Inside true freshman Max Duggan’s starting debut at TCU

TCU started a true freshman quarterback for just the second time in the Gary Patterson tenure. And the results weren’t great for Max Duggan.

Duggan started the game 1-of-10 passing for 22 yards in the first half with two lost fumbles, but played better in the second half. He went 15-of-26 for 166 yards with three touchdowns in the second half, but that wasn’t enough to rally past SMU.

Instead, the Mustangs held on for a 41-38 victory.

Patterson had a simple assessment of Duggan afterward.

“We didn’t win,” Patterson said. “That’s how all quarterbacks get judged.”

Co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie blamed himself for Duggan’s slow start. Cumbie felt he should’ve called better plays to get Duggan in a rhythm.

Duggan’s first play of the game was a quick pass to Jalen Reagor that was well short. Duggan completed his only pass of the half in the second quarter, a 22-yard gain to Dylan Thomas.

“We did not start the football game well at all and a lot of that is my fault not getting in a rhythm and getting completions,” Cumbie said. “At the end of the day, I didn’t do a good enough job getting him in a rhythm early in the game.”

Duggan and the offense found more of a rhythm in the second half. Duggan played better when the offense went up tempo needing to rally from a double-digit deficit.

That’s the style Duggan excelled at in high school when he was named Iowa’s Gatorade Player of the Year and was regarded as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country.

Duggan led TCU on TD drives of 69- and 77-yards in the fourth quarter. On the 69-yard drive, Duggan was a perfect 5-of-5 as TCU scored on a 5-yard pass from Duggan to Sewo Olonilua.

He went 4-of-8 on the 77-yard drive, but rushed for 22 yards and delivered when it mattered most. The Frogs faced a third-and-10 from the SMU 13, and Duggan connected with tight end Pro Wells for a 13-yard TD.

Asked about the up tempo approach, Cumbie said: “I think with a young player you can do that more. Some players just react and he reacted in a competitive way there in the second half.”

In the end, it wasn’t enough.

But there’s no question Cumbie and TCU are all-in on Duggan. Fifth-year senior Alex Delton started the first two games for the Frogs, but Cumbie never thought about turning to Delton during Duggan’s struggles in the first half.

“I thought throughout the course of fall camp and our weeks of practice all the way up to this game, in terms of throwing the football, he gave us the best chance; I felt like Max did that,” Cumbie said. “I didn’t do a very good job running the game and getting his feet under him and giving him some easy completions and allow him to get into a rhythm in the football game.”

TCU’s offense finished the game with a respectable 424 yards of total offense, more than SMU’s (406). But the turnovers were costly in the first half, and the “explosive plays” didn’t come too often.

TCU had eight “explosive plays,” which are deemed as runs of 12-plus yards and passes of 16-plus yards. That’s the fewest the Frogs have had early on this season.

Of the eight explosive plays, five were runs and three were passes.

That has to improve, much like the quarterback play. Cumbie feels this game will serve as a learning experience for Duggan and everyone else in the locker room.

“All of us, you’re at an impasse and have nine games left; what are you going to do?” Cumbie said. “Are you going to let this one linger? Or are you going to come out with your backs against the wall and come out better and learn from it?

“I think each week for [Duggan] it’s probably slowed down a little bit from Pine Bluff to here. We’ll watch the film. I think there’s a lot to learn for him and all of us. We’ll go out and practice Sunday and next week and see how the experience of a game and how he improves with it.”

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