Horned Frogs crumble in second half of Big 12 Championship game against No. 3 Oklahoma

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While the College Football Playoffs were likely off the table for TCU Saturday at AT&T Stadium, they were given the opportunity to win the Big 12 Conference Championship. However, Oklahoma made the most of the opportunity instead shutting down TCU, 41-17.

“Against a team like that, especially offense you can’t make mistakes,” TCU head coach Gary Patterson said. “We did a great job of fighting back in the first half to get into a one-score game and you can’t give up big plays. Two plays is basically the second half and offensively we’ve got to do a better job in the second half. They turned up the volume and we did not.”

The Horned Frogs didn’t do themselves any favors at the start, as running back Kyle Hicks fumbled the first offensive snap, and Sooner linebacker Caleb Kelly returned it 18-yards for an early 10-0 lead. Heisman Trophy front-runner Baker Mayfield found the back of the end zone on a five-yard, play-action pass to tight end Mark Andrews to make it 17-0.

However, the Horned Frogs would fight back in the second quarter, scoring 17 points of their own on a couple of jaw-dropping catches from wide receivers Jalen Reagor and John Diarse. The scoring strike shrunk the Oklahoma lead to ten, 17-7, with 14:07 left in the first half. Reagor’s 29-yard touchdown reception was his  seventh of the season, tying him for the most in the nation by a true freshman.

“As far as Jalen Reagor, that’s what we expect,” Diarse said. “Freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, it’s your time to make a play you make a play. He has been around the ball all year long, and I’m excited personally to watch him the rest of his career.”

The Sooners appeared to be on their way to another touchdown as they had a second and two at the TCU 21. However, TCU defensive end Ben Banogu strip-sacked Mayfield, but Oklahoma right guard Dru Samia fell on top of the loose ball. The sack by Ben Banogu gave TCU at least one sack in 54 of its last 56 games. On third and six, Oklahoma threw to the end zone, but Andrews dropped the ball. Sooner kicker Austin Seibert then hooked just his third field goal of the season from 43 yards out, a significant shift in momentum.

The Horned Frogs would capitalize nine plays later on a play from wide receiver Diarse. Hill threw a jump ball to the senior on a fade route, as he has many times this season, and Diarse snatched the ball out the air with one hand to tuck it into his gut right as his knee hit the ground. After referees initially ruled the play an incompletion, they awarded the Horned Frogs a touchdown on the 12-yard connection, which cut the Sooner lead to three, 17-14.

“As far as the catch goes, all the credit goes to Kenny and the O-line for giving him time and allowing him to put the ball in the right place and left me to do my job and catch it,” Diarse said. “I just remember, you know, falling with it and having possession. I immediately ran to the sideline and told Coach, that’s a catch.”

Diarse finished with five receptions for 66 yards, including the 12-yard touchdown, to give him at least one catch in 26 of the last 27 games.

However, the Sooners responded. Eight plays later, Mayfield and the Sooners ran the exact same play-action pass play that resulted in Oklahoma’s first offensive touchdown, and it resulted in Oklahoma’s second offensive touchdown on a six-yard connection to Andrews that pushed the Sooner’s lead back up to 10, 24-14.

That connection gave TCU 3:45 to march down field to get some points. With one timeout remaining and a first down at the Sooner 10, Hill made an ill-fated decision to tuck and run with the football, which resulted in a 1-yard gain to the nine, forcing the Horned Frogs to use their final timeout. Patterson, traditionally conservative when it comes to clock management, opted not to attempt a throw to the end zone with seven seconds left in the half. TCU kicker Cole Bunce hit a 26-yard field right up the middle to send the Horned Frogs into the locker room down just a touchdown, 24-17.

“You can throw to the end zone, but if you’re not careful you’re going to run out and end up with zero,” Patterson said. “We did know we were going to start with the ball the second half, so I was trying to get two possessions. You can get a field goal and then you’re within one score and you get the ball back and go down the field and here you go, but it obviously it didn’t turn out that way.”

TCU couldn’t carry over its second quarter momentum into the third quarter. Hill and the TCU offense went three and out and were stopped a yard short of a first down on its first two offensive possessions. Mayfield needed just three plays on two possessions to rack up a couple more passing touchdowns, a 55-yarder to Mykel Jones and a 52-yarder to Marquise Brown. With 10:41 left in the third quarter, the Sooners extended its lead to 21, 38-17.

After a Sooner punt, TCU began a short-lived drive on their own four. On the very next play, Hill attempted to fit a jump ball down the left sideline to Diarse into double coverage, which resulted in an interception to Sooner defensive back Will Johnson. The turnover resulted in a 40-yard field goal from Seibert, which increased the Oklahoma advantage to 24, 41-17.

TCU quarterback Kenny Hill runs past an Oklahoma defender. Photo by Cristian ArguetaSoto

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The Sooners, led by the Big 12 Championship Game’s Most Outstanding Player Mayfield, effectively clinched a spot in the College Football Playoffs.

TCU, now 10-3, is still in the running to play in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games like the Fiesta, Peach or Cotton Bowl, but in order to do that, they’ll need to finish in the top 12 of tomorrow’s final regular season CFP poll. If they fall outside the top 12, they’ll likely find themselves in San Antonio for the second time in three years at the Alamo Bowl, as the Big 12’s second-place team.

“Very proud of this football team,” Patterson said. “With the seniors, you got a group that’s 10-3 and fought themselves into this ball game. Preseason we were picked sixth, and really have overcome a lot of things, and we probably had one of the tougher [schedules]. So to get back to this point was great.”