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Quick Thoughts: TCU Football 21, West Virginia Mountaineers 24

Horned Frogs are shut out in the second half to suffer second loss of the season

West Virginia v TCU
Sonny Dykes & the Horned Frogs had no answers as a nightmare second half dooms TCU vs. WVU
Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Tale of Two Halves

TCU got off to a blazing start on Saturday night. Chandler Morris was making magic happen in the first half, carrying the load for the offense as the WVU defenders sold out to stop Emani Bailey and the TCU run game. Morris accounted for 273 total yards and three TDs in the first half. While TCU certainly missed opportunities - stuffed on 4th and short in the redzone for a turnover on downs and a missed FG - but TCU seemed to be in a groove and ready to turn on the jets for a big 2nd half. Instead the offense turned into a rotten pumpkin after halftime. Here’s the drive chart for the second half: Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Blocked FG, Blocked FG. The third quarter featured three drives for the offense, all resulting in punts for a grand total of ONE YARD. One (1) yard; the TCU offense could not even muster yards plural, much less first downs plural or points of any kind in the quarter. I can not recall a worse quarter of offense for TCU football and Sonny Dykes said in the post game press conference that “the third quarter is as bad of offense as I’ve ever seen since I’ve been coaching.”

Sack Kings No More

TCU entered Saturday’s game as the top Power 5 defense for sacks, tied for the USC, Tennessee, and Wake Forest for the nation’s lead at 16 sacks through four games. On Saturday night, TCU was unable to bring down WVU QB Garrett Greene for a single recorded sack, getting thoroughly controlled on the line of scrimmage. Same for the other side of the ball as the TCU O-Line allowed the Mountaineers to get nine tackles for loss including five sacks of Chandler Morris while he was hassled all night.

Not-So Special Teams

It was another very bad day at the office for the TCU Special Teams unit. Griffin Kell was Mr. Reliable in 2022, making 17 of 19 (89%) of his field goal attempts. He had more misses on Saturday night vs. West Virginia than he had for the entirety of the 15-game 2022 season. In 2023 he is just 7-13 (54%) on field goal attempts. It wasn’t just Kell bringing dishonor to the specialists, West Virginia absolutely dominated the field position game, with the Mountaineers starting drives, at their own 35 on average, 13 yards better than the Frogs, as Jordy Sandy averaged under 44 yards per punt on five attempts, with zero landing inside the 20. The Mountaineers’ game-tying touchdown drive started at the TCU 44 after a 46-yard punt from Sandy where the coverage team missed a few tackles before Jasper Lott decided to make an impact on the game and hit the return man for an additional 15 yards, turning that 46-yard punt into a net of 16 yards. The drive that ended up delivering the game winning points for WVU came after a 35 yard punt from Sandy gave the Mountaineers the ball inside TCU territory; WVU advanced just 16 yards before nailing a 49-yard field goal. Ballgame.

But hey, let’s not just reserve the feedback to the kicking specialists, the return game was also abysmal on Saturday night. JoJo Earle had two muffed punts on attempted fair catches that the Horned Frogs were very fortunate to recover; one of them may not fully be on him as the punt return team knocked into him as he was attempting the catch, but the other was egregious as he attempted to catch it over his shoulder like Willie Mays, while waving for a fair catch inside the 10 yard line. Major Everhart ran through the stop sign on a kickoff return, bringing the ball out of the endzone and only reaching the 20 rather than taking the touchback and starting the drive at the 25, a drive that would result in a Kell missed FG.

End of Game Mismanagement

This version of TCU Football simply does not have the end-of-game juice that made the 2022 team such a success, perhaps that is personnel, perhaps that is coaching, perhaps it’s bad luck or bad vibes. But given two opportunities to go win or tie a game with the ball in hand while trailing by a field goal in the final minutes, the Horned Frogs have failed on both occasions - both reaching opponent territory, but falling apart at the critical moment. In Week One vs. Colorado, it was a failed fourth down attempt on a play run short of the sticks; on Saturday vs. WVU it was a conservative approach to play for a difficult field goal that would be blocked. It was a comedy of errors to even reach that position: TCU had a first down at the WVU 39 yard line with 1:20 to play and all of its timeouts. For some reason the broadcast showed this location as “Field Goal Range” and perhaps the TCU coaches believed it. A Bailey run picked up a few yards and TCU called a time out; first play out of the timeout: sack; TCU calls a timeout. First play out of that timeout: a sack that would end up being overturned as Morris somehow levitated and fired an incompletion. But for the critical plays coming out of those timeouts to both result in the offensive line getting absolutely destroyed and the Frogs making no progress towards a game-winning TD or game-tying FG is a full-scale failure.