College football and college basketball writer
Fifty-six minutes of violet-tinged joy came to a screeching halt with a disastrous mistake at the costliest of moments. Texas Christian quarterback Max Duggan, this year’s hero and a fringe Heisman Trophy candidate in a dream season, watched in horror as left tackle Jahdae Barron scooped up his fumble and returned it for a 48-yard score , injecting life into a burnt orange crowd. which had meandered towards the exits of the stadium.
The fumble recovery cut No. 4 TCU’s lead to seven in the final moments as an undefeated season briefly faltered. But the plucky Horned Frogs, led by head coach Sonny Dykes, calmly, coolly and bravely finished with a drive that erased the final 4:25 for their 10th straight victory. Cinderella was a seven-point loss, but remains undefeated for another week, clinching a spot in the Big 12 title game in the process.
Here are some takeaways from TCU’s 17-10 win over No. 18 Texas.
Tilting the field
After so many White Knuckles Saturdays threatened by scoring deficits were saved by Duggan’s second-half wizardry, the Horned Frogs presented themselves with a handful of wonderful opportunities to plant Texas early, to cut the opposition before the Rabbits needed to get out of TCU’s hats, and promptly failed in all of them
The combination of tight coverage and timely pressure on Longhorns quarterback Quinn Ewers, who opened with six consecutive incompletions and threw a pass to the opposition before connecting with anyone on his own team, warped field position in favor of TCU. An offense that entered Saturday’s game tied for third in scoring at 43.1 points per game began with four consecutive Texas midfield drives in the first and second quarters, and all that Duggan & Co. . had to prove because it was a missed field goal. and three points from the UT 40-yard line, the UT 36-yard line and the UT 42-yard line.
The Horned Frogs’ offensive line faded against a hyper-athletic Texas front that used sophomore running back Barryn Sorrell as a chess piece, with defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski moving him from the traditional wide receiver positions to the ‘inside and again. Sorrell tallied two solo tackles for loss and two assisted tackles for loss, including 1½ sacks for less than 18 yards, to lead an offense that thrived in the TCU backfield. Nine different players recorded at least one tackle for loss and six were credited with at least ½ sack as Texas limited the Horned Frogs to nine yards or less on five of their first six drives.
It wasn’t until his final game of the half that Duggan strung together more than two first downs, and to do so he whistled completions through tight windows for methodical gains. The Horned Frogs went into halftime with a 3-0 lead thanks to a 34-yard field goal by Griffin Kell with 1:30 left, but they should have led by more.
Running the show
One of the game’s most compelling storylines pitted Texas’ Bijan Robinson (1,129 yards and 12 TDs) and TCU’s Kendre Miller (1,009 yards and 12 TDs) in college football’s first matchup between 1,000-yard rushers this season . Robinson entered the weekend with seven straight 100-yard games after an incredible 30-carry, 209-yard effort in a win over No. 13 Kansas State last Saturday, while Miller arrived in Austin after overcoming the 100 yards in four straight games and six of his last seven overall.
Robinson was largely stifled by a Horned Frogs defense that played much better than its No. 70 national ranking (146.6 YPG) this season. The 3-3-5 scheme employed by defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie swarmed Robinson near the line of scrimmage and held him to 2.4 yards per carry, less than half his average through the first nine games TCU never allowed a rush of more than nine yards.
Miller faced similar strength against a Longhorns defense that ranked 21st among Power 5 opponents at 123.6 yards per game and just held All-American running back Deuce Vaughn to 73 yards on 19 carries in a 34-27 win over Kansas State last week. His longest carry in the first quarter was six yards and his longest in the second gained five. He reached midway through the third quarter with 15 carries for 51 yards.
But that’s when Miller summoned the kind of explosive, game-changing gain that Robinson couldn’t with a 75-yard touchdown run up the middle of the scrimmage and down the right sideline. He ran away from the Texas secondary to give the Horned Frogs a 10-0 lead. Miller finished with 21 carries for 143 yards to outshine his counterpart.
Find ways to win
A look at TCU’s schedule this season reveals some of what makes the Big 12 so much fun. The Horned Frogs needed 42 points to beat SMU in their toughest non-conference matchup. They needed 38 points to knock off then-No. 19 Kansas in a come-from-behind win that had people wondering if Dykes’ team is for real. They needed 40 points to knock off Oklahoma State after two touchdowns in a thriller. And they needed 38 points to upset Kansas State and erase an 18-point deficit.
Points, points and more points.
You can argue that Saturday’s defensive win over Texas showed the selection committee that the Horned Frogs are much more than a one-trick pony, that they can still win even when their much-vaunted offense is mostly contained. Gillespie’s group silenced the offense of Ewers, Robinson and the rest of head coach Steve Sarkisian after the Longhorns had averaged 36.3 points per game in their last seven. No one, not even Alabama, managed to hold Texas to less than 19 points until TCU cut that number in half Saturday night.
And the numbers keep getting better: The Horned Frogs allowed just one third-down conversion on 13 attempts and stopped the Longhorns three times in the fourth. They gave up less than 200 yards of total offense and held Texas out of the end zone. They forced seven fumbles in the span of eight possessions with one interception in between.
If the selection committee wanted TCU to make a statement, it was loud and clear.
Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.
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