TCU Horned Frogs Football is next up on our 2021-22 athletics year in review series. The program with the biggest spotlight took a step back in 2021, resulting in a once unthinkable departure and new look for the future. The 2021 TCU Football season ended up as one of the most notable in many years, but for unfortunate reasons. The Horned Frogs entered the season with tempered expectations, but with blue chips at RB, WR, DB and DL and a returning Max Duggan, optimists could see a path to a big bounce-back year after the 2020 COVID season closed with a cancelled Texas Bowl. That…well folks, that is not what happened.
The season opened with a cake walk over FCS Duquesne where, despite a lopsided score, no skill-player surpassed 57 scrimmage yards and there was little progress on display from the offense. Game 2 quickly put all of TCU’s weaknesses on display: CJ Caesar was torched for long TDs and Max Duggan threw a pick-six and every Frog fan’s pre-season anxieties came to the fore. The defense made Cal QB Chase Garbers look like Baker Mayfield and the offense turtled into its most conservative form, with 50 rush attempts. TCU was bailed out by
a controversial call on the game-tying two-point conversion attempt super-human performances from Zach Evans, Quentin Johnston, and the legs of Max Duggan to survive with a 34-32 victory.
34 points would not be enough the following game, as the Frogs allowed the Iron Skillet to remain in Dallas. Coming out of a Bye week for a home contest with a rival, it would have been reasonable to expect Gary Patterson to have developed some plan to slow the Sonny Dykes offense, but the result would be quite the opposite. In one of the worst defensive performances of the Patterson era, the Ponies amassed 350 rushing yards and QB Tanner Mordecai tossed 4 TDs. After a week of trash talk from out East, SMU waltzed into the Carter and backed it up. In its post-game celebration, SMU players brought a flag to mid field and a “disagreement” ensued between the two teams. During that scuffle, TCU assistant Jerry Kill received a push and took a fall. Patterson took the fight to the press, blaming SMU players for Kill’s tumble and even doubling down despite video evidence to suggest Kill got caught up in the TCU players’ response. It was an embarrassing game followed by embarrassing actions that perhaps started the snowball rolling downhill towards Patterson’s ouster.
With the flip of the calendar to October and the conference schedule beginning, there was opportunity to leave that nonsense behind, starting with a home contest against Texas, a program Patterson had dominated during his tenure. However, a porous run defense is the last thing you want when staring at superstar Bijan Robinson on the opposing sideline; he torched the Frogs for 238 scrimmage yards and 2 TDs and was able to grind away the final 4+ minutes of game time to preserve the Longhorn win.
The Frogs then showed a glimmer of life with a thorough beatdown of the Red Raiders in Lubbock. While Evans again excelled, with 143 yards and 2 scores in just a half of work, it was a breakout day for Kendre Miller, rushing for 185 yards and 3 TDs. Tre Tomlinson starred on the defensive end, with an interception returned for a TD while holding Erik Ezukanma to just 23 yards receiving. However, the defense still allowed another 100+ yard rusher in SaRodorick Thompson and 344 yards passing from Henry Colombi.
The following week’s trip to Norman began a 3-game losing streak that would ultimately be the final three games with Gary Patterson as the Horned Frog Head Coach. Although TCU was certainly not expected to go on the road and steal a win against #4 Oklahoma (TCU was a 13-point underdog), the Horned Frogs held tight until the Sooners ultimately ran away with a 21-point victory. TCU trailed by just 3 points, with the ball, with under 3 minutes to play in the first half…but it turned into an abysmal 3-and-out that allowed OU to get a TD just before halftime and again just after halftime turning the 3-point deficit to 3-score deficit and the Sooners never looked back. A career day from Max Duggan and a national-scene breakout from Quentin Johnston was not enough to get TCU within striking distance again. Johnston ascended to another level in this game: 7 receptions for 185 yards and 3 TDs; all three scoring plays were insane highlights that brought comparison to Randy Moss from Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler on the broadcast.
The home game vs. West Virginia started off well enough, with a Derius Davis house call on the opening kickoff, but once again the TCU Defense allowed a 100+ yard rusher (Leddie Brown went for 111 yards and 3 TDs) and Max Duggan threw two picks as TCU failed to score in the 2nd half. This is where it seemed the locker room was lost as it was clear this was going to be a season to forget, which became very clear in Manhattan the next week against K-State. Guess what, the TCU Defense again surrendered a dominant RB performance, allowing Deuce Vaughn to rack up 158 scrimmage yards and 2 TDs. The offense was completely inept, despite a strong game from Kendre Miller, scoring its lone TD of the game with 15 seconds remaining and the game already lost.
After an awkward flight back to Fort Worth, TCU athletic director Jeremiah Donati and chancellor Victor Boschini met with Gary Patterson on Halloween Sunday, resulting in the “mutual agreement” that the man who brought the program & university to unimaginable heights would no longer lead its football program. Regardless of the on-field performance over the past few seasons, the off-field foot-in-mouth statements, and the number of burnt orange mock turtlenecks now in his closet, Gary Patterson will always be a Horned Frog legend, deserving of his campus statue. You either retire a hero or coach long enough to become a villain; unfortunately, time caught up to Coach Patterson and pushed the university to take this step to rejuvenate the program.
