From the first snap, TCU was playing from behind.
Not on the scoreboard, although that was the case soon enough.
The Horned Frogs were in an uphill battle from the time receiver John Diarse was called for a personal foul following a 5-yard run by Kyle Hicks on the game’s opening snap.
Instead of second-and-5 and moving on their first possession, the Frogs faced second-and-15 and were behind the chains.
The drive went nowhere, and No. 6 TCU missed a chance to start with a ball-control formula in its Big 12 showdown for first place against the No. 5 Oklahoma Sooners. It was a misstep the Frogs couldn’t afford against the nation’s No. 1 offense, which overwhelmed them with a playmaking, 395-yard, 38-point first half en route to Saturday night’s 38-20 victory.
"Not playing hard-enough football, not playing smart enough," linebacker Travin Howard said.
The Sooners struck like lightning against the Big 12’s best defense.
Running back Rodney Anderson bounced off defenders on a 14-yard touchdown catch and run. He rolled into the end zone after an over-the-shoulder catch with Howard tight in coverage. Tight end Grant Calcaterra climbed high in the air for a touchdown catch. Wide receiver Marquis Brown stretched out to snatch a deep pass off the carpet, setting up a touchdown seven seconds before halftime.
It all built a 38-14 lead.
"The touchdown that hurt the most was the last one they got before the half," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "That's the one we shouldn't have allowed."
And Baker Mayfield? He Baker Mayfield-ed.
The near-certain Heisman Trophy winner took the stage at Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium and threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns before intermission. On a day of massive importance in college football, that half alone against a defense the quality of TCU’s could have won him the coveted trophy.
"He's special," TCU quarterback Kenny Hill said. "You watch him every week, and he's doing something unreal. He had a big game tonight. That just happens. You tip your cap to him."
While that was happening, TCU missed a field goal that could have tied the game in the first quarter, running back Darius Anderson left with an injury, and defensive end Mat Boesen — second on the team in sacks — was ejected for kicking.
Hill was sacked twice and completed only nine passes through three quarters. His offense, a month ago the nation’s best on third down, managed only 20 points gainst an OU defense that gave up 52 points the week before.
"I knew that we weren't going to hold them to seven points," Patterson said. "But I knew if we could hold them in the 20s, we'd have a chance to win."
TCU’s character showed itself. The Frogs stablized the game on defense in the third quarter, and Hicks’ touchdown on a shovel pass cut the lead to 38-20 early in the fourth quarter. For a fourth consecutive game, TCU pitched a second-half shutout.
But the story of the game had been told. A penalty here, a sack there. One mistake a drive had been one too many for TCU.
Now Mayfield and OU have a chance at the College Football Playoff.
TCU really doesn’t.
But for a Big 12 title, the opportunity remains. The Frogs give themselves a chance to reach Arlington for the championship game if they win their next two games, at Texas Tech and at home against Baylor. Both games are 11 a.m. kickoffs.
OU is probably going to be waiting on the other side. It would take a lot for OU not to be waiting.
And if that’s the case, it will mean an opportunity is also waiting for TCU — an opportunity to bring a better game against the Sooners. The Frogs won’t be playing for a playoff spot.
But they would be playing for a Big 12 championship.
That would mean more than anything that happened Saturday night in Norman.
OKL—FG Seibert 49, 11:36
TCU—D.Anderson 13 run (Bunce kick), 10:54
OKL—R.Anderson 15 run (Seibert kick), 8:41
OKL—Calcaterra 13 pass from Mayfield (Seibert kick), 3:54
OKL—R.Anderson 24 run (Seibert kick), 11:45
TCU—Hill 1 run (Bunce kick), 8:32
OKL—R.Anderson 14 pass from Mayfield (Seibert kick), 5:29
OKL—R.Anderson 33 pass from Mayfield (Seibert kick), :07
TCU—Hicks 3 pass from Hill (pass failed), 10:44
Time of Possession
RUSHING—TCU, D.Anderson 7-42, Hill 8-40, Hicks 10-38, Turpin 2-19, Olonilua 4-10, S.Robinson 1-6. Oklahoma, R.Anderson 23-151, Mayfield 11-50, A.Adams 1-2, Flowers 1-1, M.Jones 0-0, Sermon 3-(minus 1), (Team) 2-(minus 3).
PASSING—TCU, S.Robinson 1-1-0-(minus 1), Hill 13-28-0-270. Oklahoma, Mayfield 18-27-0-333.
RECEIVING—TCU, Turpin 4-59, Hicks 3-71, Austin 2-67, Diarse 2-56, Olonilua 2-10, Reagor 1-6. Oklahoma, R.Anderson 5-139, Andrews 4-44, M.Jones 3-23, M.Brown 2-56, Lamb 2-53, Calcaterra 1-13, Uhles 1-5.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—TCU, Graf 30.