Gil LeBreton

Injuries nearly strike midnight on Frogs’ unbeaten hopes

While it’s the manly, Bruce Willis thing to do to shrug away injuries in football, point to the substitutes and sneer, “Next man up,” there comes a time ...

And for the TCU Horned Frogs, that time nearly struck midnight Saturday night.

When starting cornerback Ranthony Texada went down with an announced season-ending knee injury in the first half, it raised the count to seven would-be starters missing from coach Gary Patterson’s TCU defense.

When you’re missing seven starters, “Next man up” sounds like whistling in the dark. When you’re missing seven starters, guys with no facial hair are forced to play.

When you’re down seven starters, hunkering down in the man cave is no longer an acceptable strategy.

It’s time, men, to pull over and ask for directions.

Patterson, annually revered for his defense, tried Saturday night. He went to his bench after Texada went down. He mixed and matched.

And somehow the No. 3-ranked Horned Frogs navigated their way home and past Matt Davis and the SMU Mustangs 56-37 Saturday night.

The final score, however, says it all. A year ago TCU defeated SMU 56-0.

Which leaves the question: In its present, injury-depleted state, can the TCU defense possibly be 37 points worse than a year ago?

The explanation is not that simple, of course. With the arrival of new coach Chad Morris, the Ponies clearly have shifted their football focus from the golf course to the practice field.

Davis, meanwhile, can run and throw, and he is blessed with pass receivers who can leap and snag the football. Davis threw for 330 yards against the TCU secondary, and receiver Courtland Sutton caught four balls for 115 yards.

Big plays abounded. And all seven times that SMU reached the red zone, Davis and the Mustangs scored.

The Frogs, meanwhile, kept threatening to blow the game open, but foul things kept happening. Penalties, for one — TCU was flagged nine times for 115 yards. And then, the offensive coaches outsmarted themselves by turning the ball over on downs at the SMU 1-yard line on a play where third-string tailback Trevorris Johnson took a shotgun snap.

As the third period moved along, however, Davis kept raining passes upon the increasingly confused replacement TCU secondary, and the Mustangs scored on five of six possessions.

Around the country, the poll voters had to notice when the interim score — TCU 42, SMU 37 —scrolled across the TV screen.

But with the fourth quarter half-complete, the Frogs combined three running plays — running plays! — with quarterback Trevone Boykin passes to Ty Slanina and Josh Doctson to push the lead back to 12.

Finally, with 5:01 to play, the TCU defense stopped SMU, and that was the point where the Frogs’ offense manned up and figuratively asked for directions. The way to the finish, they decided, was to run the football, which the Frogs did for seven consecutive plays that ended in an Aaron Green touchdown and all but extinguished the game clock.

How the voters choose to view a 19-point victory despite a patched-up defense remains to be seen.

This wasn’t a night for style points. It was a night for the Frogs to put aside their manly thinking and just get to the finish line.

A major challenge lies ahead. More than a handful of youthful TCU defenders are going to have to grow up.

And soon.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @gilebreton

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