ARLINGTON – Thirteen proved to be an unlucky number for the TCU Horned Frogs.
A season of Houdini acts ended in the Big 12 Championship when Kansas State outlasted TCU in overtime, 31-28, to give the Horned Frogs their first loss of the season. They entered the game ranked third in the College Football Playoff and now must wait until Sunday afternoon to know their postseason fate. USC also lost its conference title game this weekend. Ohio State and Alabama are lurking on the outside.
Late-game deficits are nothing new for Sonny Dykes’ team. TCU trailed by 11 points with fewer than 12 minutes left on the clock. But that didn’t stop Max Duggan and the Horned Frogs from making one more push. A Griffin Kell field goal made it 28-20 with 7:34 left on the clock. An eight-yard run by Duggan with 1:51 left in the game, plus the two-point conversion pass to tight end Jared Wiley, tied the game at 28.
TCU had the ball first to start overtime and made its way down to the goal line, but that was as far as the Wildcats defense allowed the Horned Frogs to go. Successive stops on the goal line, including a fourth down stop of Kendre Miller, turned the ball over and left Kansas State only needing a field goal to win it. A 31-yarder a few plays into the ensuing drive ended the contest.
TCU deserves a spot: The 13th data point of the season can’t be the sole reason that the Horned Frogs don’t make the playoffs when the other contenders – Ohio State and Alabama – were able to sit at home and watch this weekend. Ohio State is likely to get the spot voided by USC following the Trojans’ loss to Utah. That means the remaining debate, if we want to call it that, is between TCU and Alabama. Both teams played Texas in Austin. TCU won by seven in a game that didn’t feel that close. Alabama escaped Austin with a one-point win against the Longhorns back-up quarterback.
The Horned Frogs were passed over by Ohio State in 2014 because the Big 12 didn’t have a conference championship game. Hopefully, the existence of a Big 12 championship game isn’t the reason TCU is left out in 2022. My best guess is that TCU drops to four and plays Georgia in the semifinals in Atlanta.
Duggan’s got that frog in him: Never question the heart or toughness of the TCU quarterback. He was hit dozens of times in the loss against Kansas State, but he never wavered despite a hot-and-cold performance through the air. Some of that was because of the organic pressure Kansas State was providing without needing to blitz. The three-down front of the Wildcats forced Duggan to throw off his back foot multiple times in the contest, including on a costly pick in the end zone early in the fourth quarter.
Still, Duggan led another fourth-quarter comeback that put TCU in position to remain undefeated. He’s done that all year. TCU ran 73 plays – 51 involved Duggan. He was 18 of 36 for 251 yards, a touchdown, and one interception. He added a team-high 110 yards rushing and another score on 15 carries. Duggan won’t win the Heisman Trophy, but he deserves a trip to New York City to be involved in the ceremony.
Third-down offense hurts TCU: The Horned Frogs don’t have to look far to figure out what went wrong for large chunks of the offensive game plan. A lack of early-down success put TCU in far too many third-and-medium or longer situations against a Kansas State defense that was creating pressure with only three or four rushers. There’s not much an offense can do on third-and-seven when the defense can drop seven or eight and move the quarterback off of his spot with organic pressure.
That combination resulted in TCU going 2-of-15 on third down. The Horned Frogs had an average of 7.3 yards to go on those 15 third down conversions and ended the game with a 13.3 conversion percentage. Kansas State, conversely, only had an average of 5.8 yards to go on third down and converted 31.3 percent of those opportunities. TCU struggled to run the ball in short-yardage situations for most of the game, and that wound up being the decider when Kansas State stuffed two Kendre Miller attempts on the goal line to force a turnover on downs and set up the overtime win.
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