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TCU’s ‘heartbeat’ is gearing-up at the perfect time

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Quarterback Max Duggan had the best game of his three-year career at No. 3 Oklahoma, revealing he’s capable of playing at a higher level at a crucial juncture in the Horned Frogs’ season.

TCU v Oklahoma
Quarterback Max Duggan #15 the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs looks for a receiver from the middle of the end zone against the Oklahoma Sooners in the fourth quarter at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Norman, Oklahoma.
Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

The play of a team’s quarterback dictates outcomes in football today at every level of the sport. Outside of the NFL’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year, Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, that remains the case. While the Horned Frogs have been blessed with a five-star running back, Zach Evans, who has run for 100 or more yards in each of his last four games played, they’re 2-2 in that stretch with wins against California-Berkeley and Texas Tech and losses against SMU and Texas Tech.

Horned Frog quarterback Max Duggan showed perhaps for the first time in his three-year career that he can carry TCU with his arm, throwing for a career-high 346 passing yards and four touchdowns. Yes, the Horned Frogs came up well short, losing 52-31, but scoring over 30 points on the road against an undefeated top five opponent tends to be enough in many instances. Naturally, some of the credit for the junior’s improved play has to be attributed to an offensive line that has given Duggan the time he needs to scan the field and remain comfortable in the pocket.

TCU has allowed only six sacks on the season, including zero over the last two weeks against Texas Tech and Oklahoma. The Horned Frogs are about as balanced as it gets, averaging 232.5 yards passing and 227.5 yards rushing.

“We’re starting to come together as a unit,” sophomore offensive tackle Andrew Coker said. “We’re starting to play together very well.”

With a defense that allows 32 points per game, its offense needs to continue to find higher levels of performance. At 3-3 overall and 1-2 in the Big 12, their season could go nearly any direction, positive or negative.

“We’re not resetting any goals for the conference because we believe that there’s going to be a team in the conference championship with two losses in conference,” Coker said. We feel like that’s still an option.”

Averaging 37.2 points per game, the fourth-most in the Big 12, naturally breathes confidence into a team that feels its best is yet to come.

“We have some players on the field that wear No. 15 (Duggan), No. 33 (Miller), No. 1 (Johnston) and even No. 6 (Evans) when he’s out there,” Coker said. “Whenever they’re on the field, we feel like we can score in an instant.”

Duggan found a way to have the best game of his collegiate career despite playing through a broken bone in his foot.

“He’s [Max Duggan] our heartbeat for sure,” Coker said. “He’s the one who makes this team go. You see some guys out there who are battling through injuries and being sore and stuff like that, but that guy is playing on a broken foot. And he’s a quarterback, the most important position on the field. “He’s our leader. Whenever he’s on the field, we always feel like we have a chance no matter who we’re playing. A guy like that is a guy you want to play for.”

Another player Coker noted he enjoys blocking for is sophomore wide receiver Quentin Johnston, also coming off the best game of his career with seven catches, 185 receiving receiving yards and three touchdowns at third-ranked Oklahoma.Those 185 receiving yards are the most a TCU player has totaled since 2016, and Johnston’s three receiving touchdowns are the most since since KaVontae Turpin had four against Texas during a 50-7 blowout in 2015.

Lining up across from a West Virginia pass defense that surrenders 248.5 yards per game , the second-most in the Big 12, Duggan will have plenty of chances to connect with his number one target, Johnston, who fittingly wears number one on his jersey.

TCU v Oklahoma
Wide receiver Quentin Johnston #1 of the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs wrestles the ball out of the hands of cornerback Joshua Eaton #1 of the Oklahoma Sooners for a 25-yard touchdown catch in the end zone in the fourth quarter at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Norman, Oklahoma.
Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

If the 2021 edition of Horned Frog football is going to follow in the footsteps of TCU teams of the past and finish the season on a high note, Duggan will need to beat even stronger in the final six games of the season. In 2018, TCU won three of their last four games and finished the year topping Cal 10-7 in the Cheez-It Bowl overtime thriller. A season ago, the Horned Frogs won five of their last six games despite a 1-3 start to receive an invitation to face Arkansas in the Texas Bowl.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve always been a team to finish strong, more than anything, in the second half of the season,” junior defensive end Ochaun Mathis said. “We’re going to just come out there and do what we have to do this half of the season.”