TCU coach Gary Patterson isn’t a guy who finds silver linings in losses.
He didn’t take any joy in true freshman quarterback Max Duggan putting together a much better second half compared to a forgettable first half in his starting debut.
He didn’t care about Darius Anderson reaching the 100-yard rushing mark for a second straight game. The same can be said about linebacker Garret Wallow finishing with 19 tackles, or the defense combining to limit SMU to 10 points in the second half.
The final scoreboard told the story.
SMU 41, TCU 38.
“There is no silver lining,” said Patterson, who is now 15-3 lifetime against SMU. “As soon as you become silver lining, then you become average.”
Patterson blamed himself for the loss, although brought in co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie to discuss the offensive play afterward. Those who have covered Patterson’s tenure couldn’t recall a regular-season game in which Patterson had a coordinator available in the postgame interview session.
But Patterson made it clear any blame should fall on him as the head coach.
“You guys want to do it so you can write and you can blame somebody,” Patterson said. “There’s no blame. If you want to blame somebody, blame me. I’m the head coach. I’m the guy that’s supposed to be responsible for getting them ready to go.”
Saturday marked SMU’s first win over TCU since 2011. The Mustangs are off to a 4-0 start for the first time in 35 years. The Frogs, meanwhile, will be one-and-done in the Associated Press’ Top 25 poll after entering it for the first time last week.
TCU tried, but couldn’t, overcome a slow start.
Duggan went just 1-for-10 for 22 yards in the opening half. Along with the passing game struggles, the offense fumbled the ball away three times.
SMU turned those takeaways into 11 points, and enjoyed a 31-17 lead at halftime.
“We did not start the football game well at all and a lot of that is my fault,” Cumbie said. “I thought (Duggan) competed in the second half and battled and made some plays to give us a chance to win. At the end of the day, I didn’t do a good enough job getting him in a rhythm early in the game.”
It became a different narrative in the second half for Duggan.
He found tight end Pro Wells for a 12-yard score to pull TCU to within 31-24 midway through the third quarter. The defense kept the momentum by forcing SMU into a three-and-out.
But that momentum was short-lived. TCU found itself with a third-and-4 from the SMU 13, and opted to run the “wildcat” with Alex Delton at quarterback.
Delton picked up 3 yards, making it fourth-and-1 from the SMU 10 late in the third quarter. TCU went with another “wildcat” play, this time with senior running back Sewo Olonilua taking the direct snap.
Olonilua faked a run and looked to pass, but SMU linebackers Patrick Nelson and Delano Robinson got into the backfield in a hurry for the sack.
“For three years we’ve ran two plays out of that formation and we’ve had that play a long time and practiced it a lot,” Cumbie said. “The one time we call it they covered it. Those were one of the two glaring one’s you’d like to have back. They really hurt us and cost us.”
SMU capitalized with a 10-play, 84-yard TD drive capped. Mustangs QB Shane Buechele found Xavier Jones open in the end zone on a third-and-goal from the 3 to give the Mustangs a 38-24 lead with 13:58 left.
TCU didn’t go down without a fight. The Frogs pulled to within 38-31 with 9:43 left on a 5-yard TD pass from Duggan to Olonilua, and then had a chance for possible game-tying or go-ahead drive trailing 41-38 late in the game.
A bad snap by SMU had it punting out of its own end zone with 2:35 left. TCU took over on SMU’s 41 with 2:35 left.
But the Frogs didn’t have any magic left. Duggan fumbled the snap on third down, and then found himself under pressure on fourth down and lofted a desperation pass incomplete.
“I feel the team showed fight; not putting their head down,” said Anderson, who finished with 161 yards rushing and two TDs. “Everybody had energy, wanted to keep pushing each other, so we went out there and did what we could.”
Duggan finished the second half 15 of 26 for 166 yards with three TDs. But, as stated, that didn’t cut it for Patterson.
“We didn’t win,” Patterson said. “That’s how all quarterbacks get judged. He’s a freshman. Andy Dalton got treated the same way. The key is, ‘Can you make the plays when you need to make them?’”
SMU answered that question more clearly than TCU throughout the game.
Buechele finished 23 of 34 for 288 yards with two TDs and an interception. He also had a rushing TD. Defensively, the Mustangs had seven tackles for loss, including three sacks, and six pass breakups.
As SMU coach Sonny Dykes said afterward, “It’s gratifying to beat a good football team. When you play against a really good team and you find a way to win, and you do it on the road, it’s gratifying.”