Season Summed Up In One Play
TCU playing some of its best defense all season in the first quarter - one bad explosive play, but had been stout vs. the run and containing the Ewers pass game with a 3-and-out and a 4th down stand. The Frogs then appeared to get the play that could break the game: Ewers threw up a bomb to Worthy, who appeared to find some space past Newton, but Millard Bradford was there to step in and grab the interception at the TCU 25 yard line. Bradford weaved his way through traffic to bring it back into Texas territory, but getting tackled by Jordan Whittington inside the 40, Bradford coughed up the rock and it was recovered by Xavier Worthy. It gave Texas new life on the drive and a new set of downs. The next pass Worthy had Newton on an island and hauled it in for a 45-yard gain. Texas was unable to bring it into the endzone, but the drive did result in a made FG. A play that appeared to have created a scoring opportunity for TCU ended up resulting in 3 points for the Longhorns. It was the perfect encapsulation of the 2023 TCU Football season - every step forward ends up actually being a step backward. TCU climbs out of the hole only to find itself in a deeper hole.
Nightmare Before Half
The game was ultimately lost for TCU in the final minutes of the first half. Trailing 13-6, TCU had a mid-second quarter drive stall as Josh Hoover took a 10-yard loss on a sack and the drive ended up in a punt the gave Texas the ball at the 15. TCU let the Longhorns pick up a 4 third down conversions on the drive, including a 3rd & 12, a 3rd & 8 (via penalty), and a 3rd & 2 (via penalty) that ultimately resulted in Adonai Mitchell adeptly pushing off Josh Newton for a TD catch with a minute left in half. After a botched snap on the point-after, the Longhorns led 19-6 and TCU had one minute before half to try and pull something back before the break. Instead the first play is a blown play that ends with Hoover throwing a floater into the wind that is intercepted. Five quick plays later and Jonathon Brooks had defenders looking silly as he went 22 yards into the endzone. Texas goes into half up 20 when just over a minute earlier it led by just 7. A horrific turn of events that ultimately put the Frogs in a deep enough grave to stave off the 2nd half comeback.
The TCU defensive backfield has been as much of a bright spot as can exist for a 4-win squad; it had an embarrassing season opener, but had been mostly solid in the days since: allowing low completion percentages, rarely getting truly burned, and picking up the pieces when things break down up front. Unfortunately on Saturday that bright spot burned out, as Quinn Ewers completed 67% of his passes for 317 yards. Josh Newton entered the game as TCU’s top defender, but Xavier Worthy had Newton in hell on Hell’s Half Acre on Saturday night, amassing 10 receptions for 137 yards. Avery Helm allowed the critical 3rd & 12 heave to be completed to Mitchell to seal the game. Channing Canada got juked out of his shoes as Jonathon Brook ran past him for a TD. That’s before you account for the multiple free first downs given by penalties, including several on Newton and a frustration unnecessary roughness from Bud Clark where he misses a tackle on Worthy, only to rejoin the play late and out of bounds, moving Texas inside the 10. It wasn’t all bad for the unit: Newton did have some nice pass break ups, Abe Camara had a monster hit stick on Johntay Cook that forced a punt, and Bradford had the terrific INT before he gave it back; but it was more bad than good for the Secondary on the night and it was a major contributor to the loss.
TCU will be sick about this one for awhile. The coaches and players will claim that they have turned focus towards Baylor next week, but the Horned Frogs had a chance to topple a top-10 foe and let the opportunity slip. Another game that TCU could’ve/should’ve/would’ve won, but was unable to make the winning plays consistently throughout the game or in the winning moments. In addition to the massive tables-turning fumble on the interception, the Frogs left many plays out on the field that could’ve flipped the game. TCU opened the second half with two drives that combined for 21 plays and 90 yards, consuming nearly 10 minutes of game clock, resulting in zero points scored. TCU was unable to score from inside the five yard line in the third quarter, throwing a fade to Savion Williams that was closer to the moon than it was to a completion and then going five-wide empty set on 4th down with no receiver remotely close to open. In the fourth quarter, TCU converted on a similar 4th and goal with JP Richardson making a miraculous TD catch, the Frogs line up for the 2-point try and again try a fade to Savion - he’s halted by a full bear hug by the defender that goes uncalled, but nonetheless it’s a failed opportunity that would’ve made it a one-score game. The Texas Longhorns are who we thought they were and TCU let them off the hook.
The Savion Williams Game
It was a career day for the Marshall, TX wideout, who finally had his big time breakout performance on the big stage. Williams was clearly amped up for this game and put the team on his back at times. He nearly doubled his previous career-bests in receptions and yards, exploding for 11 catches for 164 yards and an incredible TD catch late in the 4th quarter that gave the Frogs a chance to remain in this game. Could this be the performance that propels Williams into the national consciousness, similar to Quentin Johnston’s 7-185-3 vs. Oklahoma in 2021? That’s to be determined, but he’s played his role for this TCU offense and it’s time that role continue to expand as one of the primary focal points of the offense.