The Big 12 championship game on Saturday morning at AT&T Stadium could be played in a bowl-like atmosphere.
For TCU, any atmosphere that is not Saturday night in Norman with 88,305 people in a ravenous frenzy will do, thank you.
The Horned Frogs were swamped in the first half of a Nov. 11 game at Oklahoma as a record crowd watched. They trailed 38-14 by halftime, surrendering more points than in any single game this season, en route to a 38-20 loss that all but knocked them out of the national championship picture while pumping up Oklahoma’s own hopes.
But the Frogs get a second chance on a neutral field Saturday, still with an outside chance at the College Football Playoff and certainly with the Big 12 title on the line.
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“Oklahoma probably played their best half of football all year in the first half against us, and we didn’t play very well, to be honest with you,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said the week after the game. “We had some kids that hadn’t been in that arena. I was surprised. There were some kids that didn’t play very well in that moment that had played well — on defense, especially. Once we came out of that fog, we played a lot better in the second half.”
With a better start, TCU figures to be in a competitive game in the second half. And that is a favorable circumstance for Patterson’s team.
The Frogs have yet to allow a touchdown after halftime of the past seven games. In that time, they’ve surrendered only a field goal at K-State on Oct. 21 and a field goal to Baylor last week. In fact, for five consecutive games — Kansas, Iowa State, Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech — TCU pitched a second-half shutout.
TCU has led at halftime of every game except its two losses. The Frogs trailed Iowa State 14-0 in a 14-7 loss and Oklahoma 38-14 in the 38-20 decision.
“The only explanation is lack of focus,” left tackle Joseph Noteboom said this week as the Frogs prepared for Saturday. “We come out in the second halves saying, ‘Oh, crap, we’re losing.’ If we go in there starting with that feeling that this is our second chance, we’re one of the best teams in the country.”
Linebacker Sammy Douglas said the Frogs don’t believe they put their best foot forward on Nov. 11.
“I feel like we didn’t have a lot of attention to detail like we were supposed to be doing, and actually we weren’t doing what we were supposed to be doing, and we need to do that more. And we might come up with a victory.”
TCU has won two of the three games it has played at AT&T Stadium. The Frogs defeated a ranked Oregon State team 30-21 in the 2010 Cowboys Classic and BYU the following year. They lost to LSU in the 2013 season opener at the NFL stadium.
The last time the Frogs played on the Dallas Cowboys’ home field, only today’s fifth-year seniors — Noteboom and running back Kyle Hicks, among them — were on the team. But quarterback Kenny Hill played there for Texas A&M against Arkansas in 2014.
Others have competed at AT&T Stadium as high school players. Last season, backup quarterback Shawn Robinson led DeSoto to the Class 6A Division II championship with a victory against Cibole Steele at AT&T Stadium.
“I’d probably bet you 70, 75 of my players have already played there,” Patterson said. “I don’t know if you get all enamored looking up at the scoreboard and all that when 80 percent of your team’s already been there, already seen it before.”
So the Frogs have the benefit of some experience at the site of the championship game. They get to start over at 0-0. And after all, the old adage says it’s difficult to beat a team twice in one season.
But none of it will matter without a faster start and better preparation.
“Coach P says we need to get back to Oklahoma State — that’s the most focused we’ve been all year, and we played like it,” Noteboom said, referencing the Frogs’ 44-31 victory at then No. 6 Oklahoma State in the Big 12 opener for both teams. “In college football, you don’t really get an opportunity to play someone again once you lose a game. We’ve got it now, and now we have to prepare like we’ve never prepared.”
No. 11 TCU vs. No. 3 Oklahoma
11:30 a.m. Saturday, KDFW/Ch. 4