,” Patterson joked. “We’ve gotta move forward now. Go Frogs.”