There were no Cheez-It Bowl-like antics in this year’s TCU vs Cal matchup, but the Horned Frogs escaped an ugly one with a 34-32 win. It was a slow start offensively, but eventually the Frogs found their groove in the second half and made big time plays when they needed them most.
Early on, the Frogs looked shaky on defense. The Bears were playing max protection, essentially trying to eliminate TCU’s front seven and force the secondary into coverage and were successful in doing so. Cal finished the first half with three completions of 49 yards or more, one of which being the opening touchdown of the game.
“New safeties, young safeties, corners that haven’t practiced much during two a days; they’re going to get better. We know how good they can play, but they didn’t play like that today,” said Head Coach Gary Patterson.
Things weren’t all bad for the Frogs’ secondary though. In the second half, TCU held Cal QB Chase Garbers to just 74 passing yards on 38% completion. The defense wasn’t the only unit that needed some halftime corrections as Max Duggan and co. struggled early in this one as well.
TCU’s first three drives resulted in a Jordy Sandy punt, and the fourth was a pick six from their own 8-yard-line. There were a lot of missed opportunities on offense early, especially the deep ball. Duggan missed his mark on a few passes that could have broke away for 50+ yarders, or even touchdowns.
“I’ve got to be better on the downfield throws. It really hurt us in times and could have helped if I hit them. It’s just connection and about getting more in practice and seeing more coverages,” said Duggan.
Things were looking grim until eventually the Frogs put together a solid nine play, 75 yard drive to get on the board in the 2nd quarter.
The excitement of scoring didn’t last long though considering the Bears retaliated by scoring 52 seconds later, taking only two plays to go 75 yards.
Down 19-7 at the time, TCU needed some sort of momentum heading into halftime. Enter Zach Evans.
The 5-star sophomore running back provided a spark for the Frogs in the nick of time. TCU got the ball back with just under 30 seconds remaining in the first half, and I wasn’t quite sure whether Gary would run the clock out or take a shot down field considering the deficit.
Turns out Zach Evans accounts for both. After a quality 14-yard gain on a pass to Derius Davis, Evans broke away for a 51-yard touchdown with just 11 seconds remaining in the 2nd quarter.
After the run, Evans finished the first half with 9 carries, 92 yards, 10.2 YPC and a TD. I’d say that’s pretty damn good in of itself, but the #FeedZach train wasn’t satisfied quite yet.
This play completely changed the game. TCU would receive the 2nd half kickoff and immediately got to work on offense.
The Frogs opened the 2nd half with a very methodical 75-yard touchdown drive and held the lead for the first time all game. The TD would be Quentin Johnston’s first of the night.
Although Johnston was certainly Duggan’s favorite target of the night, finishing with a team high 5 receptions for 95 yards and 2 TDs, the veteran QB spread the love. NINE different Horned Frogs had a reception in this ballgame, keeping the Cal secondary on their toes and opening up more opportunities out of the backfield for Duggan to use his legs.
The rest of the game went on to be a back and forth contest, but as Gary said, the Frogs made plays when they needed to most.
Although it may be overshadowed by a sketchy first half, there were a lot of great individual performances by Horned Frogs tonight. After starting 3-10 for 24 yards with an INT, Max Duggan turned things around and finished with 234 yards passing, 71 yards rushing, and four total touchdowns.
I already mentioned Zach Evans’s first half performance, but man he just kept on churning. Evans finished the game with 22 carries for a career-best 183 yards, averaging an absurd 8.3 yards per carry.
“I’ve been laughing because nobody mentions Zach Evans,” said Patterson. “Just don’t talk about Zach Evans, we’ll just keep running him. They won’t pay attention and we’ll keep doing the things that we need to do.”
Despite being a 5-star recruit, Gary Patterson finds a way to put a chip on Zach Evans’ shoulder. Speaking of running him, the Frogs ran Evans rampant today.
His 22 carries were the most he’s had in a Horned Frogs uniform, and he did not disappoint as a workload back.
“First I want to thank my o-line and coaches for putting together the game plan. It felt good to see the o-line happy, the team happy,” said Evans.
Well, Zach, you made a lot of Horned Frog fans happy tonight too.
When asked about taking on a larger role in the backfield, Evans responded with: “I’m good with whatever they give me, I’m going to make something happen.”
Although TCU was in control for the majority of the 2nd half, the game came down to the wire. California scored a touchdown with just around four minutes left in the 4th, and the Frogs were facing a crucial 2-pt conversion.
If Cal converted, the Frogs would still have had a chance to drive the field and take the lead before potential overtime. No worries though, as TCU stopped the Bears’ rushing attempt inches short from the yard line.
After gaining a few first downs on the final drive and running out the clock, that was all she wrote. TCU 34, Cal 32.
Max Duggan summarized this game perfectly in the post-game presser: “You don’t want it to be sloppy, but you want to win and that’s what we got done today against a great opponent like Cal.”
One point, two points, forty points - a win is a win, and TCU is now 2-0 to start the season for the 13th time under Gary Patterson.
TCU will have plenty of time to correct today’s mistakes with a bye week next weekend. After that, SMU comes to town as the Frogs will look to reclaim the Iron Skillet after 2019’s fiasco.
The game has not yet been assigned a kick-off time, but we know for sure it will be played Saturday, Sep 25.
You can check out the entirety of today’s postgame press conference interviews on the Frogs O’ War YouTube and here: