Much like Brandon Hatfield’s three field goal tries, TCU’s football season took an abrupt left turn Saturday at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
The offense stalled. The star running back was injured. The starting quarterback was pulled. A sparkling defensive effort was squandered.
Even then, it took two overtimes to render the verdict, but the scales of college football justice got this one right. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes led the Texas Tech Red Raiders from behind and defeated the Horned Frogs 27-24.
“When it counts, you’ve got to make plays,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “It’s as simple as that.”
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Three missed field goals by Hatfield — seemingly routine kicks from 37, 32 and 39 yards — left the most conspicuous stain on this fourth defeat of the Frogs’ season. The final miss came in the second overtime period, allowing Mahomes and Tech to easily inch the football to the center of the field for their own game-winning kick.
It was TCU’s third loss in four games, but more ominously, the Frogs offense has produced only four touchdowns in its last 10 quarters of regulation play. TCU averaged 43.4 points through its first five games of the season, but less than half that (19.3) in the three games since.
When Patterson was asked after the game whether he was officially worried about his sputtering offense, he replied, “Like any coach.”
Patterson didn’t want to point any fingers.
“In 19 years here, we’ve never pointed fingers,” he said. “Good programs don’t point fingers. They find ways to fix it.”
TCU even took the bold step of trying to fix Saturday’s struggles mid-game.
After starting quarterback Kenny Hill threw his 10th interception of the season near the end of the third quarter, he was replaced by sophomore Foster Sawyer with the score tied 10-10.
Why did Patterson pull Hill?
“I didn’t pull him,” the head coach answered. “Sonny [Cumbie, co-offensive coordinator] did.
“We weren’t playing very well, so ... .”
Patterson’s failure to end the sentence made it seem like he agreed with the move.
Handed a gilded opportunity after Red Raiders punter Adam Nunez botched a fourth-down center snap, giving TCU the ball at the Tech 11, Sawyer took the Frogs to a go-ahead touchdown in four plays.
An 11-play, 51-yard drive followed on TCU’s next possession. But two Sawyer incompletions stalled the march at the Tech 15, and Hatfield missed his second field goal try of the day.
Inconsistency, however, was the one thing the TCU offense showed consistently all day. With less than one minute left in the fourth quarter, Sawyer badly overthrew Taj Williams, who was wide open down the middle.
“He probably would have run to the 18- or 20-yard line, and we’d have kicked the field goal,” Patterson said.
Or maybe not.
Hill finished with 160 yards passing, hitting 16 of 29 with the one interception. Foster was 6 of 17 for 86 yards.
It would be remiss not to point out that a week ago in Lubbock, the Tech defense surrendered nine touchdowns and 854 yards to Oklahoma.
“Both guys have got to play better,” Patterson said of his quarterbacks. “People find ways to win, and people find ways to lose. When they turn you loose, you’ve got to make plays.”
TCU did not make either Cumbie or co-coordinator Doug Meacham available for postgame interviews. Neither of the two quarterbacks, either.
In the absence of another perspective, therefore, let me offer this:
The TCU offense is in a slump that now threatens to ruin what started as — you can look it up — a nationally ranked season. The Frogs, 4-4, may not be favored in another game for the rest of the season.
Hill’s promising season has hit a pothole, of sorts. His receivers did drop three passes Saturday, but in a quarterback-centric offense as the Frogs have, the quarterback has to rise above his misplays.
And Mahomes outplayed Hill and Sawyer, especially when it counted.
It doesn’t seem likely that Hill will lose his starting job because of Saturday’s problems. But he has to play better, and Sawyer probably has to play more because his sideline rust was obvious.
The head coach didn’t say that, though. He wasn’t heaping the blame on Hill or Sawyer or Hatfield.
“I don’t play that game,” Patterson repeated. “We need to regroup and get ready to go.
“We need to go recruit. We need to get a little bit bigger. We need to be able to push people around.”
Clearly, the Frogs needed a lot of things Saturday.
Like the coach said, good teams fix that. His team has four games and a broken offense.