The first game in 20+ years without Gary Patterson roaming the sideline would be against a red-hot Baylor team in the midst of a Big 12 Conference race and a push for the College Football Playoff. Interim coach Jerry Kill would have to rely on his backup QB, Oklahoma transfer Chandler Morris, to lead the emotional squad in front of emotional fans against the hated Bears. Morris delivered one of the most impressive performances in TCU history, forever etching his name in TCU lore by delivering 461 passing yards with 2 TDS and adding 70 yards and a TD on the ground. Beyond the stat line, he brought the juice; lighting a fire under a squad that was mostly dormant all season. The game ended on perhaps the only moment worth remembering from the entire season: Baylor trailed by two and got the ball with just under 2 minutes remaining in the game, following a missed field goal attempt. The Bears had reached TCU territory, at the fringe of field goal range for a potential game-winner. Then Baylor QB Gerry Bohanon locked in on his TE for a six-yard out, where TCU LB Shadrach Banks, a 4-star WR transfer from Texas A&M, was also locked in. Banks snagged the interception to secure the win, as the Frog fans stormed the field and Banks had Frog fans doing backflips.
The honeymoon with interim coach Kill and new hero QB Morris was short-lived, as the following week’s trip to Stillwater resulted in a brutal 46-point drubbing at the hands of #11 OK State. The Cowboys put up a ridiculous stat line against the hapless TCU rush D: 447 yards and 8 (eight!) TDs. TCU’s offense only had four more pass completions (12) than punts (8).
TCU then got a bounce-back game with Patterson back in the building for the last time to send off his Seniors pre-game, giving a final wave to the stadium he built. A home game against Kansas in 2021 wasn’t always straightforward, as our friends in Austin discovered, and the Frogs certainly didn’t make it stress-free. Ahead by two TDs with under ten minutes in regulation, TCU allowed the Jayhawks 14 quick unanswered points. But TCU managed a methodical 4:40 drive featuring five first downs and closing with a Griffin Kell 25-yard game winning field goal.
The season came to a close with ISU sending its decorated class of departed players off in style. Breece Hall was a monster, locking up his status as the 2022 NFL Draft’s top RB with 281 scrimmage yards and 4 total TDs. It was a fitting finale for a season of turmoil, to ensure this team would not reach a bowl game.
Plays of the Year
Shadrach Banks Game Winner vs. Baylor:
TCU (+7.5) upsets #12 Baylor with a game-clinching INT pic.twitter.com/FsxmRo2f5K— PFF Bet (@PFF_Bet) November 6, 2021
Shadrach Banks Cartwheel Backflip vs. Baylor:
QJ “Too Small” TD vs. OU:
QJ “Too Strong” TD vs. OU:
Quentin Johnston having himself a night pic.twitter.com/1a26sIGV79— Joe Broback (@joebroback) October 17, 2021
QJ “Too Skilled” TD vs. OU:
Zach Evans ends the half with a BANG vs. Cal:
Here for the Zach Evans breakout at TCU pic.twitter.com/iLhyk5LB4Z— Matt Gajewski (@Matt_Gajewski) October 7, 2021
Awards & Accolades
All-Big12 First Team
- WR Quentin Johnston
- DB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson
All-Big12 Second Team
- OL Steve Avila
- KR/PR Derius Davis
- DL Ochaun Mathis
All-Big12 Honorable Mention
- Offensive Player of the Year: Quentin Johnston
- Defensive Player of the Year: Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson
- Special Team Player of the Year: Derius Davis
- Offensive Newcomer of the Year: Obinna Eze
- WR Taye Barber
- DL Dylan Horton
We’ll soon begin our in-depth 2022 football season preview later this summer, but it would be fair to have measured optimism for some improvement, perhaps at least participating in a bowl game for the first time since the 2018 Cheez-It Bowl. There is so much unknown, there is an air of “we’ll just have to see how it shakes out.” Bringing in Head Coach Sonny Dykes and Offensive Coordinator Garrett Riley from SMU and Defensive Coordinator Joe Gillespie from Tulsa certainly presents a major change in philosophy. Although the Frogs lost prized RB Zach Evans to Ole Miss, the roster experienced few departures to the transfer portal, notably holding on to certified superstars Tre Tomlinson & Quentin Johnston. Dykes earned a reputation as a wizard of the transfer portal at SMU and he’s brought some of that prowess with him, with key off-season additions in the secondary, offensive line, and offensive skill positions. There is one massive open question, perhaps the most important question: who will lead the offense as the starting Quarterback? Max Duggan and Chandler Morris both have the ability and temperament to handle the job and have each shown flashes of brilliance and flashes of ineptitude. The relative success created from the QB decision may be irrelevant if the defense cannot stop the run or prevent huge plays like the 2021 squad. So it goes as we march into the unknown of a complete season without Gary Patterson. We’ll just have to see how it shakes out…