Gary Patterson has long rewarded things like loyalty, hard work, and experience. TCU Football’s first depth chart of the season was a study in exactly that, as guys like Emari Demercado (the only senior running back), Dylan Thomas (a fifth year senior returning from injury), and Parker Workman (the most experienced returning defensive end not named Ochaun Mathis) earned starting roles. It also seemed to be the reason that Matthew Downing, the redshirt sophomore transfer by way of Georgia earned the starting nod over the recently cleared Max Duggan — while Duggan had been recovering, it was Downing taking snaps with the first team and preparing for Iowa State. No one really had a probably with Downing getting the start — but appropriate questions were asked when he stayed in for a second drive, and then a third, and ultimately the entire first half.
Now, don’t get me wrong — Downing wasn’t terrible. Completing 11-21 passes for 159 yards with a touchdown — while running for his life behind a shaky offensive line — Downing did what he could. But he also had a bad fumble in his own red zone and didn’t have the pop provided by his successor in the second half.
When Duggan entered the game with 12:37 remaining in the third quarter, the energy was palpable, even in a socially-distanced Amon G. Carter Stadium. Though it took a drive to get his sea legs, Duggan was exceptional in his return to the field, throwing for 241 yards on 16-19 passing with three touchdowns, and keeping drives alive with his scrambling and running ability behind an offensive line that wasn’t getting it done.
The Frogs were able to keep pace with an Iowa State offense that was slicing and dicing this much-touted D and were in position to take the lead late in the fourth quarter before the ball bounced off of Taye Barber’s hands then knee and into the waiting arms of a Cyclones defender who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Duggan did his part to get his team in the game, and had us all wondering why in the hell he wasn’t in there earlier.
Downing is a capable quarterback, and this loss isn’t on him. He didn’t do anything to cost TCU to lose the game — but he didn’t do much to put the Frogs in a position to win it, either. There’s a reason that Max Duggan was named the starter after two games a season ago; he has the IT Factor and that extra juice that turns a talented player into a great one. Downing isn’t bad — Duggan is just special. Sure, he wasn’t 100% in game shape and he looked wiped after a quarter of play, but he had enough gas in the tank to lead two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter and be a bad bounce away from potentially a third. If he’s going to be your guy, let him be the guy.
When asked why Downing wasn’t out there for a couple of series or a quarter of play — which is what most folks expected before the game started and demanded after the offense’s slow start Saturday — Gary Patterson wasn’t exactly informative, giving a milquetoast explanation of “they talked and they felt like they wanted to do that. I thought he started slow and got better as he went.” When pressed about whether Duggan had earned the starting nod for week two at Texas, “I don’t know the answer to that question. I haven’t talked to the offense; we will talk tomorrow once we watch the film.”
Let me make this one easy for you, coach, the answer is yes.
One of the media members in the press box may have put it best — “TCU lost this game for a bit”. It’s very easy to question the decisions of coaches from the press box, the stands, or while watching at home, and it’s true that we have no idea what has gone on in practice or the meeting rooms. There very well could be a good reason why Duggan didn’t start and/or why it took so long for him to see the field. But ultimately, this is a coaching decision, and one that backfired. To his credit, Patterson put the blame squarely on his shoulders “there’s only one guy to blame — I’m the guy who is supposed to get them ready and we weren’t ready.” But whether he was the one that ultimately made the call or that decision was left up to Jerry Kill/Sonny Cumbie/Doug Meacham is irrelevant — it just needs to be fixed by next Saturday.
At the end of the day, game one is in the books and the Frogs are 0-1. We have to hope that going forward, Duggan is the guy and that he can build on a great half of play when he takes the field in Austin a week from now. Garret Wallow offered some good perspective post game, “One positive is that it’s our first game. It’s been a while since we played a game. Coming into the the first game you learn what you have, what you can get better at. We have to watch the film, see what we can get better at, and do better the next game.”
Hopefully the Frogs can indeed to better the next game — and do it with Duggan behind center from the first play to the last.