Two teams departed Waco clearly headed in opposite directions after the latest “Revivalry” matchup between TCU and Baylor.
That’s a great thing for fans of TCU, which stunned No. 17 Baylor in a 62-22 rout that marked the most lopsided victory by the Horned Frogs in series history. The Frogs (5-4, 3-3 Big 12) head into a bye week with momentum, enhanced bowl hopes and a chance to get more key players healthy before a Nov. 19 game against No. 22 Oklahoma State (7-2, 5-1) in Fort Worth.
For the purple people, the arrow clearly is pointing up heading into a three-game closing stretch after some shaky weeks at midseason.
But the shaking is just now starting for the Bears (6-2, 3-2), who seem primed for a late-season collapse of epic proportions if Saturday’s cracks in the football foundation are not repaired quickly. Baylor has lost consecutive games after a 6-0 start and should count on falling out of the College Football Playoff rankings when they are updated Tuesday.
The Bears’ next game is Saturday against No. 14 Oklahoma (7-2, 6-0) in Norman. That does not leave much turnaround time for acting coach Jim Grobe and his players to shake off the mental residue that comes from surrendering 688 total yards, including 431 rushing yards, to a rival that entered the game in a month-long offensive slump.
Mix in the distractions created by the school’s sexual assault scandal that led to the May dismissal of former Baylor coach Art Briles and the mental drain of the 2016 season seems to have finally worn down the Bears. Baylor played TCU on a day when pro-Briles T-shirts were sold at a brisk rate by a private vendor near McLane Stadium and one black banner with the #CAB hashtag in support of Briles dangled from a window below a stadium suite.
Grobe conceded that trying to keep his team focused amid recurring media reports about the scandal has been difficult, particularly in light of fresh details provided recently by the Wall Street Journal and 60 Minutes Sports.
“Football’s a hard game, a really hard game, especially when you’re playing good football teams and you’re going through … things that can distract you,” Grobe said. “A lot of distractions don’t help.”
Grobe made sure to praise TCU’s effort, talent and execution. He stressed that the Frogs earned the victory. But when asked about the Bears’ psyche, Grobe said: “I don’t think it’s good right now as far as mentally … These last two weeks have not been good on the field.”
If they don’t improve against OU, Kansas State (5-4, 3-3), Texas Tech (4-5, 2-4) and No. 20 West Virginia (7-1, 4-1), Baylor could cap its season with a six-game losing streak heading into a bowl appearance in TCU’s home stadium: the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Dec. 23 in Fort Worth.
How’s that for irony?
TCU, on the other hand, appears capable of using its rout of Baylor as a springboard to a strong finish in remaining games against OSU, Texas (5-4, 3-3) and Kansas State. Mandatory disclaimer: Just remember that, in the balanced Big 12, momentum can shift 180 degrees in any given week.
Latest example: The Frogs’ resurgent offense, which included season highs in points, total yards and rushing yards against a Baylor defense that entered as the Big 12’s stingiest unit statistically. TCU played turnover-free behind quarterback Kenny Hill (244 passing yards, 85 rushing yards), received a career-best performance from running back Kyle Hicks (192 yards, five TDs) and benefited greatly from the higher profile given to receiver/kick returner KaVontae Turpin, whose presence created operating room for teammates.
Turpin, healthy enough to shoulder a full workload for the first time since a Sept. 17 knee injury against Iowa State, grabbed six passes, averaged 10.0 yards on four carries and returned three kickoffs for an average of 33 yards.
“That kid’s unreal. He has something extra. He has ‘it,’ man,” Hill said of the game-breaker the Frogs have missed in their recent offensive slump.
Asked about Turpin, TCU coach Gary Patterson said: “It’s great having Turp back. He just gives the whole group energy. He loves the game and it really carries over to everybody else.”
Another element that seems likely to carry over is TCU’s improved defensive play. The Frogs have limited two of the nation’s highest-scoring spread offenses, Texas Tech (46.2 avg.) and Baylor (39.8), to a combined 39 points during regulation the past two weeks. That’s an average of 19.5 points against two teams that double that output in most weeks. What’s the key?
“You’ve got to have at least equal players and be able to call your defenses just as fast as the offense does,” said Patterson, whose unit has received strong play in recent weeks from cornerback Julius Lewis, linebacker Travin Howard and safety Denzel Johnson. “If you can do that, you can play with them.”
Or, in the case of TCU and Baylor, swap trajectories with them heading into the November push for bowl berths.