TCU didn’t know if KaVontae Turpin would become academically eligible this season. Fortunately for Turpin and the Frogs, he did.
“It’s good that that happened,” coach Gary Patterson said. “He’s a difference maker.”
Yes, he is.
Turpin provided a much-needed spark to a sluggish TCU team on Friday night. Maybe it was waiting out a nearly two-hour weather delay. Maybe it was coming off a short week in which they played under extreme heat in the opener.
Whatever the reason, the Frogs didn’t look like the No. 16 team in the country early on. That changed when Turpin returned a punt 78 yards for a score, essentially “calling his shot” as he sprinted by the punter, and went untouched on another 42-yard receiving touchdown in carrying the Frogs to a 42-12 victory over SMU.
TCU didn’t make Turpin available for comment after the game, but his teammates understood his importance.
“That’s a guy you want to have on your team. Turp can change momentum and spark the team at any moment,” wide receiver Jaelan Austin said. “When the ball is in his hands, he makes plays.”
Said quarterback Shawn Robinson: “He definitely sparked us.”
As Patterson said, you never know where momentum is going to come from. For the Frogs, it came from their speedster after a slow start. Turpin has a knack for doing that sort of thing, of course, as he now holds the school record for most special teams touchdowns with five.
Turpin has returned a punt or kick for a score every season he’s been on the team.
“He’s a guy you love being around, Turp, on the field because he always practices hard, he always plays in games,” Patterson said. “He loves the game. It doesn’t matter where the game’s at, he loves the game. As a coach, that’s what you’re looking for – you’re looking for guys who just love the game.”
Turpin and the rest of the Frogs eventually showed their love of football. But, boy, did it get off to a sluggish start for TCU.
As stated, TCU and SMU had to wait out a lengthy weather delay. But both schools were determined to get the game in on Friday.
Contingency plans were never discussed with SMU, as lightning delayed a scheduled 7 p.m. kickoff by almost two hours. The schools’ athletics directors even agreed to waive an American Athletic Conference rule that states kickoff must happen before 10 p.m. if it came to that point.
It never did with kickoff happening just before 9 p.m. at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. The official start time of 8:57 p.m., a 1-hour, 57-minute delay, is the latest local start time in Gary Patterson’s 18-year tenure.
TCU prepared for a potential delay by bringing additional food and snacks for the players. Robinson read a book during it. But that didn’t seem to help early on.
The defense gave up a 51-yard run for a score, the wide receivers were dropping passes and the special teams units were making mistakes. Things were going so badly for TCU in the first quarter that SMU recorded a safety when its own player knocked the ball out of the end zone.
But the Frogs eventually settled in and looked like the No. 16 team in the country at times. It started with Turpin’s punt return, and then a fortunate bounce went TCU’s way.
Running back Sewo Olonilua had a nice run early in the second quarter before being stripped of the ball. It bounced in the end zone and was headed through it, but Austin recovered it before it went out of bounds. That gave the Frogs their first lead of the day, 14-9, something they wouldn’t surrender.
TCU struggled the rest of the first half, fumbling a snap, but got it going in the second half. The Frogs outscored the Mustangs 28-0 in the second half.
Robinson threw an interception on the opening possession of the second half, but the defense bailed him out. Defensive end Ben Banogu forced a fumble and linebacker Alec Dunham delivered with a scoop-and-score.
Robinson rebounded, too, by scoring on an 18-yard run on TCU’s next offensive possession. Robinson was originally ruled short of the goal-line, but replay overturned it.
“I thought I scored,” Robinson said, smiling. “I thought I got the ball over. Film doesn’t lie.”
No, it doesn’t. And this is a game that TCU needed to win even if it “wasn’t spectacular,” as Patterson said.
SMU, after all, is now 0-21 against the Big 12 in the last 15 seasons. Sonny Dykes, the former Cal coach who served as an offensive assistant with TCU last season, has his work cut out to build up SMU.
TCU does, too, with Ohio State next up.
“From what I’ve seen, we’ve got quite a task next week,” Patterson said. “You know what? We’ve been the underdog before, so it’s not going to be our first rodeo.”