For four long, mostly struggling hours Saturday, the TCU Horned Frogs looked into the mirror to find what they were.
At times, especially during the second quarter, their inadequacies against the Oklahoma Sooners must have humbled them.
At other times, their resolve after falling behind by 25 points had to have encouraged them.
“When we came back, I told them downstairs, we were happy about that,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “What I’m not happy about is it was a six-point loss.
“That’s not what this program is about.”
The 52-46 defeat dropped the Horned Frogs to 3-2 on the season and 1-1 in the Big 12 Conference. But it came laden with flashes of both encouragement and concern, and a rare show of postgame frustration on Patterson’s part for the way the game was officiated.
“What’s amazing is that we can’t say anything, but they [the officials] can say whatever they want to,” Patterson said. “So I don’t really care right now if the commissioner doesn’t like if I complain about the officials.”
The question that ignited Patterson’s response was about an intentional grounding call on TCU quarterback Kenny Hill on the Frogs’ final possession. Hill was throwing as he was being yanked to the ground.
But a flag was thrown almost as an afterthought after, it appeared, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops had requested one from the officials.
In his lengthy reply, Patterson brought up a story in ESPN The Magazine in which OU quarterback Baker Mayfield was critical of the way the coach tried to recruit him.
“We talk about sportsmanship in this game,” Patterson said. “Their quarterback writes a whole article on me, and how I treated him wrong. And I can’t talk to the officials?”
So went Patterson’s postgame rehash — a spirited, 10-minute discourse filled with should-haves and shouldn’t-haves and ample mea culpas.
Each spate of anger seemed to end with Patterson declaring, “The bottom line is .. . .”
Fill in the blanks. When he’s angry after a game, Patterson doles out “bottom lines” after nearly every answer.
As he did Saturday:
“The bottom line to it is we put ourselves into a hole that was too big to get out of.”
“The bottom line is I wasn’t happy with the officiating.”
“The bottom line is we’ve got to tackle.”
What Patterson and his staff need to assess is what happened to the Frogs during a second- and third-quarter stretch where the Sooners dominated both lines of scrimmage and outscored TCU 42-3.
Oklahoma running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine gained 105 and 98 yards on the ground, respectively, and Mayfield bullied his way to 55 net yards of his own.
And while that was happening, TCU’s Hill found himself pressured to find room to throw all night long. He was sacked four times and had four passes blocked.
Somehow, though, Hill ended up throwing for 449 yards and five touchdowns, and had a chance to march the Frogs to a winning score in the final two minutes.
When I asked whether it was the blocking or the dropped passes that concerned him most, Patterson answered, “We were punting.”
“When it’s not going well, you’ve just got to run the football and take 5-yard hitches and outs and everything else, and just move the football down the field when it’s not going well,” he said.
It was about as harsh a postgame critique of his offensive staff as Patterson has rendered since Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie became the co-coordinators.
But the bottom line is — to coin a phrase — the offense struggled against the big, beefy Sooners for most of the day.
“We have to be a smart football team,” Patterson said, “and we have to be a smart staff.”
But so the long day went.
“You can’t be the YMCA,” Patterson said. “It’s not OK just to play.
“It’s not what we’re here for.”
Patterson knew what he saw — a team that, for brief flashes, did look like a conference contender.
But ultimately, he saw a six-point loser Saturday.
The bottom line, it’s called.