This town was a proving ground.
Every part of the TCU football team knew it days before arriving and certainly in the hours before busing into Boone Pickens Stadium.
The defense was going to face the most feared offense in the Big 12.
The offense and special teams would be tested in an intimidating environment.
The head coach, with a team he really likes, had to find a way to win in a place he had never won.
And the quarterback? Well, he was only matched against a Heisman trophy contender in his own back yard. He had to win that matchup, or at least play even.
Saturday in Stillwater, Kenny Hill and everybody else — but mostly Kenny Hill, haunted by a 13-interception season a year ago — proved something in TCU’s Big 12 landscape-changing 44-31 victory.
Hill completed 22 of 33 passes, making only one mistake, in leading an offense that held the ball for almost 40 minutes thanks to 11 third-down conversions.
He was not alone. Coach Gary Patterson’s defense got four takeaways, including three off OSU senior Mason Rudolph. Sophomore running back Darius Anderson ran for 160 yards and three touchdowns. Kicker Jonathan Song, called on for the first time this season, made three field goals and every extra point.
But the game is about the quarterback. Hill and company outplayed Rudolph and company, plain and simple, in their house.
“Mason’s a heck of a player,” Hill said. “Very talented. It wasn’t anything about coming in and outplaying him. It was just, whatever it takes for us to get a win.”
Patterson couldn’t have said it better.
“I keep saying this: quarterbacks that get recruited into systems that throw the football, a lot of times they get caught up in how many yards, how many touchdowns,” Patterson said. “If you want to win championships, you’ve got to get out of that phase. You have to get into, ‘What do I have to do to win?’ I think Mason Rudolph does that. He knows how to win. I think that’s what Kenny’s learned. We just do what we have to do.”
Hill threw for fewer yards and touchdowns than his counterpart. But he had the better offensive line, the better running game and more weapons.
Rudolph completed 22 passes to five players and used one running back. Hill completed 22 passes to eight players and handed off to five players.
Hill led the nation’s best third-down offense to 466 yards and points on eight of 13 drives, including the victory formation to end the game, by putting his teammates in position to make plays.
He placed a fade in the right spot for John Diarse’s 9-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. He did not miss high or low. He made the correct call repeatedly on whether to hand off or keep with Anderson (or pitch, as was the case with an option for a touchdown from the 6-yard line in the third quarter).
The Frogs’ final touchdown, Anderson’s 42-yard burst, is an example. Facing third-and-4 with 2:45 left, leading by six, with Oklahoma State out of timeouts, TCU was in a near make-or-break situation. A first down would win the game. Punting would put the game in the hands of the Oklahoma State offense.
That could be really bad news.
Co-offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Curtis Luper put the play on Hill, who said in July that TCU’s season depended on how he played. He and Anderson were going to have to pick up the first down. Hill would have to make the right read — give it to Anderson or pull it and keep it himself.
It was not going to be a pass, that’s for sure.
“It was read the whole way,” Hill said. Then he smiled and said about the coaches, “They were like, ‘If it’s not a clear pull, give it to him. Just let him go.’ Because he was toting it today.”
Hill proved what Patterson has been saying about his new-found maturity and game management, which he remembers was once not present in his career.
“I think I forced stuff and tried to do too much sometimes,” Hill said. “But it’s not about that. It’s about routine plays, getting into the right checks, things like that. It just helps this offense roll.”
Hill spent Saturday afternoon in Stillwater showing it. By Saturday night in Stillwater, the senior from Southlake Carroll didn’t have to convince anyone.
He had proved it.
TCU—FG Song 29, 10:46
TCU—FG Song 31, 2:45
OKS—Washington 86 pass from Rudolph (Ammendola kick), 2:15
TCU—Anderson 28 run (Song kick), 14:36
TCU—Diarse 9 pass from K.Hill (Song kick), 7:15
OKS—FG Ammendola 29, 4:46
TCU—Anderson 6 run (Song kick), 11:59
OKS—Stoner 14 pass from Rudolph (Ammendola kick), 8:37
TCU—Olonilua 1 run (Song kick), 4:34
TCU—FG Song 31, 2:45
OKS—Rudolph 1 run (Ammendola kick), 9:44
OKS—J.Hill 1 run (Ammendola kick), 3:03
TCU—Anderson 42 run (Song kick), 2:37
Time of Possession
RUSHING—TCU, Anderson 26-160, Olonilua 9-38, Reagor 1-18, Turpin 1-16, K.Hill 10-15, Noteboom 0-0, (Team) 3-(minus 3), Snell 2-(minus 6). Oklahoma St., J.Hill 25-102, King 1-7, Rudolph 5-(minus 8).
PASSING—TCU, K.Hill 22-33-1-234. Oklahoma St., McCleskey 0-1-1-0, Rudolph 22-41-2-398.
RECEIVING—TCU, D.White 5-25, Anderson 4-47, Diarse 3-40, Reagor 3-25, Nixon 2-22, Turpin 2-21, Olonilua 2-11, Austin 1-43. Oklahoma St., Washington 6-153, Ateman 6-100, McCleskey 4-79, Stoner 3-39, J.Hill 3-27.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—None.