FORT WORTH — Saturday was the 119th meeting between Baylor and TCU, but it was the first time the two teams have played for the Bluebonnet Battle trophy. Sure, the hardware commissioned in a joint resolution by both schools' student governments will be passed around for years to come. The timing of the announcement attempted to drum up excitement about a game between two teams who've had down years on the field.
TCU's 42-17 win conveys the season that could've been in Fort Worth, and condemns the calamitous two-year fall from grace in Waco.
"It was just what this was supposed to look like," TCU head coach Sonny Dykes said.
The only thing that could stop TCU's offense was TCU, which they did twice in the red zone in the first quarter on a fumble and failed fourth-down conversion. Aside from that, they didn't punt all game. Josh Hoover had a career game, completing 24-of-29 attempts for 412 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over.
On the defensive side, the Horned Frogs forced four turnovers on downs in the second half to allow the offense to run away with the game. It was the complimentary football TCU's been seeking all season. Now, they can extend a year many thought was lost next week with a win against Oklahoma.
"I wish we had seven games left," Dykes said. "But we need to go win next week so we have at least one more."
Is TCU's offense fixed or is Baylor's defense that broken?
TCU tight end Jared Wiley set a school record on Saturday with 178 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He exploded in the first half for an 81-yard score, the longest play he said he's ever had in his football career.
When asked how it happened that easily, he didn't have an answer.
"I just ran a seam, and I don't know how you can cut someone that's 6-foot-7 wide open like that," Wiley said.
TCU had a few instances where they made some contested catches. Major Everhart converted an important third down on a scoring drive in the 3rd quarter. Savion Williams caught a 41-yard pass on a beautiful ball from Hoover. But a lot of the times, TCU's receivers were on an island of their own.
Dykes explained after the game that Baylor played its defensive tackles head up on the guards instead of in the gaps. By doing this, the Bears took away TCU's double teams on rushing attempts (the Horned Frogs finished the night with 3.3 yards per carry). But in college football, sometimes you give up something to get something, and TCU made them pay in the passing game.
Hoover had an excellent performance and deserves all the credit for bouncing back from a daunting stretch of games against Kansas State, Texas Tech and Texas. He piloted an offense that converted 9-of-11 third downs. But he acknowledged he wasn't feeling much heat in the pocket because TCU's offensive line manhandled Baylor.
"I could've sat down back there, got up, tied my shoes and still threw it 30 times," Hoover said.
Is TCU as far off from the National Championship run as we thought?
It's been a disappointing season in Fort Worth. Most everyone expected TCU to take a step back from their storybook run in 2022, but they're in danger of becoming the first team since 2010 Texas to miss a bowl game the year after making the final.
Make no mistake, no one is proclaiming TCU back after a blowout against a Baylor team in free-fall. Yet, dominant performances such as Saturday make me wonder if we should've given TCU some more grace this season.
Kendal Briles has had a rocky start to his tenure as offensive coordinator, but he's also cycled through two quarterbacks with next to no experience. The Horned Frogs lost a bevy of all-conference performers from last year, and the injury bug has hit them hard. Johnny Hodges, the leading tackler from a year ago, missed a chunk of the year and is now out for the season. Left guard Brandon Coleman missed the Iowa State game and has battled injury all year. Wide recievers Dylan Wright and Warren Thompson are out for the year, and others like Jack Bech have been hampered all season.
TCU has now scored 62 points in the last five quarters of play going back to the near-comeback against Texas.
"Everybody's disappointed with the year," Dykes said. "I've been really encouraged by the last six quarters of football that I've seen from this team... they're going to play hard no matter what."
How much worse will it get at Baylor before it gets better?
I'm not breaking news - Baylor is not a good football team right now.
Quarterback Blake Shapen essentially threw two touchdown passes that were dropped in the first quarter. Baylor's defense allowed TCU to convert 81 percent of third downs. They let a redshirt freshman backup throw for over 400 yards without forcing a punt. They failed to convert on four-consecutive fourth down tries in the second half. Dave Aranda is talking in press conferences about nightmares the Kia 'December to Remember' car commercials give him because it means someone's going to get fired.
TCU's on a down year, and Baylor wasn't really close on Saturday. Patrick Swayze, in the cinematic masterpiece that is "Roadhouse", once said it'll get worse before it gets better. The question is, what's worse than this?
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