With 4:34 left to go in the second quarter in TCU’s road matchup with No. 4 Oklahoma on Saturday, head coach Gary Patterson and the Frogs heard a familiar sound playing over the sound system at Gaylord Family–Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Running back Kendre Miller’s second touchdown of the day had just been called back because of a holding penalty, and the Sooners were playing “Take a Step Back”–one of Patterson’s two songs that he recorded over the COVID-19 lockdown a year and a half ago.
Though TCU scored on the next play on a pass from quarterback Max Duggan to receiver Quentin Johnston, the move felt prophetic of what would soon become clear as the game continued: the Frogs were not on the same level as their opponent, simply a joke to a powerful Sooners squad that has national championship hopes.
Even with a strong offensive showing, TCU was never really in the game after halftime, falling to Oklahoma 52-31 to lose for the third time in their last four games.
In his first-ever college start, Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams got everything he wanted and more offensively, throwing for 295 yards on 18-of-23 passing to go with five total touchdowns (four passing, one rushing).
“I don’t have an evaluation but obviously he’s [Williams] a good player,” Patterson said. “It would help if we had a guy run to the middle third when he was supposed to be in the middle third and give the guy help, twice. We just [need to] do our jobs. That’s who I’m in charge of, I’m not in charge of Oklahoma, I’m in charge of us. But, he’s a good football player and I knew that before he came here.”
Despite having the weight of out-performing former Heisman-favorite Spencer Rattler, Williams looked at ease the entire game, even dancing a bit as he led Oklahoma on their 9-play, 68-yard drive to end the game.
If Williams was Batman, then running back Kennedy Brooks had been Robin for the Sooners, dominating for a second-straight weekend with 153 yards and a touchdown.
Even though the TCU offense actually out-gained the Oklahoma offense 529-525 in total yards of offense, it was mishaps by the Frogs defensively that led to big plays by the Sooners and ultimately put the game out of reach.
TCU gave up 15 big plays on the night (10 passing, 5 rushing), most of which came on missed tackles, miscommunications, or both.
On Oklahoma’s first two offensive drives, the Frogs gave up five plays of 15 yards or more, falling into a 14-0 hole with 5:40 left in the first quarter without forcing the Sooners to even skip a beat.
By the end of the game, TCU had allowed Oklahoma to score on nine of their 12 drives, forcing zero turnovers and only getting to Williams twice.
It did not help that All-American cornerback Tre Tomlinson went down for the Frogs in the second quarter and did not return for the rest of the game, leaving TCU even more depleted than before.
Both of the sacks that the Frogs produced came from defensive end Ochaun Mathis, who had been held without one since TCU’s season opener against Duquesne.
“Oh, yeah, most definitely,” Mathis said on if the game will give him momentum. “Being able to actually get a pass rush as a D-end, as an edge rusher, being able to get that fluid motion of getting back there, getting out of my stance, doing what I need to do as a defensive end to get to the quarterback, I can say for the most part has gotten me back into the motion of doing things as a D-end.”
While their defense was almost a non-factor, Duggan and Johnston had tried to play Superman for TCU, both playing their best individual games in the purple and white.
Duggan set career-highs with 346 yards passing and four touchdowns, while his favorite target had set career-bests with 7 catches, 185 yards, and three touchdowns.
“Obviously, Max [Duggan] has a lot of trust in me, and I appreciate him for that, throwing the ball up, trusting me,” Johnston said. “Coach [Patterson] is trusting me that I can make the big plays. Max, his trust in me alone builds a lot of confidence in me. It’s just a great person to be around on the field and off the field, so I feel like we’re growing a strong relationship where he can trust me.”
In his first action since going down with an injury against Texas, Johnston did his best to get the TCU offense amped, catching all three of his touchdowns over the arms of defenders and even adding the “he’s too small” motion in the face of his defender following the third one.
The 185 yards that the Temple, Texas, native totaled were the 9th-most in a game by a Horned Frog in the history of TCU’s football program.
It came as no surprise that the Frogs had thrown the ball with volume, as running back Zach Evans had been ruled out just moments before kickoff.
Left to start in his place, sophomore Kendre Miller had scored TCU’s first points of the game on an impressive 53-yard catch and run near the end of the first quarter, but the backup running back only finished with 55 yards rushing on 15 attempts.
After Miller’s score and Johnston’s first touchdown, the Frogs only trailed 17-14 and had an opportunity to take the lead with 2:50 left to go in the first half.
The Frogs would then gain just five yards on three plays, giving the ball back to the Sooners and watching their deficit increase to 10 right before halftime.
Like a broken record, TCU had a chance to gain momentum again with possession to start the second half, but their final of a trio of three-and-outs on the day cut that hope short.
Down 21 late in the third quarter, TCU ended up punting from the Oklahoma 38-yard line on 4th-and-9 in a move that many saw as Patterson’s surrender.
“I been here 24 years, and I’ve never played to lose or to get by,” Patterson said in defense of the decision. “You have to be smart about what you do.”
In their best defensive moment of the day, down just 14, the Frogs would force the Sooners into two-straight punts to end the third quarter and start the fourth, but two penalties cut TCU’s attempt to pull within one score short.
On the day, the Frogs committed nine penalties for 101 yards, while the Sooners only committed three for a measly 15 yards given up.
Gifted the ball with 6:53 remaining in the game, Williams and Oklahoma ran most of the time off the clock, scoring a touchdown with 1:09 left to hammer the final nail into the coffin.
Now sitting at 3-3 on the season, it is time for TCU to “Take a Step Back” and assess where their defensive identity lies going into the back half of the season.
“There’s nothing else to do but go back to the drawing board. Cook it up,” Johnston said. “You can’t go off last week’s performance, so win or loss, we just have to keep looking forward and fight like we are 6-0, even though we are not. We just got to keep moving forward, leave the past in the past, and worry about the future.”
Perhaps returning home will give TCU some life, as they place West Virginia in Fort Worth next Saturday. Kickoff between the Frogs and Mountaineers is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU.