For a few scattered, fleeting moments Saturday, the TCU Horned Frogs saw glimpses of what their 2013 football season might have been.The Frogs whisked down the field in the first half on scoring drives of 67, 80 and 67 yards.The starting quarterback threw for 394 yards and three touchdowns.A ninth consecutive bowl season suddenly didn’t seem like such a far-fetched idea.But it was only a tease.“To be honest with you, we gave one away,” coach Gary Patterson drearily assessed after the Frogs had lost to the West Virginia Mountaineers 30-27 in overtime.“Fumble at the 2-yard line. Personal foul in the overtime. Set ourselves back a couple of times. Four turnovers.“You’re not going to win many ballgames doing that.”Barring a stunning reversal of fortune, the Frogs will be home for Christmas after this, their second year in the Big 12 Conference. Nothing short of a sweep of their final three games, two of which are on the road, will change that.One more defeat, in fact, and TCU will be assured of its worst football season in 16 years.Two years, two seasons in the Big 12, and the Frogs have lost 12 football games. In 15 contests against conference opponents, TCU has won only five.Three seasons after winning the Rose Bowl, the Frogs seem to be moving backward, even Saturday when their offense finally appeared to be forging forward.“You’ve got to score points in this league,” Patterson said. “We didn’t start moving the ball until we had to at the end of the game.”When asked for his brief assessment of how Casey Pachall performed in his first start at quarterback in nearly two months, Patterson answered, “Not well enough. We lost.”Pachall’s up-and-down day included his most passing yards since the Boise State game two years ago, but he also had three turnovers, one of them an interception on TCU’s first snap of the day.But the early success, Pachall himself said, may have caused the Frogs to lose their edge over the next two quarters.“It’s nothing they did defensively,” Pachall said of the Mountaineers. “Just us getting a little complacent and maybe not having the same intensity that we did the first few drives.”How that could happen to a team with a rich recent bowl legacy is puzzling. But both Pachall and senior cornerback Jason Verrett addressed it after the game.“It comes down to whoever wants it more,” Verrett said, talking about the Frogs’ inability to close down victories.It’s conceivable that close early losses to LSU, Texas Tech and Oklahoma, coupled with the offense’s struggles after Pachall was injured, sapped whatever confidence this TCU team had.“To change your luck,” Patterson said, “you have to do it yourself. You’ve got to take ballgames. That’s just the way it is.”He wasn’t in the mood for exempting anyone, himself included. When it was noted that his defense was on the field for a long time in the fourth quarter because of three successive Frogs turnovers, Patterson curtly noted, “That’s their job. You want to be a great program — that’s their job.”Even with the turnovers, Pachall seemed to do his part. The offense had 30 first downs, and nine Frogs caught passes.But over the middle of the game, when the Frogs had their chance in front of the home crowd to put away the Mountaineers, they sputtered.Patterson questioned his team’s intensity.“They say that big games take care of themselves,” he said. “We should have been more fired up about playing the ball game.”Whatever flashes of success the offense showed Saturday were eventually undone by the overtime ending.“Each of our players need to look deep inside themselves and figure out whether they love the game or not,” Pachall said.It was unsettling talk coming from a football program that hoisted a Rose Bowl trophy just three years ago.The defeat Saturday was TCU’s third in a row. Two Big 12 road games lie ahead and then a home finale against undefeated, No. 5-ranked Baylor.Anything less than a sudden reversal will keep the Frogs home for the Christmas holidays for the first time in nine years.It’s not the direction they expected to be heading.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton