When defeat finally came for the TCU Horned Frogs, it was thorough and unrelenting.
The Oklahoma State Cowboys — undefeated and heretofore largely unnoticed — made sure of that.
Unmasking the TCU secondary with big play after big play, quarterback Mason Rudolph passed for five touchdowns, and the Cowboys rolled over the nation’s No. 8-ranked team 49-29.
Down with a thud likely will go the Frogs in the national and playoff polls. And deservedly so. TCU has seldom put together a complete game on defense all season.
Down with a thud went the nation’s second-longest winning streak, 16 games.
Down as well, perhaps, went quarterback Trevone Boykin’s best Heisman Trophy chances. Boykin uncharacteristically threw four interceptions. One led to a three-play drive for the Cowboys’ first touchdown, and two were returned either to the end zone or 1-yard line.
And maybe most ominously for TCU, down and out went star receiver Josh Doctson with an apparent serious wrist injury.
Even with Doctson out, however, it was the defense, not the offense, that dug TCU into a 35-9 early third-quarter hole.
As recently as Tuesday, coach Gary Patterson had described his injury-depleted and freshman-laden defense as encouragingly improved.
But against OSU’s home run-swinging offense, the young Frogs relapsed dismally.
Receiver James Washington, to name one, ran wild and free all day.
“They kicked our butt,” Patterson said. “You can’t give up big plays. It’s as simple as that ... They had 30 plays and 28 points in the first half. If you give up big plays and turn the ball over, you’re not going to win big ballgames.”
Big plays, indeed, killed the Horned Frogs on Saturday, and may have taken TCU’s playoff dreams down with them. Of OSU quarterback Rudolph’s 352 yards passing, 279 of them came on just five plays —gains of 48, 50, 25, 82 and 74 yards.
Every TCU defensive back appeared to share in the confusion.
“There’s no confusion,” Patterson said, taking the bullet for his young secondary. “I’ve just got to call a better ballgame until we play better.”
While the Cowboys were raining bombs on the TCU defense, Boykin and the Frogs offense had to struggle for everything. No statistics told that better than TCU’s advantage in total yards, 663 to 456, and in total plays, 110 to 53.
That’s not a misprint — the Frogs snapped the football 110 times, nearly twice as many times as OSU did. Yet, they lost by 20.
It would be a disservice not to give ringing credit to coach Mike Gundy and his staff. Oklahoma State struggled through an opening win over Central Michigan and barely defeated West Virginia and Kansas State.
But no team in the Big 12 team appears to have improved more.
Patterson was asked about the postgame mood in the locker room and answered, “It’s terrible. But the sky is not going to fall. You’re going to write that the sky is ready to fall, and I’m not going there.
“I’m going to try to beat Kansas next week. That’s how we’ve gone about our business for 18 years. Maybe, all right, the playoffs are out of order. But if you can beat Oklahoma and Baylor and have one loss and beat Kansas, you’re 11-1 and then somebody else can make that decision.”
Maybe so. The Frogs played their way back into playoff contention last season after the loss at Baylor.
But Patterson still has the same inexperienced secondary, making the same mistakes that have sporadically plagued the defense all season.
Plus, the Frogs may have lost Doctson, their primary weapon next to Boykin.
“We’ve got to stop giving up big plays,” Patterson said. “And we’ve got to stop people when it counts.”
That won’t be easy with Oklahoma and Baylor still on the November schedule.
On Saturday, TCU’s season-long dilemma — its defense — could no longer hide.
The Frogs’ undefeated dreams fell with a thud.
And, yes, maybe the sky with them.