College Sports

December 1, 2013

Signs of TCU’s football struggles appeared in August

Personnel issues and injuries helped set the Frogs on the wrong course early in 2013.

TCU’s painfully erratic season came to a fittingly frustrating end Saturday.

The Horned Frogs’ 41-38 loss to Baylor highlights how close TCU was to having an entirely different kind of year.

Instead, the Frogs will miss a bowl game for the first time since 2004.

Before looking ahead to 2014, which most fans have been yearning to do since the demoralizing losses began to mount in October, here’s a look back at how the 2013 season went so badly for TCU.

For starters, the Frogs (4-8, 2-7 Big 12) were in nearly every game. Only the 30-7 Oct. 26 loss to Texas, after a three-hour rain and lightning delay, got completely away from them.

TCU’s 24-10 loss at Oklahoma State wasn’t decided until the Cowboys scored a touchdown with 6:04 remaining in the game. There was the overtime loss at home to West Virginia and two close losses on the road at Texas Tech and Oklahoma, when the TCU offense arrived at halftime.

And really, the struggles for TCU began and ended with its offense. Yes, the unit was dealt an early blow with the loss of offensive linemen Tayo Fabuluje and Michael Thompson, and, yes, Casey Pachall, whose broken left arm kept him out of five games, was a crucial missing element. But there should be some form of middle ground between a healthy offense working with all its expected parts and one trying to make do with replacements.

For TCU, the personnel losses made for a catastrophic failure in which first downs were rare and punts were flying with abandon.

“I’m proud the way our kids fought through things, but it’s not OK to finish up a little bit short. It’s just not OK,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said Saturday. “I told them downstairs I’m proud of them. But moving forward, we need to do the things we need to do, so instead of it being a three-point loss it needs to be a three-point win.

“It’s not OK to be playing close. I didn’t come into this ballgame to play this game close. We felt like we could beat Baylor. That’s not what our attitude is. It will never be that.”

The defense, which will likely finish ranked No. 3 in the Big 12 (TCU trails Baylor 355.5 to 356.4 yards per game with the Bears finishing against Texas on Saturday), was as good as expected, but it was worn down after getting little help from its offense until late in the year.

There’s no telling how much better the defense could have been with longer breaks on the sideline, more time to strategize and fewer deficits to work against.

Also, of course, there are all the turnovers and bad field position TCU’s offense seemed to routinely put the defense in. Opponents scored 106 points on 30 TCU turnovers, including 11 inside the the Frogs’ 35-yard line.

Patterson remained appreciative of his team’s resiliency, even after close losses to West Virginia and Kansas State started closing the door on a bowl berth. The team rallied to win at Iowa State and nearly pulled off last-minute wins at K-State and against ninth-ranked Baylor to finish the season.

But close, as Patterson said, isn’t good enough. And too often TCU just wasn’t good enough to make the catch, pass, or defend the big play when it needed to in 2013.

Although big questions loom for the offense during the off-season, such as who will start at quarterback and whether Patterson will make changes to his staff, both sides of the ball return eight starters.

“You’ve got most of your kids coming back,” Patterson said last week. “We feel great about our recruiting class. They know we’ve been playing with 50-some odd players compared to 70 or 80. It makes a difference.”

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